Can Yoga Help Fight Depression?

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All it takes is an hour or so on your mat on a regular basis to feel uplifted!  In fact many studies using written questions to assess the well being of the participants before and after a series of yoga classes show a huge improvement in their perceived mental health.

One study consisting of male veterans with symptoms of depression found that their symptoms were significantly reduced after an eight week program of yoga classes. Another study which used yoga to address chronic and/or treatment resistant depression on people who had suffered for an average of 11 years or more found that after just 9 weekly yoga asana sessions of 2 ½ hours each, there was a decrease in their symptoms which interestingly lasted at least 4 months after the initial sessions.

Another study involving mildly depressed university students who were given just 30 minutes of initial instruction on yoga poses and a 15 minute take home video and then asked to perform these poses at home for 8 days discovered that even 2 months later their scores for depression, anxiety and stress had significantly lowered.

As you might suspect, a systematic review of a wide range of studies showed on the whole a positive outcome on feelings of well-being amongst the participants. The review established that at the very least yoga was effective in reducing depressive symptoms among sufferers of lower back pain, pregnant women, stroke victims and those struggling with addiction.

Consistent practice of yoga asanas has been found to lower the stress hormone cortisol while increasing serotonin and endorphin levels. Low levels of serotonin are linked to apathy, depression, anxiety, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness and unexplained sadness and endorphins are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. They work similarly to a class of drugs called opioids.

While yoga is not alone in its ability to raise spirits, studies show it figures significantly and appears to uniquely have an effect on a long term basis even after its practice is discontinued. Actually most of us who practice yoga already class it as the number one feel good exercise choice and now one study has even made moves towards validating this. The study compared one group of healthy adults who walked for an hour 3 times a week to those you did an hour of yoga asanas 3 times a week. The study concluded that the yoga group scored higher in the reduction of anxiety and improved mood. Interestingly MRIs showed increased GABA in the thalamus of the yoga practitioners compared to the walking group. As a GABA increase correlates to a lowering of anxiety and depression one might suspect that yoga might be rather special.


By Vrndavan Dasi

Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training