Yoga Offers Benefits to Patients with Depression

Bikram yoga found to improve quality of life, optimism, cognition, and physical functioning among veterans.

Many patients with depression are treated with prescription drugs and psychological therapy. Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are known to cause a time-lag between taking the drug and feeling its effects, which may result in inadequate treatment.

Several new studies presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association suggest that patients with depression should consider taking up yoga, as the practice may reduce symptoms.

"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," said researcher Lindsey Hopkins, PhD. "But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health."

The 23-week study examined the acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga, which focuses on physical exercises, meditation, and breathing exercises.

Included in the study were 23 male veterans who participated in 2 yoga classes per week for 8 weeks. The authors found that the average enjoyment of the classes was a 9.4 on a scale of 1 to 10. A majority of patients also reported they would recommend yoga to other veterans.

Importantly, the authors discovered that patients with elevated depression scores had significantly reduced scores after 8 weeks, according to the study.

The authors also explored whether Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, would be effective in 52 women aged 25 to 45 years. Approximately half of the patients were assigned to participate in 2 yoga classes per week for 8 weeks, while the rest were used as a control group. All participants were screened for depression at baseline, at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 9 weeks.

The authors indicated that Bikram yoga was observed to reduce depression symptoms among these patients.

Another study presented during the session showed that attending at least 2 sessions of Bikram yoga for 8 weeks resulted in a reduction of depression. This was also observed to improve quality of life, optimism, cognition, and physical functioning.

"The more the participants attended yoga classes, the lower their depressive symptoms at the end of the study," said researcher Maren Nyer, PhD.

Two other studies presented at the conference reviewed the efficacy of yoga for treating depression.

Included in the first study were 12 patients with depression who participated in 9 weekly sessions of yoga for approximately 2.5 hours each. This approach was observed to reduce scores for depression, anxiety, and stress, spanning more than 4 months after the program, according to the study.

Another study included 74 college students with mild depression who received 30 minutes of instruction for yoga or relaxation. Patients were asked to practice yoga or meditation for 8 days.

Immediate results showed that both activities reduced depression symptoms, but yoga showed higher reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress after 2 months, according to the study.

"These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression," said researcher Nina Vollbehr, MS.