How Yoga Can Help Your Depression

Yoga has a ton of mental health benefits

yoga for depression

Verywell / Laura Porter

While you might think stretching, breathing, and focusing on your posture can’t possibly improve your psychological well-being, there’s growing evidence that yoga can be effective in reducing depression.

Traditional treatment for depression usually involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. But not everyone responds well to these types of evidence-based treatments. Only one-third of individuals receive relief from their first trial with antidepressants.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in mind-body practices that can improve psychological well-being. Yoga, in particular, has shown a sharp increase in popularity over the last decade. One study found that the percentage of the US population who had practiced yoga increased from 5.8% in 2002 to 10.1% in 2012.

There are many studies that have found yoga can decrease symptoms of depression. In fact, some studies have found that yoga is just as effective as antidepressants and exercise in reducing symptoms of depression.

Researchers found that yoga provides immediate relief as well as long-term symptom reduction. It also decreases symptom severity and increases treatment remission rates. 

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Research on Yoga and Depression

While the number of studies on yoga and depression are increasing, there are still many questions about how to research the topic. Here are some of the reasons research on the impact yoga can have on depression is complicated:

  • Some studies include individuals who feel depressed but aren’t necessarily diagnosed with depression.
  • There are many different types of yoga which makes comparing studies more complicated.
  • Yoga likely affects each population in a slightly different manner.

Some research has been conducted on specific populations, such as women or expectant mothers. Here’s what studies reveal about how yoga can affect depression in these specific populations.

Major Depression 

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice found that yoga can be a helpful complementary treatment for clinical depression or major depressive disorder. Within one month of beginning a yoga practice, participants’ sleep quality significantly improved. Tranquility and positivity increased while physical exhaustion, and symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased.

It’s important to note that it was a small study with only 30 participants. And the researchers were trying to determine the correct “dose” of yoga.

One group spent practiced yoga three times a week for 90 minutes each over three months, while the other group practiced yoga two times per week for 90 minutes each. The positive results for both groups were the same. 

Women With Depression

A 2016 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine examined how mindfulness-based yoga compared to walking as an alternative treatment for depression.

There have been many studies finding that physical activities like walking can reduce depressive symptoms. But when researchers examined two groups of women with depression—one walking and the other practicing mindfulness-based yoga—they found that the yoga group experienced better results after 12 weeks.

While both groups experienced an improvement in their symptoms, the mindfulness-based yoga group reported significantly lower levels of rumination (which can trigger depression) after the study ended.

Reducing rumination might be key to helping women keep their depression in remission.

Expectant Mothers on Bedrest

Depression is common in expectant mothers who are placed on bedrest due to high-risk pregnancies. Social isolation, lack of activity, boredom, and physical health concerns, are just a few stressors women on bedrest often experience—and all of these factors can contribute to depression and anxiety.

Treatment for depression can be complicated for this population as medication may not be a safe option. Attending traditional therapy sessions in an office setting isn’t likely an option either.

Research shows that yoga may be quite beneficial to women on bedrest. A 2020 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that as few as three sessions were helpful in reducing anxiety and depression for high-risk pregnant women on bedrest.

Individuals Recovering From Addiction

Depression and anxiety are common among individuals who have entered rehabilitation for an alcohol or drug addiction. Studies show that yoga may be a promising form of treatment.

A 2011 study published in Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences found that yoga significantly reduced both anxiety and depression in individuals who were in a rehabilitation clinic. Participants in the study attended three 60-minute yoga sessions per week for five weeks.

The researchers found that the impact yoga had on the body—including the nervous system and various hormones—seemed instrumental in reducing participants’ symptoms.

They recommended that yoga be prescribed to individuals recovering from addiction as a complementary form of treatment that can make medication and therapy even more effective.

Talk to Your Physician

If you’re feeling depressed, or your current depression treatment isn’t working as well as you’d like, talk to your physician about whether yoga might be an option. Your physician may be able to help you find the most helpful type of yoga for your depression. Your physician may also be able to recommend a good yoga instructor or program that may reduce your symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done on yoga to determine which types of yoga work best, how often yoga should be practiced, and how it can address specific symptoms of depression. But clearly the evidence so far shows that it may be an effective complementary treatment that can be good for your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

So don’t underestimate the power of stretching, breathing, and reaching. You might find that a few simple yoga exercises might be powerful ways to boost your mood and reduce your symptoms of depression.

The best news is that yoga may provide some immediate relief to your symptoms. Additionally, a regular yoga practice may reduce your symptoms of depression in the long-term as well. 

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.