Heart rate variability enhanced by prayer and mantra recitation

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Reciting the Ave Maria or yoga mantras slows respiration and enhances heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity, researchers report in the British Medical Journal for December 22/29.

Dr. Luciano Bernardi from the University of Pavia, Italy, and colleagues recorded respirations and electrocardiograms in 23 healthy adults during spontaneous, and metronome controlled breathing while the subjects were engaged in free talking, reciting the Ava Maria in Latin or reciting a yoga mantra.

Although respirations slowed during free talking, recitation of the Ave Maria and the yoga mantra dramatically slowed respirations to about 6/min, which had "a marked effect on synchronization," Dr. Bernardi's group reports.

Slowed breathing also increased heart rate variability in all cardiovascular rhythms, and baroreflex sensitivity increased significantly from an average of 9.5 ms/mm to 11.5 ms/mm Hg (p < 0.05), the investigators report.

"Remarkably, the regularity of breathing seen during the recitation of the Ave Maria or of the mantra was similar to regularity during controlled breathing at 6/min, indicating that these methods could stabilize respiratory rate as effectively as precisely timed control," Dr. Bernardi's group notes.

The similar effects of reciting the Ava Maria and yoga mantras is not surprising, given that the history of the rosary can be traced to Tibetan monks and Indian yoga masters, the authors point out. The rosary was introduced to Europe by crusaders, who obtained it from the Arabs, who originally brought it from Asia, they explain.

"The historical circumstances that brought the rosary to Europe also suggest that these similarities [between the Ava Maria and yoga mantras] were not just coincidence," Dr. Bernardi and colleagues write.

"This practice introduced–consciously or not–a new and previously unrecognized element of oriental health practice into Western culture," they continue. "The rosary might be viewed as a health practice as well as a religious practice."

BMJ 2001;323:1446-1449.

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