"Heart rhythm in the body is controlled by communication between the heart and the brain," says Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD. His study on yoga and AFib is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, happens when your normal heartbeat or rhythm is thrown off. Yes, it can be dangerous. Your heart may not be able to pump enough blood.
On the other hand, millions of people with long-lasting AFib live quite well, says Gordon F. Tomaselli, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's very possible to live a normal life for many years."
So let's clear up those ideas that may be limiting you when they don't...
Yoga, he says, has a calming influence that can help prevent the speeding up or slowing down of the heartbeat that's common if you have atrial fibrillation.
Before you hit the mats, choose the type of yoga that's right for you. Andrew Tanner, chief ambassador of the Yoga Alliance and an instructor for 13 years, cautions those with heart conditions to stay away from strenuous ones like hot yoga and power yoga.
"Some yoga is not relaxing at all," he says. "You should look instead into gentle yoga."
You might start with the Iyengar or hatha types. They focus on body alignment and balance through meditation and breath control exercises that are in sync with your movements. But if these don't help, check out other styles that might be better for you.
If you have AFib, Tanner suggests three breathing exercises, or pranayama. You can practice these on your own.
Ocean-sounding breath (Ujjayi). This will help slow down and control your breathing. Place your tongue behind your top teeth. Slightly tighten your throat muscles to slow the flow of air as much as possible while you breathe in and breathe out through your nose. You should hear it as it passes through.
Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhanaor). Think of this as a way to reset your breath. Follow these steps:
Put your right thumb on your right nostril to block air as you breathe in through the left.
Then block the left nostril with your right ring finger as you remove your thumb and breathe out through the right nostril.
Keep the left closed while you breathe in through the right.
Close the right and exhale left.
Do 10 to 12 sets of two.
"It gives the mind something to do while you're breathing," Tanner says.
Three-part breathing (dirgha pranayama). Slow down your breathing like you do in the ujjayi method, and then focus on the three parts of your torso. You'll feel your lower belly pull in, and then the chest, rib-cage, and the top by your collarbone expand.
"It's essentially massaging your entire torso," Tanner says.