Yoga May Help Reduce Symptoms of Depression

New research suggests your downward dogs could be a mental health booster.

yoga for depression

svetikd//Getty Images

  • Recent research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests a regular yoga practice can be beneficial for your mental health and reduce symptoms of depression.
  • This may be because yoga has an emphasis on observing your thoughts in a non-judgmental and accepting way.

Yoga has often been touted as a helpful way to increase flexibility and gain strength, making it a go-to practise for runners looking for some cross training options. But recent research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests the mind-body connection of yoga provides even more reason to give it a try.

Researchers analysed 13 studies on yoga that included 632 total people with diagnoses that included depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, alcohol dependence, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They found that the more yoga that each person practised each week, the fewer depressive symptoms they showed.

The research focused on movement-based yoga—often called postural yoga or asana—as opposed to types with a more restorative focus.

“The key take-home message is that yoga can be a helpful part of treatment, as it can have a significant effect on mental health,” lead study author Jacinta Brinsley, Ph.D.(c), of the University of South Australia, told Runner’s World.

She also said that it’s important for those with mental health issues to find a type that works well for them, which might mean trying a few different types to get the right fit. For example, you might find you prefer a fast-moving power yoga class over a slower-moving flow class that has longer holds in each pose.

Although the data looked only at those with diagnosed mental health conditions, Brinsley said the results would likely be similar for those without conditions, since it seems to address stress and anxiety.

She pointed toward similar research that’s been done in the past on yoga’s effects on creating a greater sense of wellbeing. For example, a 2018 study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that anxiety, depression, and stress was lowered significantly in a group of 52 women after 12 sessions of a regular yoga practice. Other studies have noted that yoga can have an effect on stress by providing benefits related to greater wellness, such as pain management and better sleep.

Although the recent study didn’t include a specific reason for why yoga can be such a mental health booster, Brinsley said it may have to do with enjoyment levels.

“If you’re doing an activity you feel is good for your mind and body, you’ll likely do it more often,” she said. “Yoga is unique, too, because it combines mindfulness and movement, and there’s emphasis on observing your thoughts and bodily sensations with an attitude of non-judgment and acceptance. That can be beneficial for anybody.”

Related Articles