Yoga and pranayama practice can help manage irregular heart rhythms
Research Study At A Glance
The Research Question Asked
Can yoga help manage heart arrhythmia?
Type of Study
Study Participants (Sample)
Sample size: six individual studies were reviewed
Researchers completed a literature search for individual published clinical trials on the effects of yoga and pranayama practices on aspects of heart arrhythmia and secondary effects. They summarized the results of individual studies and looked for general trends.
Yoga reduced several aspects of irregular heart rhythms. Yoga also improved secondary effects, including decreased anxiety and depression, and increased quality of life.
Yoga positively improved some aspects of heart arrhythmia and associated risk factors.
Irregular heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias) are a common dysfunction of the cardiac system. They can be associated with various heart diseases or happen whenever there is a malfunction of the signaling that triggers healthy contractions of ventricles and atria (heart chambers) in our heart. When these heart arrhythmias occur frequently, they have many negative effects including stress on other body systems and organs. Most seriously, the effects can even include stroke and heart failure.
Current treatments for heart arrhythmia can often have side effects of their own, however. And the effectiveness of various treatments like medications is variable. So there is interest in treatments without potentially negative side effects. Previous studies have suggested that yoga can be a useful adjunct treatment for reducing risk factors associated with heart arrhythmia. The research team who conducted the review study that we summarize here was interested in how yoga affected those risk factors as well as how yoga affected heart arrhythmia episodes.
Can yoga help manage heart arrhythmia?
In this study, a research team collectively examined a set of smaller individual studies for the effects of yoga interventions on aspects of heart arrhythmia. They searched electronic databases including PubMed, Web of Science, and IndMed for articles to include in their review. In their search, the research team used keywords that included yoga plus one of the following terms: heart rate, atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia(s), or cardiac arrhythmia. They included studies in their review that evaluated a yoga treatment’s effects on heart arrhythmia patients in a randomized control trial, a “self-as-control” trial, a pre-post type study, or a case series study.
Once the studies to be included in the review study had been selected, the research team evaluated each of the smaller studies. They summarized the effects of each of the yoga treatments used on different aspects of irregular heart rhythms. Looking at a group of smaller studies in this way can allow researchers to see more general trends that aren’t clear from individual smaller studies.
- Yoga treatments conducted for three months reduced atrial fibrillation episodes
- Yoga more generally, but particularly pranayama practices, done for three months reduced aspects of ventricular tachyarrhythmia
- Yoga, and especially pranayama, reduced palpitations
- Yoga interventions reduced heart rate compared to control treatments
- Yoga also reduced depression and anxiety of heart arrhythmia patients and increased their overall quality of life
- No individual studies reported adverse effects of yoga
Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?
One of the many benefits of yoga seems to be its method of working in a whole system way on many systems of the body at the same time. In the particular study that we’re summarizing here, yoga both reduced some of the acute issues of heart arrhythmia and reduced some of the associated non-direct effects, like anxiety and depression. So, while we may not be experiencing irregular heart rhythms, yoga still benefits us when we practice. What seems likely is that yoga benefits us in many ways at once. That probably includes some benefits that we’re not even aware of. And, as this study reiterates, yoga has few if any adverse effects most of the time. And that makes its beneficial effects all the more welcome.