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Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

April 9, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

The ancient practice of yoga is as popular as ever. You’re as likely to find it in the trendiest parts of any given city as you are at remote Asian temples. Perhaps because yoga is often associated with both philosophy and religion, it hasn’t received a lot of scientific attention until recent years. But much like meditation, yoga is now being modified into more accessible forms that are starting to make their way into our modern system of health care. Here’s a brief overview of some of current findings about how yoga may be applied to improve your mental and physical health.

Yoga for Kids

The Weight of the Evidence

A study that will be published in May of 2009 set out to examine yoga’s potential in managing weight and psychological health in a group of children and teenagers. The youngsters had ages ranging from 8 to 15 and were considered at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Over the course of 12 weeks, 20 of the youthful volunteers were enrolled in a yoga program.
  • Several measurements of psychological well-being were assessed, including their levels of anxiety, depression and self esteem.
  • Their weight was also taken at the beginning and end of the 12 week trial.

14 of 20 children stuck with the program through its completion date. On average, they lost just over 4 lbs. An improvement was also noted in their perception of anxiety and in most cases of low self-esteem.

The psychological impact of yoga is often the primary driving force for people who practice it. Any activity that can help strengthen the body while improving our mental outlook is understandably highly desirable. But how well does it really work for elevating mood? A few studies from the last couple of months offer an encouraging answer to that question.

The most recent issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice describes a trial in which yoga is used to help manage anxiety and depression. Here’s how the study was performed:

  • 34 women took part in a twice weekly yoga class that lasted a total 90 minutes per session. They participated in the course for a total of 2 months.
  • The placebo group consisted of 31 women who did not receive yoga instruction.
  • Before the study began and after its completion, all the women were given a psychological questionnaire to fill out.

A 13% reduction in depression was noted in those practicing yoga. The authors of the study also proclaimed that, “Participation in a two month yoga class can lead to a significant reduction in perceived levels of anxiety in women who suffer from anxiety disorders. This study suggests that yoga can be considered as a complementary therapy or an alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.”

Another application for yoga is as an aid to various disease treatment protocols. One example is presented in the April 2009 issue of Psychooncology. There, they describe the use of a gentler form of medical yoga called “restorative yoga” (RY). This modern form of yoga was specifically assessed with regard to any positive effects it might provide for women undergoing or having just recently completed breast cancer treatment.

The study, based at Wake Forest University, found that those engaging in RY exhibited demonstrable improvements in depression, fatigue, mental health, “positive affect” and spirituality (defined as “peace/meaning”). In addition, the women who began the trial with the most negative outlooks were found to benefit the most.

Yoga Improves Various Mood-Related Traits
Source: J Gen Intern Med. 19(7): 760–765. (link)

The final experiment I want to focus on concerns the role of sleep quality, mood and overall health in our senior population. This is extremely valuable data because a lack of sleep is known to exacerbate both psychological and physical health problems for people of all ages.

A total of 128 senior volunteers with no prior yoga experience participated in this 6 month study. Approximately half of the group engaged in a 70 minute “silver yoga” class, three times a week. The remainder of the volunteers served as the control group for the sake of comparison.

After just 3 months of the yoga intervention, significant mental and physical improvements were noted by the researchers. These benefits continued on through the entire 6 month trial. The authors of the experiment offered the following concluding remarks, “After 6 months of silver yoga exercises, the sleep quality, depression, and health status of older adults were all improved.”

In yoga we find a practice that tones both the body and mind. Much like Tai Chi, yoga is now being carefully tailored to fit the needs of people of all ages with a variety of health concerns and physical limitations. By eliminating both cultural and physical barriers, I believe that we’ll see the health promoting effects of this time honored practice reach more people than ever.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Mental Health

10 Comments & Updates to “Yoga for Anxiety and Depression”

  1. Desmond Says:

    I myself have just started doing yoga as part of an exercise program. The first time I did it I hated it. I saw much better flexibility the next week. I’m excited about it now and I encourage anyone to try it.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Desmond.

