Posted by: Trudy Prevost | March 31, 2017

Yoga for Depression

People who suffer from depression should participate in yoga and deep (coherent) breathing classes at least twice weekly plus practice at home to receive a significant reduction in their symptoms.” ~ Boston University School of Medicine

One of the reasons I promote the ‘Science of Yoga’ is to share the science backed possibilities of using yoga for Health and Wellness so people can feel comfortable exploring yoga as a therapy with their doctors.

Yoga for Depression works big time.

According to The Center for Complementary & Alternative Therapies, University of Virginia

– Depression is a prevalent mental health condition worldwide and is the leading cause of disability in adults under the age of 45.

– Most individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) report only a 50% decrease in symptoms with the use of the standard allopathic treatments for depression.

– The mechanisms underlying depression remain poorly understood even though stress and its correlates contribute to multiple aspects of the phenomenology of depression.

– Thus, stress and depression are clearly linked, as stress may precipitate or exacerbate depressive symptoms and depression may be a cause and/or outcome of acute or chronic stress.

– Therefore, use of additional therapeutic approaches to address stress and depression, such as complementary therapies including yoga, may contribute importantly to symptom reduction.”

I first started to study yoga as a stress management technique – in the past studies have shown yoga lowers cortisol levels in the saliva – I was amazed when one study showed the effects are evident as quickly as within 1 hour.

Study after study from that time on has shown how well yoga can work for anxiety; depression and stress. Yoga has even been shown to work extremely well for PTSS.

Lately there has been a lot of interest shown in the ability of a yoga practice to help with depression.

In February 2007 an Italian University concluded:, yoga appears to be a promising intervention for depression. It is cost-effective and easy to implement. Most importantly, yoga produces many beneficial emotional, psychological, behavioral and biological effects, as supported by observations in this study. The physiological methods are especially useful as they provide objective markers of the processes and effectiveness of the intervention. The methods and observations in this report may help guide further clinical research on the application of yoga in depression, with appropriate placebo control and comparison conditions, and in other mental health disorders, and in future research on the processes and mechanisms involved.

In 2013 a

In 2015 a study of 52 women who were assessed as having mildly elevated anxiety; moderate depression and high stress levels. None of the women had taken yoga or had engaged in other mind-body exercises within the past year, nor had they a history of anorexia, bipolar disorder, or psychotic disorders.

Yoga treatments are now being defined as to dosage and appropriate treatment time period.

In March a study released by The University of California was a randomized controlled trial with blinded outcome assessors that examined an 8-week hatha yoga intervention as mono-therapy for mild-to-moderate major depression.

The Conclusion: In adults with mild-to-moderate major depression, an 8-week hatha yoga intervention as a mono-therapy resulted in statistically and clinically significant reductions in depression severity.

In another study released in March 2017 individuals with Major Depressive Disorder were randomized to a high dose group (three 90-minute classes a week along with home practice) or the low dose group (two 90-minute classes a week, plus home practice). Both groups had significant decreases in their depressive symptoms and no significant differences in compliance. Although a greater number of subjects in the high dose group had less depressive symptoms, the researchers believe attending twice weekly classes (plus home practice) may constitute a less burdensome but still effective way to gain the mood benefits from the intervention.

I find this study interesting for a couple of reasons

  1. It seems to show the style of yoga does not seem to make a difference. This study was on Iyengar Yoga and previous studies have used other styles such as Bikram.
  2. It seems to show when compliance is considered two times a week can be an appropriate dose and more realistic.
  3. It seems to show that there are times when yoga works as effectively as medication without the potential side effects.



Then in April after conducting a 10 week randomized controlled trial of weekly yoga classes v. health education classes in individuals with elevated depression symptoms and antidepressant medication use – The University of California and The Medical School of Brown University announced that “yoga participants showed lower levels of depression” and “yoga participants showed significantly better social and role functioning and general health perceptions over time.”.

I think that it is extremely interesting to note here that length of time is an important factor in the dosage. Yoga does not work over night! Interestingly in this study at the end of the 10 weeks they did not see much difference between the 2 groups but they began to see marked differences between the groups in the follow-up period. This verifies what the ancient people said – the benefits accrue with practice.

I close with 2 quotes from a scientist Chris Streeter, MD who is associate professor of psychiatry and neurology and psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center.

“This study supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in major depressive disorder in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms,”

“While most pharmacologic treatment for depression target monoamine systems, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, this intervention targets the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system and provides a new avenue for treatment.”



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