Yoga is an old practice, more than 5000 years old in fact. It has origins in India and was introduced to America in the late 1800s. It steadily grew in popularity until yoga could be found almost everywhere in America in the 1970s. In 2012, 10% of the United States population reported some involvement in yoga within 1 year.
There are many different types of yoga, but most of the evidence that I will review focuses on yoga that includes physical postures, breathing, and meditation. The meta-analysis that I reviewed includes some studies that did not have physical postures.
(1) A study from Australia used a sample of 101 patients to see if a 6-week yoga intervention would be beneficial in the treatment of depression and anxiety. The control group was to place patients on a waitlist. The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21) was used to measure changes. Participants were allowed to stay on their usual treatment regimen. There were statistically significant differences between yoga and the control group on depression scores with a 4.30 decrease in the yoga group. The difference in the anxiety score was not statistically significant but still favored the yoga group with a decrease of 1.91.
The yoga intervention was four individual 1 hour lessons over a 6-week period with a yoga teacher. The yoga practice included physical postures, breathing exercises, mindfulness and meditation. Participants were given in person and written instruction and would complete the yoga at home in between sessions.
(2) A single-center, randomized trial of an 8-week hatha yoga program (which has breathing and poses) for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression was conducted in San Francisco, California. The Beck Depression Inventory-II was used to track changes and patients were excluded if they were taking an antidepressant or in therapy. The patients either received 90-minute, instructor-led classes twice weekly or a 90-minute, twice weekly, education group on the history of yoga.
The yoga group had depression scores decreased by 9.47 as compared to 2.99 in the control group at 8 weeks.
(3) A study compared mindfulness with yoga for treating depression and anxiety in college students. A sample of 90 students were split into three groups. One group did yoga, a second group practiced mindfulness and the third group did no intervention. The yoga and mindfulness courses were 75 minutes long each week for 8 weeks. Depression, and anxiety scores were decreased in the yoga and mindfulness groups but not in the no-treatment group. The Beck Depression Inventory Scores decreased by around 10 points in the Mindfulness and Yoga group and the Hamilton Anxiety Scale decreased by around 5 points in the Mindfulness and Yoga groups.
(4) A meta-analysis from 2017 analyzed yoga for major depressive disorder. The trials were from India, Germany and the United States. The analysis found similar responses between yoga, exercise, and medication.
(5) A trial in Rhode Island was designed to determine if hatha yoga is effective in patients with depression who are on antidepressant treatment. 63 patients received weekly or twice weekly yoga or health education classes. The QIDS scale was used to assess depression scores over time. At 10 weeks, there was not a statistically significant difference between groups with depression symptoms. The average decrease in QIDS was 3.93 for yoga as compared to 3.15 for the health education class.
I came across a 30-day yoga challenge for the new year on the Youtube channel, Yoga with Adrienne. I decided to give it a try, as it seemed to be a mostly introductory class. I was also completing this in the comfort of my own home. I was worried about losing some of the benefit due to not having a social component of yoga. I completed the yoga video every day after work. I found it to be a great compliment to going to the gym. It helped me to really separate the workday from my personal time after work. I also noticed my flexibility slowly begin to improve. This in turn actually helped me to improve and become stronger in the gym. It seems that there are no negatives or side effects to yoga and I have found it beneficial in regard to clearing my head, and improving my flexibility.
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- de Manincor M, Bensoussan A, Smith C, et al. Individualized Yoga for Reducing Depression and Anxiety, and Improving Well-being: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Depress Anxiety. 2016 Sep;33(9):816-28.
- Prathikanti S, Rivera R, Cochran A, et al. Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 16;12(3).
- Falsafi N. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Versus Yoga: Effects on Depression and/or Anxiety in College Students. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2016 Nov;22(6):483-497
- Cramer H, Anheyer D, Lauche R, et al. A systematic review of yoga for major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2017 Apr 15;213:70-77.
- Uebelacker LA, Tremont G, Gillette L, et al. Adjunctive yoga v. health education for persistent major depression: a randomized controlled trial. Psychol Med. 2017 Sep;47(12):2130-2142.