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Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib is the most common cause for hospitalization among patients who have heart rhythm disorders. Although there are many risk factors for atrial fibrillation, the two most common contributing factors are age and stress. Not only does stress cause atrial fibrillation, atrial fibrillation causes stress. Respiratory problems, drug and alcohol use, chronic inflammation, endocrine disorders, inadequate circulation to the atria, and blood clotting factors all contribute to A-fib, but stress and atrial fibrillation perpetuate each other. The longer someone has atrial fibrillation, the greater the cumulative risk of stroke, so it is important to reduce stress.
What About Atrial Fibrillation Makes People "Stress Out"?
There are certain symptoms of A-fib that are almost universally stressful. A common complaint is palpitations, the feeling that your heart is about to jump out of your chest. A-fib can cause presyncope, a feeling that you are about to pass out, even though you don't, or syncope, losing consciousness, even when walking, talking, working, or driving. Atrial fibrillation can result in a feeling of fatigue combined with an inability to sleep, and the loss of quality of life, the ability to enjoy family life, to engage in recreational activities, to get out and meet people, and to work and earn enough money to pay bills, can be depressing. It's not unusual for people who have A-fib to develop a sense of doom. And when they also develop extremely low blood pressure, decompensated congestive heart failure (difficulty breathing and swollen limbs), and/or uncontrolled angina (causing a sensation of tightness, squeezing, or pressure pain in the chest, neck, and arms), immediate medical treatment can be essential to saving life.
Yoga for Reducing the Stress of Atrial Fibrillation
To break the downward cycle of stress and atrial fibrillation, doctors in Sweden and Denmark have been experimenting with a form of yoga developed specifically for people who have atrial fibrillation. Yoga is an Indian spiritual and exercise practice consisting of meditation (dhyana), breathing (pranayama), and slow physical exercises often referred to as poses (asanas). The practice of yoga regulates both the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (internal regulatory) nervous systems, and relieves A-fib, that is, if the people who have A-fib can do the asanas.
If you have a pacemaker, you're on half a dozen heart drugs, you weigh 300 pounds (140 kilos or so), and you have severe arthritis, you aren't going to be able to keep up with the class at the typical yoga studio. You aren't even going to be able to get to the studio. To provide a helpful form of exercise for people who are sick, Göran Boll and doctors and nurses at the Karolinska Institute and Sophiahemmet University in Sweden have created MediYoga.
The only prerequisite for participating in MediYoga is the ability to breathe on your own. Even if you are bedridden, you can do MediYoga. In this system, everyone can exercise, and the effects of just twelve weeks of practice can create a remarkable change in the severity of atrial fibrillation.