Study Shows Yoga Can Help You Combat Depression

( - Yoga is known to increase strength, flexibility, and overall physical health. But research out of the Boston University Medical Center is showing that yoga can be used to help boost mental health as well. Presented in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found that yoga could be used as an effective treatment for people suffering from depression.

The Effects of Depression

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression, is a debilitating condition that impairs regular life function. It’s common, chronic, and responsible for more years lost to disability than any other disease or disorder. Over seven percent of Americans over the age of 18 will have an MDD episode every year.

To be diagnosed with MDD you must experience five or more of the following symptoms once a day for a period of at least two weeks. These symptoms are detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):

  1. Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful)
  2. Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day
  3. Significant weight change (5 percent) or change in appetite
  4. Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia
  5. Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy
  7. Guilt or worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  8. Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness
  9. Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide, or having suicide plans

Current treatment for clinical depression includes medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes such as food and drink intake alterations. However, 40 percent of those suffering from MDD and who are already on antidepressant medication do not experience full recovery from depressive symptoms. There is still a need for further research to find more effective forms of treatment.

The Yoga Study

Researchers conducted a study with a group of 30 participants who were diagnosed with MDD. All of the participants were between the ages of 18 and 64. They were either not on antidepressant medication or were on a stable dosage of antidepressant medication.

Participants were split into two different groups: 15 to the high dose group and 15 to the low dose group. The high dose group attended three yoga classes per week for 12 weeks, while the low dose group attended two yoga classes per week for 12 weeks. Both groups also completed homework and additional yoga and breathing exercises at home.

The participants practiced Iyengar yoga, a method of yoga that focuses on alignment and precision. Iyengar yoga is often used in physical therapy. The yoga practiced by participants included backbends, inversions, and relaxation techniques.

By the end of the 12 weeks, researchers concluded that both the high dose and low dose groups had seen a significant decrease in their depressive symptoms. While the high dose group, who attended yoga thrice a week, saw a greater decline in symptoms, both groups did benefit. In order to not make attending classes too burdensome, researchers suggested two times a week would be sufficient for effective results.

Yoga Boost General Mental Health

More research needs to be conducted to learn what specifically about yoga is helping to decrease depressive symptoms. However, even with participants who don’t have a mental illness, yoga has been shown to have significant mental health benefits. In a previous study, yoga was more effective than walking for improving participants’ moods and decreasing their anxiety.

Researchers chose yoga as an alternative treatment method because it targeted the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system instead of the monoamine systems targeted by most pharmaceutical treatments. In addition, by using yoga instead of medication, participants can avoid drug side effects and negative drug interactions with other medications they may be taking.

But if you’re suffering from depression, experts recommend that persons suffering from depression participate in twice weekly yoga class sessions, deep breathing, and at-home yoga practice to see a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Namaste!

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