Yoga and breathing exercises improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in the short term and cumulatively in the longer term, new research suggests.
Scientific studies already support yoga practice as a means to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The new findings, which appear in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, suggest yoga can be a helpful complementary treatment for clinical depression or major depressive disorder.
Researchers randomly divided a group of 30 clinically depressed patients into two groups. Both groups engaged in lyengar yoga and coherent breathing with the only difference being the number of instructional and home sessions in which each group participated. Over three months, the high-dose group (HDG) spent 123 hours in sessions while the low-dose group (LDG) spent 87 hours.
Results showed that within a month, both groups’ sleep quality significantly improved. Tranquility, positivity, physical exhaustion, and symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly improved in both groups, as measured by several validated clinical scales.
“Think of it this way, we give medications in different doses in order to enact their effects on the body to varying degrees. Here, we explored the same concept, but used yoga. We call that a dosing study. Past yoga and depression studies have not really delved deeply into this,” says corresponding author Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
“Providing evidence-based data is helpful in getting more individuals to try yoga as a strategy for improving their health and well-being. These data are crucial for accompanying investigations of underlying neurobiology that will help elucidate ‘how’ yoga works,” says coauthor Marisa M. Silveri, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Depression, a condition that affects one of every seven adults in the US at some point in their lives, is treated with a variety of modalities, including counseling (especially through cognitive-behavioral therapy) and medication. Research has shown combining therapy and medication has greater success than either treatment alone.
Although studies with more participants would be helpful in further investigating its benefits, this small study indicates adding yoga to the prescription may be helpful.
Funding for the study came from the Boston University Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Coauthors Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg teach and have published Breath-Body-Mind, a multi-component program that includes coherent breathing. Streeter is certified to teach Breath-Body-Mind. The other authors declare no conflicts of interest.