    Many practices (a new diet, guided imagery, meditation, yoga, etc.) often feel uncomfortable at the start.

    I’m happy that you’re sticking with it and benefiting from it.

    Keep up the good work!

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Update: Support for yoga practice in breast cancer patients …


    Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2015 Jan 29.

    The effects of yoga on the quality of life and depression in elderly breast cancer patients.


    The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of yoga on the quality of life in patients with cancer.


    Twenty patients (10 were in yoga program, 10 were in exercise group) between 65 and 70 years of age under going treatment for cancer were included in the study. Physical characteristics of the patients were recorded and general physiotherapy assessments performed. Eight sessions of a classical yoga program including warming and breathing exercises, asanas, relaxation in supine position, and meditation and 8 sessions of classical exercise program were applied to participants.


    Before and after yoga and exercise program, quality of life assessments for the patients were conducted using the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP). Patients’ depression levels were assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory. Their level of pain, fatigue and sleep quality was evaluated using the visual analog scale (VAS).


    It was found that all patients’ quality of life scores after the yoga and exercise program were better than scores obtained before the yoga and exercise program (p < 0.05). When the post treatment data of the groups were compared in terms of NHP and subcategories, ER, SI, S, PA and the total scores of NHP were found significantly different in favor of Group I (p < 0.05). However EL and P scores of the NHP were not different between the groups (p > 0.05). When the groups were compared in terms of depression, pain, fatigue, and sleep quality, statistically significant differences were found in all parameters between pre and post treatment values for both groups (p < 0.05). When the post-treatment values of the groups were compared, fatigue and sleep quality were found statistically different between the groups in favor of Group I (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: It can be concluded that yoga is valuable in helping to diminish depression, pain, fatigue and helps cancer patients to perform daily and routine activities, and increases the quality of life in elderly patients with breast cancer. Be well! JP

  4. JP Says:

    Updated 08/11/15:


    Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2015 Aug;21(3):166-72.

    A randomized controlled trial of yoga for pregnant women with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

    BACKGROUND: Yoga may be well suited for depressed and anxious pregnant women, given reported benefits of meditation and physical activity and pregnant women’s preference for nonpharmacological treatments.

    METHODS: We randomly assigned 46 pregnant women with symptoms of depression and anxiety to an 8-week yoga intervention or treatment-as-usual (TAU) in order to examine feasibility and preliminary outcomes.

    RESULTS: Yoga was associated with high levels of credibility and satisfaction as an intervention for depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Participants in both conditions reported significant improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety over time; and yoga was associated with significantly greater reduction in negative affect as compared to TAU (β = -0.53, SE = 0.20, p = .011).

    CONCLUSION: Prenatal yoga was found to be a feasible and acceptable intervention and was associated with reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression; however, prenatal yoga only significantly outperformed TAU on reduction of negative affect.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Updated 02/27/16:


    Int J MS Care. 2016 Jan-Feb;18(1):1-8.

    Effects of Single Bouts of Walking Exercise and Yoga on Acute Mood Symptoms in People with Multiple Sclerosis.

    BACKGROUND: Little is known about the acute or immediate effects of walking exercise and yoga on mood in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Such an examination is important for identifying an exercise modality for inclusion in exercise-training interventions that yields mood benefits in MS. We examined the effects of single bouts of treadmill walking and yoga compared with a quiet, seated-rest control condition on acute mood symptoms in MS.

    METHODS: Twenty-four participants with MS completed 20 minutes of treadmill walking, yoga, or quiet rest in a randomized, counterbalanced order with 1 week between sessions. Participants completed the Profile of Mood States questionnaire before and immediately after each condition. Total mood disturbance (TMD) and the six subscales of the Profile of Mood States were analyzed using repeated-measures analysis of variance and paired-samples t tests.

