Yoga is an ancient mind body healing pathway that has been an core component of Eastern spirituality.  It means union, and there are many forms of yoga, while most westerners associate the term with certain physical postures.  Yoga, is much more than that. Almost  twenty years ago,  ground breaking research reported in the Lancet medical journal conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that a program, based on yoga and a vegetarian diet could reverse heart disease.

In the same fashion, a recent study investigated yoga’s ability to correct an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation.  It is a common disorder that is frequently caused by stress (distress), work related or emotional stress.  Atrial fibrillation affects 2.2 million Americans. Symptoms include chest pains, dizziness, palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath.

This serious and potentially life threatening condition usually requires drug therapy and sometimes invasive treatment.  It is an irregular heart rhythm condition that occurs when the heart’s natural electrical signals are triggered to fire off in a disorganized manner, causing the heart to quiver.

According to the findings of this new study, people who have atrial fibrillation could experience a fifty percent reduction in their episodes cut in half if they do yoga regularly, according to a study released in the United States.

Participating in yoga three times a week also reduced depression and anxiety while enhancing an individual’s awareness of his or her well-being.

Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD asked the question if finding inner peace can slow down a racing heart beat, known as atrial fibrillation., will practicing yoga prove an effective treatment for calming abnormal heart rhythms? And if yoga can help in this effort? Yoga may mediate the mind-body connection.

He conducted a study Yoga My Heart, to determine yoga’s effect on cardiac arrhythmia. The research study tracks patients with atrial fibrillation, while they practiced yoga.  Dr.  Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, associate professor of medicine at the University of Kansas Hospital, is also the director of the hospital’s complex arrhythmia ablation program. He collaborated with  with Jeanne Drisko, MD, Integrative Medicine, in the study.

But Dr. Lakkireddy hopes yoga may provide a noninvasive, medication-free treatment option. “Yoga provides a powerful connection between mind and body,” he explained.

“Yoga is unique in that it affects heart rhythm through its significant influence on the central and autonomic nervous systems.”

In other words, the very place atrial fibrillation is directed.  “Atrial fibrillation is one of those arrhythmias that is critically dependent on the communication between the heart and the brain,” he added.

“It appears yoga has a significant impact on helping to regulate patients’ heart beat and improves their overall quality of life,” said lead study author

The study followed 49 patients with atrial fibrillation. During the first three months of the study, the participants engaged in their usual exercise routine.

For the second three months, patients attended three yoga sessions per week with a certified instructor, and were encouraged to practice at home with an educational DVD. This was the first time the participants had experienced yoga.

Researchers measured the subjects’ episodes of irregular heartbeats using portable monitors and log books where the patients recorded their own symptoms.

The yoga intervention “significantly reduced” irregular heartbeat episodes by about half on average, compared to the control portion of the study when patients did their own exercises, said the study.

Depression and anxiety scores on self-reported surveys were also lower; and physical function, general health, vitality, social functioning and mental health were higher.

Throughout the study, subjects were monitored for episodes of atrial fibrillation. When their participation ended, a second group of patients entered the study in August 2009 and a third group begins in December. Initial results are promising, Lakkireddy noted.

“Many of the participants had never done anything remotely like practicing yoga,” said Donita Atkins, RN, cardiovascular research nurse,” and most of them loved it. One participant said before yoga, he could barely walk across his lawn. Now he’s mowing the lawn!”