Can Yoga Help Ease Symptoms Of Depression?

By Britni de la Cretaz 08/10/17

A series of recently released studies provide strong evidence in favor of the popular mind-body practice.

Two people practicing yoga

Many people use yoga as a defense or treatment for mental health issues like depression, anxiety and PTSD. It is also a part of many people’s recovery programs from drug and alcohol addiction. But until recently, not much research has existed to provide empirical evidence as to how effective the practice is for managing these concerns.

Last week at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., six separate presentations featured studies which found that yoga could have positive effects for people with depression of differing severities, The Independent reports

The studies looked at a wide range of ages, occupations and genders—one surveyed male veterans, another women ages 25-45. Researchers also looked at different types of yoga, like bikram. All the studies found a positive correlation between practicing yoga and a decrease of feelings of depression. 

“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,” study author Dr. Lindsey Hopkins said at the conference. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”

Earlier this year, a study out of Boston University was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It found that taking Iyengar yoga classes at least two times per week was beneficial to depressive symptoms.

Lead author Dr. Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, told TIME that yoga has fewer side effects and potential drug interactions than mood-altering medications, and that it may be a good treatment for people who have not responded to traditional treatments like therapy or medications.

Author Tyler Hunt claims that, combined with a 12-step model, Ashtanga yoga helped heal his drug addiction. He wrote a memoir, A Way from Darkness, and started the Trini Foundation, a charity that sends free Ashtanga teachers to rehab centers. “I believe Ashtanga practice can make people better. It’s a process of unraveling who we think we are on our yoga mat and becoming the person we’re supposed to be,” Hunt told The Fix earlier this year.

Something everyone agrees on, however, is that more research is needed, and that yoga is best used in tandem with other treatment methods. “We can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” said Hopkins. 

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.