    RESULTS: There was a significant condition × time interaction on TMD scores (ηp (2) = 0.13). Walking and yoga conditions yielded comparable reductions in TMD scores. There was a significant condition × time interaction on vigor (ηp (2) = 0.23) whereby walking but not yoga yielded an improvement in vigor. There was a significant main effect of time on anger, confusion, depression, and tension (P < .05) but not on fatigue. CONCLUSIONS: Walking and yoga yielded similar improvements in overall acute mood symptoms, and walking improved feelings of vigor. These effects should be further investigated in long-term exercise-training studies. Be well! JP

  6. JP Says:

    Updated 03/26/16:


    J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016 Jan-Feb;6(1):7-14.

    Association of yoga practice and serum cortisol levels in chronic periodontitis patients with stress-related anxiety and depression.

    AIM: Reducing the psychosocial stress by various methods can improve overall health, and yoga is now considered as an easily available alternative method. The present cross-sectional pilot study was conducted mainly to find the association of yoga practice with periodontal disease by measuring serum cortisol levels.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: A total of 70 subjects with age range of 35-60 years suffering with chronic periodontitis were divided into group I (with stress), group II (without stress), and group III (practicing yoga). Psychological evaluation was carried out using Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A) and Zung Self-rating Depression Scale (ZSDS). Periodontal parameters like plaque index (PI), probing pocket depth (PPD), and clinical attachment level (CAL) at 5-8 mm and >8 mm were recorded. Blood samples were collected and serum cortisol levels were measured.

    RESULTS: Mean age, plaque scores, and number of teeth with PPD and CAL at 5-8 mm and >8 mm were similar in all the groups, except between group I and group III where a multiple comparison with Tukey’s post-hoc test showed significant difference in plaque index (P < 0.038) and the number of teeth with CAL 5-8 mm (P < 0.016). Serum cortisol levels and HAM-A scale and ZSDS scores showed highly significant value (P < 0.001) in group I subjects when compared with group II and group III subjects. CONCLUSION: Cross-sectional observation done among three groups showed that individuals practicing yoga regularly had low serum cortisol levels, HAM-A scale and ZSDS scores, and better periodontal health. Be well! JP

  7. JP Says:

    Updated 05/17/16:


    Int Rev Psychiatry. 2016 May 13:1-6.

    Serum cortisol and BDNF in patients with major depression-effect of yoga.

    Depression is associated with low serum Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and elevated levels of serum cortisol. Yoga practices have been associated with antidepressant effects, increase in serum BDNF, and reduction in serum cortisol. This study examined the association between serum BDNF and cortisol levels in drug-naïve patients with depression treated with antidepressants, yoga therapy, and both. Fifty-four drug-naïve consenting adult outpatients with Major Depression (32 males) received antidepressants only (n = 16), yoga therapy only (n = 19), or yoga with antidepressants (n = 19). Serum BDNF andcortisol levels were obtained before and after 3 months using a sandwich ELISA method. One-way ANOVA, Chi-square test, and Pearson’s correlation tests were used for analysis. The groups were comparable at baseline on most parameters. Significant improvement in depression scores and serum BDNF levels, and reduction in serum cortisol in the yoga groups, have been described in previous reports. A significant negative correlation was observed between change in BDNF (pre-post) and cortisol (pre-post) levels in the yoga-only group (r = -0.59, p = 0.008). In conclusion, yoga may facilitate neuroplasticity through stress reduction in depressed patients. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings and delineate the pathways for these effects.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 06/26/16:


    J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 23.

    Effect of integrated Yoga and Physical therapy on audiovisual reaction time, anxiety and depression in patients with chronic multiple sclerosis: a pilot study.

    BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by a significant deterioration in auditory and visual reaction times along with associated depression and anxiety. Yoga and Physical therapy (PT) interventions have been found to enhance recovery from these problems in various neuropsychiatric illnesses, but sufficient evidence is lacking in chronic MS population. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of integrated Yoga and Physical therapy (IYP) on audiovisual reaction times, depression and anxiety in patients suffering from chronic MS.

