Yoga for Depression and Anxiety

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From early 1970s onwards, Yoga, meditation and various other stress lowering techniques have been researched and studied as natural cures for anxiety and depression. In a recent survey in the US, it was found that approx. 7 to 8 percent adults have tried Yoga at least once in their lifetimes. Although Yoga has achieved greater popularity in recent years, very less has been written on its benefits in treating depression and anxiety.

Yoga techniques vary from gentle to challenging depending on body strength and preferences. In the US, the most popular kind of Yoga is “Hatha Yoga” combines breath control with asanas and meditation.

In 2000s, several studies following most rigorous standard of research, randomized control trial (RCT), have indicated that yoga provides therapeutic benefits in curing anxiety and depression. Effects of yoga are comparable to other soothing techniques such as meditation, exercise and socializing.  As per widely available review data, practicing yoga effectively reduces exaggerated stress responses.

Yoga for taming stress response

In a study conducted at University of Utah in 2008, preliminary results suggested that Yoga is very effective in taming the stress response and therefore pain responses. In the study, three groups of people - yoga practitioners, fibromyalgia (a stress related illness which makes affected people hypersensitive to pain) patients and healthy individuals - were subjected to thumbnail pressure. The group suffering from Fibromyalgia, as expected, experienced pain at lower pressure levels and Functional MRIs showed highest activity in their brain areas associated with pain. Group of Yoga practitioners showed highest pain tolerance and lowest brain activity related to pain during functional MRI. The study highlighted that techniques such as yoga can help in taming stress and pain responses.

Yoga for improving mood and functioning

Preliminary findings of research studies suggest that effect of yoga in improving mood is similar to that of other relaxation techniques and exercising. In 2005, as per a published German study, twenty four emotionally stressed women were put on 90-minute long Yoga sessions per week for three months. At the same time, another controlled group of stressed individuals was asked to continue with regular activities and not start exercising or any stress reduction program. After three months of study, women who started practicing Yoga showed fifty percent improvement in depression scores, thirty percent improvement in anxiety score and sixty five percent improvement in overall wellbeing. Headaches, back pain and poor sleep quality also improved in the yoga group more than the other group..

Yoga also showed improvement in quality of life and mood of elderly, breast cancer survivors, epilepsy patients and caretakers of people with dementia.

Controlled Breathing technique (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) for Depression relief 

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga is a controlled breathing technique which involves different breathing patterns – slow, rapid, calming, stimulating – followed in a cyclical order. A study compared effects of thirty minutes of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga for six days a week to tricyclic antidepressant imipramine and bilateral electroconvulsive therapy in forty five people hospitalized for depression. After one month of study, sixty seven percent of patients on Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, seventy three percent of patients on imipramine and ninety three percent of patients on electroconvulsive therapy showed relief from depression.

In another study, effect of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga was examined on depression levels of sixty alcohol-dependent. All men underwent a standard detoxification program at a mental health centre in Bangalore for one week. Afterwards, half of them were put on Sudarshan Kriya Yoga and the other half continued with standard alcoholism treatment for two weeks. After three weeks of study, standard depression inventory dipped by seventy five percent in the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga group, and sixty percent in the regular treatment group. Also, levels of stress hormone, Cartisol and Corticotropin, dipped in Sudarshan Kriya Yoga group and remained unchanged in standard group.

Yoga for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Some studies suggest that Yoga is effective in toning down arousal of maladaptive nervous system. A study was conducted on disabled Australian Vietnam veterans with severe Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. All veterans were on at least one anti-depressant and were daily heavy drinkers. All veterans were put on a 5-day long course which included yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques. Six weeks after the study, the Yoga group’s Post traumatic stress levels dropped from 57 (on a PTSD scale) to 42. Other veterans who did not undergo this therapy showed no relief.