I used to work as a project manager for a high-tech company. High-tech generally meant extremely high levels of stress as well. The company was well aware of the impact of the long hours and heavy workload on the employees. One only had to look around at the plethora of nervous breakdowns, heart attacks, anxiety attacks and other illnesses to get the picture. Instead of “smoke” breaks, employees were taking Prozac breaks!
Whether it was out of concern for our health, or the impact to the bottom line of the business, the company took actions and implemented a number of healthy living initiatives. One of these was a free on-campus yoga class that met twice a week. I signed up immediately. At the time, I was working 14 – 16 hour days and my brain needed a break. Initially, I viewed it simply as an opportunity to get away from my desk at least once a week for a few minutes and hopefully keep my sanity intact. Yoga was a mental health break for me. Despite my selfish motives, I fell in love with yoga. As it turns out, research now indicates that while I was helping my mental stress, I just may have been helping my heart as well.
One of the signs of a healthy heart is heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the ability of your heart to respond to situational changes (arousal, eating, fight-flight response) and to beat faster or slower depending on the circumstances. The heart is regulated through the autonomic nervous system which uses two different pathways – the sympathetic nervous system (causes heart rate to rise) and the parasympathetic nervous system (cause heart rate to slow). The two systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic) working together are responsible for the ability of your heart to respond with beat-to-beat changes. Heart healthy persons have a high HRV rate while those with an unhealthy, or abnormal heart, will have a lower HRV rate.
Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology reported that the HRV rate for persons who engage in yoga is higher than the HRV rate of persons who do not practice yoga. The test group consisted of 84 participants between the ages of 18 and 48 years of age. All participants were male.