Study Finds Practicing Yoga Regularly May Help Ease Depression

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A small study from Boston University has revealed that twice weekly yoga sessions may play a part in easing depression, thanks in large part to the deep breathing involved with each session.

The study was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and included 30 participants from ages 18 to 64, all of whom were diagnosed with clinical depression. The participants were either not taking any antidepressants or had been prescribed a steady dosage for a minimum period of three months.

Half of the study participants were instructed to take Iyengar yoga sessions three times weekly, as well as four 30-minute home sessions on their own each week. Iyengar yoga is an important style for beginners because it focuses on finding modifications to avoid injury. The other half of participants were instructed to take two in-class sessions and three home sessions every week.

One of the major benefits of Iyengar yoga, aside from its emphasis on alignment and modification, is the deep breathing exercises that are performed in 20-minute intervals. After approximately three months of attending these sessions, the majority of participants in both groups lowered their scores on depression-screening tests by almost 50%.

The group that took additional classes exhibited better results, but they reported that the large time commitment was a challenge that made the assignment more difficult for them. Regardless, even those participants who took fewer classes reported significant results.

Dr. Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, is the lead author of this study. He explained that while yoga isn’t a traditional treatment method for depression, it still has “far fewer side effects” than anti-depressants and other mood-altering medications. In fact, the only major complaint from study participants was temporary muscle soreness.

It’s still not a prescription treatment for depression, but Streeter and his team believe that it could be an excellent supplemental treatment for depression patients who have seen little success with other methods. Approximately 18 million U.S. adults practice yoga, and some may already be doing so in an effort to treat depression and reduce stress. More research is needed to determine just how well yoga compares to other forms of treatment, but the future is looking bright.

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