A 2013 study, conducted by the University of Kansas Medical Center, showed for the first time a correlation between yoga and alleviation of atrial fibrillation (AF) in healthy adults. Atrial fibrillation is a type of abnormal heart rhythm in which the upper chambers of the heart — the atria — are out of sync with the lower chambers of the heart. According to the American Heart Association, about 2.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from atrial fibrillation. The University of Kansas researchers, led by cardiologist Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, showed that yoga can come in where beta blockers do not by reducing stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. By the end of the study, 22% of the patients with AF during the control pre-yoga phase did not have any AF episodes during the yoga phase.
Several other studies have backed the heart-health benefits of yoga. Dr. Kim Innes of the University of Virginia conducted a review of studies of the effects of yoga on patients with heart disease and diabetes. They concluded that practicing yoga improves overall physiological and psychological health, but also argued that more randomized control trials are needed. In a 2012 literature review on yoga, Dr. Balaji Deekshituluof India’s Dravidian University, saw improved cognition, reduced cardiovascular risk and reduced diabetes incidence associated with yoga.
In 2008, Yoga Journal reported that Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products. A stroll through any city will show a growing number of meditation and yoga centers. With studies such as these, both healthy and diseased people will have a scientific basis for taking up — or continuing to enjoy — yoga.