Yoga effective at reducing symptoms of depression

August 3, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

People who suffer from depression may want to look to yoga as a complement to traditional therapies as the practice appears to lessen symptoms of the disorder, according to studies presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

"Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing," said Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who chaired a session highlighting research on yoga and . "But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health."

Hopkins' research focused on the acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga, the branch of yoga that emphasizes physical exercises, along with meditative and breathing exercises, to enhance well-being. In the study, 23 male veterans participated in twice-weekly for eight weeks. On a 1-10 scale, the average enjoyment rating for the yoga classes for these veterans was 9.4. All participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans. More importantly, participants with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in after the eight weeks.

Another, more specific, version of hatha yoga commonly practiced in the West is Bikram yoga, also known as heated yoga. Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University in San Francisco investigated Bikram yoga in 52 women, age 25-45. Just more than half were assigned to participate in twice-weekly classes for eight weeks. The rest were told they were wait-listed and used as a control condition. All participants were tested for depression levels at the beginning of the study, as well as at weeks three, six and nine. Shallit and her co-author Hopkins found that eight weeks of Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group.

In the same session, Maren Nyer, PhD, and Maya Nauphal, BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital, presented data from a pilot study of 29 adults that also showed eight weeks of at least twice-weekly Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression and improved other secondary measures including quality of life, optimism, and cognitive and physical functioning.

"The more the participants attended yoga classes, the lower their depressive symptoms at the end of the study," said Nyer, who currently has funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Bikram yoga for individuals with depression.

Elsewhere at the meeting, Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands presented data from two studies on the potential for yoga to address chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression. In the first study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions of approximately 2.5 hours each. The researchers measured participants' levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry before the yoga sessions, directly after the nine weeks and four months later. Scores for depression, anxiety and stress decreased throughout the program, a benefit that persisted four months after the training. Rumination and worry did not change immediately after the treatment, but at follow up rumination and worry were decreased for the participants.

In another study, involving 74 mildly depressed university students, Vollbehr and her colleagues compared yoga to a relaxation technique. Individuals received 30 minutes of live instruction on either yoga or relaxation and were asked to perform the same exercise at home for eight days using a 15-minute instructional video. While results taken immediately after the treatment showed yoga and relaxation were equally effective at reducing symptoms, two months later, the participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress than the relaxation group.

"These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression," said Vollbehr.

The concept of yoga as complementary or alternative treatment is so promising that the U.S. military is investigating the creation of its own treatment programs. Jacob Hyde, PsyD, of the University of Denver, gave a presentation outlining a standardized, six-week yoga treatment for U.S. military veterans enrolled in behavioral health services at the university-run clinic and could be expanded for use by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hopkins noted that the research on yoga as a treatment for depression is still preliminary. "At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist," she said. "Clearly, is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential."

Explore further: Study: Yoga helps back pain among veterans

More information: Session 1301: "Effects of a Hatha Yoga Intervention on Depressive Symptoms in Male Military Veterans," "Effects of a Hatha Yoga Intervention on Depressive Symptoms: Mediating Roles of Mindfulness and Self," "Hyperthermic Yoga for the Treatment of Depressive Symptoms" and "Heated Yoga for the Treatment of Anxious Depression," Symposium, Thursday, Aug. 3, Room 152A, Street Level, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Session 2090: "The Influence of Yoga on Chronic Depression and Potential Cognitive Mediators," Paper Session, Friday, Aug. 4, West Overlook Room, Level 2, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Session 2258: "Multidisciplinary Collaboration in Creating a Yoga Protocol to Complement Evidence-Based Care," Poster Session, Friday, Aug. 4, Exhibit Halls D and E, Level 2, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Related Stories

Study: Yoga helps back pain among veterans

July 25, 2017
In a study including 150 military veterans with chronic low back pain, researcher Dr. Erik J. Groessl and his team from the VA San Diego Healthcare System found that veterans who completed a 12-week yoga program had better ...

Take a new view of yoga

July 5, 2017
(HealthDay)—Want to add strength training, flexibility, and even stress reduction to your fitness plan?

Research evaluates effectiveness of yoga in treating major depression

May 8, 2017
When treating depression, the goal is to help individuals achieve full recovery and normal functioning. While traditional treatment such as medication or psychotherapy is effective for many patients, some may not fully recover ...

Yoga is an effective alternative to physical therapy for easing low back pain

June 19, 2017
A study of 320 predominantly low-income, racially diverse adults with chronic low back pain found that yoga was as safe and effective as physical therapy for restoring function and relieving pain. Compared to an education ...

Researchers find yoga and controlled breathing reduce depressive symptoms

March 15, 2017
A new study demonstrated that individuals with major depressive disorder had a significant reduction in depressive symptoms during a 12-week integrative health intervention that included Iyengar yoga classes and coherent ...

Can yoga reduce symptoms of menstrual disorders?

April 27, 2017
A systematic review of the published literature on yoga practice and common menstrual disorders found that all of the studies evaluated reported a beneficial effect and reduced symptoms. The impact of a range of yoga interventions ...

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.