    METHODS: From a neuro-rehabilitation center in Germany, 11 patients (six females) suffering from MS for 19±7.4 years were recruited. Subjects were in the age range of 55.45±10.02 years and had Extended Disability Status Scores (EDSS) below 7. All the subjects received mind-body intervention of integrated Yoga and Physical therapy (IYP) for 3 weeks. The intervention was given in a residential setup. Patients followed a routine involving Yogic physical postures, pranayama, and meditations along with various Physical therapy (PT) techniques for 21 days, 5 days a week, 5 h/day. They were assessed before and after intervention for changes in audiovisual reaction times (using Brain Fit Model No. OT 400), anxiety, and depression [using Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)]. Data was analyzed using paired samples test.

    RESULTS: There was significant improvement in visual reaction time (p=0.01), depression (p=0.04), and anxiety (p=0.02) scores at the end of 3 weeks as compared to the baseline. Auditory reaction time showed reduction with borderline statistical significance (p=0.058).

    CONCLUSIONS: This pilot project suggests utility of IYP intervention for improving audiovisual reaction times and psychological health in chronic MS patients. In future, randomized controlled trials with larger sample size should be performed to confirm these findings.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 06/29/16:


    J Phys Act Health. 2016 Jun 22.

    Comparing the Effects of a Yoga Class to a Resistance Exercise Class on Body Satisfaction and Social Physique Anxiety in University Women.

    PURPOSE: The present study compared the effects of a single yoga group exercise class to a resistance group exercise class on state body satisfaction and social physique anxiety in women.

    METHODS: A pre-test post-test design was used. Participants (N = 46) completed both a resistance and yoga group exercise class, in a counter-balanced order. Measures of body satisfaction and social physique anxiety were completed immediately before and after each class.

    RESULTS: A 2 (time) x 2 (class type) repeated-measures multiple analysis of variance showed a significant overall time x class type interaction, F(2, 44) = 5.69, p < .01, ηp2 = .21. There was a significant increase in body satisfaction following the yoga class. Following both classes, there was a significant decrease in social physique anxiety but the magnitude of the changes was larger following the yoga class than the resistance class. CONCLUSIONS: Both types of exercise class were associated with improvements in body image, with greater improvements following the yoga class. This study provided evidence of the positive effects of yoga for reducing state social physique anxiety and increasing state body satisfaction, adding to correlational evidence suggesting yoga session be particularly beneficial for improving body image-related outcomes in women. Be well! JP

  10. JP Says:

    Updated 11/03/16:


    J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2016 Nov;22(6):483-497.

    A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Versus Yoga: Effects on Depression and/or Anxiety in College Students.

    BACKGROUND: Depression and anxiety disorders are two of the most common mental disorders in the United States. These disorders are prevalent among college students.

    OBJECTIVE: The main objective of this study is to compare the effectiveness of two different types of intervention practices (mindfulness vs. yoga) and a noninterventional control group in mitigating the effects of depression and/or anxiety in college students.

    METHOD: A sample of 90 students (both genders) over age 18 who had a diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression was recruited from 11,500 undergraduate college students in a mid-size university. The study’s design included stratified-randomized controlled repeated measures with three groups: a mindfulness intervention group, a yoga-only intervention group, and a noninterventional group. Participants were randomly assigned to the aforementioned three groups. Participants in the intervention groups received an 8-week training either in mindfulness or yoga. Depressive, anxiety, stress symptoms, self-compassion, and mindfulness were measured at baseline, Week 4, Week 8, and Week 12.

    RESULTS: Depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms decreased significantly (p < .01) from baseline to follow-up conditions in both the mindfulness and yoga intervention groups. The changes in mindfulness scores were also significant in both groups. However, the changes in self-compassion scores were significant only in the mindfulness intervention group. No significant changes in the control group were demonstrated. CONCLUSIONS: The findings from this study can provide useful information to nurses and other health care providers. This study may have implications for a cost-effective treatment for depression and anxiety. Be well! JP

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