A yoga workshop to Cincinnati brought me face to face with my first “medical emergency” in the yoga classroom. On the first night of a two-day workshop, one of the students began to complain of a rapid heartbeat and some shortness of breath. I took her off to the side while my co-teacher continued to work with the rest of the group, and discovered, after a few more questions, that she had a condition know as atrial fibrillation. Turns out she had been feeling well lately and had decided to cut back on the medication used to keep her heart rate in a safer range. Fortunately, in this instance, I was able to get the life squad there quickly and shuttle her off to the ER for appropriate care, and the rest of the workshop continued without a hitch. Now a dozen years later, an ongoing study at the University of Kansas seems to suggest that yoga may be helpful in treating this particular heart condition!
So what is atrial fibrillation? According to the National Institutes of Health:
“Atrial fibrillation (A-tre-al fi-bri-LA-shun), or AF, is the most common type of arrhythmia (ah-RITH-me-ah). An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. AF occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals (emphasis mine) cause the heart's two upper chambers—called the atria (AY-tree-uh)—to fibrillate. The term "fibrillate" means to contract very fast and irregularly.”
What is Atrial Fibrillation? from the National Institutes of Health.
AF is one of those medical conditions where a combination of modern western treatment, which includes medications that help control the rate and rhythm of the heart and procedures to help if meds don’t, and lifestyle modifications, like yoga as well as diet and other exercise, will optimize the health of the person with AF. The study is not yet completed, but we will try to keep an eye open for the final report and give you an update when that happens. In the meantime, see Yoga My Heart for more about the University of Kansas Hospital study.