The heart is comprised of four chambers: the right atrium and right ventricle, and the left atrium and left ventricle, separated by a membranous wall called the septum.

The right atrium receives oxygen-depleted (used) blood from the body through the veins (vena cava) as it contracts to force that blood into the right ventricle; the right ventricle then pumps the blood up through the pulmonic valve into the pulmonary artery and to the lungs, where it is re-oxygenated.

This re-oxygenated blood then flows back through the mitral valve, filling the left atrium as it contracts to force the blood into the left ventricle and then through the aorta (main artery) as it is returned and used by the body.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a condition that occurs when erratic electrical signals are received by the atria, causing arrhythmia, in other words, the contractions of the atria – sending blood to the ventricles - are out of rhythm; resulting in an irregular heartbeat.

The causes of AFib range from high blood pressure and structural damage to the heart (blocked artery) to extreme fatigue from lack of sleep, heart disease, such as coronary artery disease and congenital valve problems, to stress and alcohol, generally related, as alcohol is often used to counter stress and binge drinking is a common trigger for AFib.

The intention of REAL STRENGTH NOW training is to teach the student to understand the body from the inside, out and become his or her own teacher. Everything else, health of mind and body, will flow from this training. BREATH IS LIFE.

My own personal experience

I have suffered accelerated heartbeat and AFib, following too much alcohol, too much caffeine, and intense exercise, all in succession, during a time of extreme stress. It’s interesting to note, and understand, how one thing, stress in this instance, triggers another and that, in turn, triggers a chain of events leading to an emergency situation.

Stress is silent; it builds and builds until it hits critical mass, affecting eating habits, sleep patterns, the process of rational thought, until, finally, it manifests in the body. The danger is, because stress affects the actual process of thinking, we often do not recognize it. In my case, my own efforts to calm my mind during an incredibly stressful period included, along with breathing exercises and meditation, a bottle of red wine every night, mild doses of prescription drugs – Valium – lots of caffeine (6 to 8 cups of coffee) to counter the continual fatigue from anxious, broken sleep and then intense physical training to insure my physical well-being – this was, in fact, an overcompensation. It became a dangerous pattern, but one I did not recognize till the morning my heart rate did not decelerate after a 20 - minute session of high-intensity training. It was a suicide routine, taking each exercise to absolute muscular failure, but one I performed regularly to combat my usual state of near panic. On this particular morning, as I lay on my bed following the usual workout I noticed my heart slamming inside my chest. Ten minutes later, it was still slamming. Another ten minutes and I phoned my GP who suggested a trip to the ER. “We can get your heart rate down with drugs but we can’t seem to get you out of AFib,” the ER physician explained as he checked me in for a night of constant monitoring. AFib, or an irregular heartbeat, is a common side effect of binge drinking, so I was cautioned about my wine consumption, put on medications and sent home to face my fears.

I wanted to know how to counter and control AFib without the help of prescription drugs.

Could I continue to exercise? How about particular foods to avoid, or consume? Salt is out, or must be used in moderation; it heightens blood pressure, and heightened blood pressure may trigger AFib. Sugar is bad, all around. Too much coffee (more than three cups per day) will accelerate the heart and may trigger AFib. Moderate wine is okay – that’s a glass a day for women, two for men – but four or more glasses within two hours may act as a trigger for AFib. Red meat is not great. Fried foods raise bad blood cholesterol and energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, generally laced with sugar.

Fresh vegetables, most fruits, particularly bananas, avocados, and beets are in. Bananas and avocados are high in potassium that enables muscles to work efficiently, and that includes the heart. Beet juice has a high concentration of nitrates that when processed by the body turn into nitric oxide, a natural dilator of blood vessels. In other words, nitric oxide relaxes the vessels, enabling blood to flow more efficiently.

Exercise is essential. When following the Real Strength Now method of training emphasis is placed on the control of movement through the control of breath. For the heart, the Clean and Press with diaphragmatic breathing stimulates a fast and steady cardiac rhythm while combining a compound (using more than one group of muscles and more than one joint) exercise with the coordinated use of breathing. This effectively stimulates the heart. This stimulation is followed by exercises with the breathing stick that activate the Vagus Nerve, a nerve in the brain stem that is the key to parasympathetic nervous system, or the part of our nervous system that slows the heart, lowers blood pressure and enables the body to rest. In this way, with consistent practice, we develop a level of control over our heart, which is an involuntary muscle, in other words, it beats of it own accord.

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