Yoga may improve the wellbeing of people with depression. Although scientific research on yoga and depression is somewhat limited, a number of studies suggest that taking up yoga may enhance mood and ease some symptoms of depression.
The Science Behind Yoga and Depression
Yoga shows promise in the treatment of depression, according to a 2010 research review published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice. Looking at data from eight clinical trials, the review's authors found that yoga might augment the benefits of other depression treatments. However, since many of the reviewed studies were flawed, the authors caution that more research is needed before yoga can be recommended as a treatment for depression.
Findings from several small studies offer insight into yoga's effects on people with depression. For instance, a 2007 study of 37 people with major depression (published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine) found that 20 sessions of Iyengar yoga led to improvements in mood, anger, and anxiety and helped regulate heart rate. And in a 2004 study from Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, five weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes resulted in improved mood and reductions in anxiety, fatigue, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (The study involved 28 adults, all of whom had mild depression.)
Should You Use Yoga to Fight Depression?
Yoga may be of some benefit to people with depression. For example, yoga may help alleviate chronic stress (a problem closely linked to depression). What's more, yoga serves as a form of physical exercise (a self-care strategy commonly recommended in management of depression).
However, self-treating depression with yoga (or any type of alternative therapy) may have serious health consequences. Therefore, it's crucial to seek treatment with a mental-health professional if you're experiencing any symptoms of depression (such as loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, and feelings of worthlessness).
If you're currently in treatment for depression, do not pursue a new form of treatment without consulting your doctor. If you're interested in using yoga for management of depression, talk to your doctor about how to safely incorporate yoga into your self-care.
National Institutes of Health. "Depression: MedlinePlus". March 2011.
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Shapiro D, Cook IA, Davydov DM, Ottaviani C, Leuchter AF, Abrams M. "Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression: Effects of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007 Dec;4(4):493-502.
Uebelacker LA, Epstein-Lubow G, Gaudiano BA, Tremont G, Battle CL, Miller IW. "Hatha yoga for depression: critical review of the evidence for efficacy, plausible mechanisms of action, and directions for future research." J Psychiatr Pract. 2010 Jan;16(1):22-33.
Woolery A, Myers H, Sternlieb B, Zeltzer L. "A yoga intervention for young adults with elevated symptoms of depression." Altern Ther Health Med. 2004 Mar-Apr;10(2):60-3.