Renowned institutions and organizations in the US and Europe have evidence that it does. Most notably the American Heart Association states yoga helps rehabilitation after a cardiac event.
Heart disease is the number one cause of mortality in the United States. It has been doctrine that after damage has been done it will continue. Mainstays of treatment are medications and lifestyle changes. Usual lifestyle changes include cardiovascular activity that will strengthen the heart. This combined with a diet of low fat has been shown to decrease cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. Recent advances seem to show the problem is more complex than running on a treadmill and diet changes. This is especially important as a rapid increase in physical activity can cause undue stress on the heart. The need to find alternative options has become increasingly important.
People who experience a cardiac event or disease live in fear of disease progression and fatality. This fear creates chronic stress. Hormones released by the body in response to stress include cortisol and adrenaline. Increased levels of cortisol affect metabolism, blood sugar regulation and fat retention. Adrenaline causes blood vessels to narrow causing an increase in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. These are not good for cardiac patients! Stress is decreased by yoga as evidenced by decreased production of cortisol and adrenaline. This creates a circle where stress reduction leads to decreased stress hormone production, improved blood sugars and blood pressures. All in all, beneficial to people experiencing heart disease.
Cardiac problems often come with breathing difficulties. Exercise becomes difficult after such events causing many to stop or stay away from exercise. This act of breathing is the basis for yoga. Combining breathing techniques with activity is an important part of practice. Over time daily activities become easier. Once breathing is improved exercise is less of a struggle. Hence increase in exercise and general physical activity. Patients who use these breathing techniques are better equipped to exercise and improve their overall well-being.
During practice one must really focus on the poses, holding them, changing them and breathing. These techniques promote a soothing feeling allowing blood vessel to relax and blood to flow more efficiently through the body. After practice incorporating moves on the mat into daily life often leads to changes in diet and lifestyle choices. Not to mention improved sleep and rest.
The physical aspect of yoga improves balance, flexibility and strength. An improved quality of life follows. Improved balance, core strength and flexibility decrease the likelihood of injury. This in turn allows increases stamina by giving the body the ability to perform more physical activity.
Atrial fibrillation is a form of heart disease where a part of the heart beats excessively. This can cause clot formation and death. More than one scientific study has shown that yoga causes a reduction in symptoms. The likely decrease in stress hormone production are part of this picture. Yoga helps decrease heart rate and relax blood vessels causing improvement in atrial fibrillation. These studies indicate a breakthrough in understanding the importance of “practice on the mat”.