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Apr 12, 2011

Could Yoga be the Most Effective Treatment for Abnormal Heart Rhythms?

Yoga may help promote normal heart rhythm and improve quality of life in AFib patients.

Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder found in more than 2 million adults in the United States. Risk for this condition increases with age, and can be found in 3-5% of men and women over the age of 65. While it is common, atrial fibrillation can have serious health implications. This abnormal heart rhythm can prevent blood from being pumped out of the heart properly, which can cause blood clots leading to stroke. To help prevent these complications, several approaches can be used to treat atrial fibrillation and prevent abnormal beating, including surgery, drugs and electrical cardioversion (electric shock). However, these treatments are not without risk and can have uncomfortable side effects for patients.

As a result, doctors have begun to look into alternative therapies to treat abnormal heart rhythm, and it is one of the simplest treatments that has proven most effective – the use of yoga. While yoga is believed to have a wide array of mental and physical health benefits, the use of yoga in patients with atrial fibrillation was not researched until recently.  In the study titled “Impact of Yoga on Arrhythmia Burden and Quality of Life (QoL) in Patients with Symptomatic Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation: The Yoga My Heart Study”, the effects of yoga on nearly 50 patients with atrial fibrillation was measured over a six month period. Results of this study showed that not only did yoga help significantly reduce the number of episodes of irregular heart beat, this practice also greatly improved rates for depression, anxiety and quality of life in study participants.

While yoga may not be right for all patients, it can be a useful alternative to more invasive treatments and can help supplement other therapies for atrial fibrillation. Not only is yoga more affordable than expensive surgeries and drugs, it has also proven effective and safe for many patients with abnormal heart rhythm. With additional research, the use of yoga to treat atrial fibrillation could become one of the most widely used treatments for patients with this condition.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What type of yoga was used in this study?

  • Patients in the “Yoga My Heart Study” participated in three yoga classes per week for three months. Classes focused on breathing exercises, yoga postures, meditation and relaxation. All patients were new to yoga and started out as beginners, becoming more advanced in the practice over time.
  • Can yoga be used in place of traditional treatments for atrial fibrillation?

  • Yoga helped to reduce episodes of irregular heart beat by half, and significantly improved depression, anxiety and quality of life in participants of the “Yoga My Heart Study”. However, yoga is not necessarily an appropriate substitute for other treatments such as surgery or medications. Patients with atrial fibrillation should consult their physician before practicing yoga to ensure that it is the right option for them. 

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