Depression

10 March 2017

Yoga may ease symptoms of depression

A study found that a number of yoga sessions per week helped ease depression cases where medication had failed.

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Depression is a medical illness which affects one’s mood, body, thoughts and feelings. There are several types and sub-types of depression. Although the exact cause is unknown, several biological, genetic and psychosocial factors have been identified as playing a role.

Alternative or complementary therapy

The calming poses and meditation of yoga may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to beating depression, new research suggests.

The study was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

A Health24 article points out that yoga can relax you; it can get you fit; and, more and more, yoga is purported to be able to cure numerous medical conditions.

Researchers found that weekly sessions of yoga and deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of depression. They believe the practice may be an alternative or complementary therapy for tough-to-treat cases. 

Yoga's meditative quality

The intervention seemed helpful for "people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants [but] have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," study lead author Dr Chris Streeter said in a news release from Boston Medical Centre. He's a psychiatrist at the hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University.

Major depression is common and often persistent and disabling, Streeters' team noted. Up to 40% of people taking medication for this form of depression won't see their depression go away, according to the researchers.

However, prior studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga may be of help.

"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals," explained Dr Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who reviewed the new findings.

He added that exercise, especially yoga, may also "reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression".

Then there's yoga's meditative quality, as well, Manevitz said.

"It has been demonstrated that 'mindful' movement – conscious awareness – has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system," he said.

But would this bear out in a rigorous study? To find out, Streeter's team tracked outcomes for 30 people with major depressive disorder. All were randomly assigned to partake in either a "high-dose" or "low-dose" yoga intervention. The high-dose group had three 90-minute yoga classes each week along with home practice, while the low-dose group engaged in two 90-minute yoga sessions each week in addition to home practice.

The participants practiced Ilyengar yoga, a method that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breath control.

Yoga reduces depressed feelings

The study found that both groups had significant reductions in their depression symptoms. Those who took three weekly yoga classes had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the "low-dose" group, but Streeter's team said even two classes a week was still very effective in improving people's mood.

Streeter noted that this intervention targets a different neurochemical pathway in the body than mood-altering medications, suggesting that yoga may provide a new, side effect-free avenue for treatment.

For his part, Manevitz called the study "practical and well-designed". He believes the findings support yoga as a treatment "that can help the millions of people suffering from major depressive disorders around the world".

Dr Victor Fornari is a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York. He agreed that the new study "supports the use of yoga for the treatment of depression... Yoga, like regular exercise, is good for most people for health maintenance as well as to treat what ails them".

Read More:

Swap coffee for yoga – 3 postures to energise your day

Can yoga help to ease your arthritis pain?

The benefits of hot yoga

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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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