Yoga To Reduce Depression | Mental Health Blog

Date: 04/01/2017    Written by: Beth Levine

Yoga as Depression Fighter

Yoga To Reduce Depression | Mental Health Blog

Everyone feels sad sometimes or gets the blues. But when it becomes pervasive, causing physical problems and a loss of interest in normal activities, it may signify a much more serious problem: depression. Depression can affect many aspects of your life, it can be difficult to manage, and it is often recurring. Plus, much of the standard medical treatment for depression involves the use of pharmaceutical drugs—which have dubious efficacy (see below). But now it seems there may be a much better option for depression sufferers. New research suggests that relief might be as simple as taking up yoga.

The study, which took place at Boston University in Massachusetts, found that Iyengar yoga is an effective means of treating depression and reducing its symptoms.1 The depressive subjects were a mix of some individuals who had not begun taking antidepressants and some who had been taking a consistent dose of antidepressants but were still experiencing depression. All of them had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a severe form of the condition that is characterized by disabling symptoms such as lack of energy, a sense of hopelessness, and often sleep disturbances.

The participants were split into two random groups. One group was given a “high-dose” assignment of three weekly 90-minute yoga classes and home practice instructions. The other group was considered “low-dose” at two weekly 90-minute yoga classes combined with home practice. Both groups experienced a substantial decrease in their depression symptoms. Those in the higher dose group reported fewer signs of depression than their peers in the lower dose group, but all had a significant improvement in mood. This is particularly striking since between 60 and 70 percent of those suffering from major depression do not get relief from their first pharmaceutical medication, according to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
What is it about Iyengar yoga that could make it such an effective treatment method for depression? There may be several factors that come into play. Iyengar yoga is a typical Indian school of yoga VS many of the “updated, Westernized” types of yoga now commonly taught in Europe and the United States. It is a form of Hatha yoga, which focuses on precise breath control and posture. It is reputed for its ability to promote a calming effect and provide stress relief, which might positively impact brain chemistry. Practitioners could also be benefitting from the fact that taking part in any type of exercise at all is associated with reducing depression. Plus, we know that yoga practice influences a different neurological pathway than that of pharmaceutical drugs, which certainly may be the more successful route.

And as we mentioned before, antidepressants certainly do not have a great track record for treatment. A 1999 study at Duke University in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina found that Zoloft, a popular antidepressant, was less helpful in alleviating depression than physical activity.2 And not only might your depression linger or return on antidepressants, but these drugs also commonly produce side effects including nausea, fatigue, weight gain, and loss of libido. Sadly, they are nevertheless prescribed to more than 29 million adults in the United States annually. Sad!

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That’s why the very concept of yoga as a treatment method for major depressive disorders—and likely, at least equally beneficial for milder forms of the condition—is truly wonderful news. If you are not a regular practitioner of yoga, you should find a class taught locally by an experienced instructor. It is important to learn how to perform poses correctly to ensure that you get the most out of them and don’t risk any injury. Plus, you will learn more about getting yourself into the right meditative state and how to optimize your deep, cleansing breaths. But keep in mind,  if you are looking for the anti-depressive effects, look for a traditional style yoga class VS the modern versions that seek to turn yoga into a different form of aerobic exercise and body toning.

Once you have been practicing yoga for a while, you can make it part of your home routine as well. It is perfectly safe to practice daily and can benefit your flexibility, strength, and, of course, your mindset. Even if you don’t suffer from depression, yoga is a positive influence. A 2013 study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that yoga can improve brain function and concentration abilities.3 So give yoga a try if you’re ready to get on the path to a healthier mind and body.

To watch an informative video about treating depression on 60 Minutes, visit:

  • 1. Streeter, Chris, C.; et al. "Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1 March 2017. Accessed 15 March 2017.
  • 2. Blumenthal, James A.; et al. "Effects of Exercise Training on Older Patients With Major Depression." JAMA Internal Medicine. 25 October 1999. Accessed 16 March 2017.
  • 3. Gothe, Neha; et al. "The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function." Journal of Physical Activity and Health. May 2013. Accessed 16 March 2017.

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