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Can Yoga Help Lower Symptoms of Depression?

Can Yoga Help Lower Symptoms of Depression?

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  • Depression symptoms were lowered in veterans who practiced yoga
  • Depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry have all been reduced after eight weeks of yoga practice
  • Hatha yoga and Bikram yoga have improved the quality of life, optimism, cognitive and physical function

Individuals suffering from depression can practice yoga, as it compliments traditional therapies to help reduce the symptoms of depression, reveals a new study presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who chaired a session highlighting research on yoga and depression said, "Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing, but the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health."

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Can Yoga Help Lower Symptoms of Depression?

Relation Between Hatha Yoga and Depression

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga, which emphasizes on physical exercises, along with meditative and breathing exercises to enhance overall well-being of the individual. The acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga have been observed by Hopkins' research team.

About 23 male veterans participated in this study and attended yoga classes twice a week for eight weeks. On a scale of 1-10, the average enjoyment rating for the yoga classes was found to be 9.4 for these veterans.

More importantly, participants with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight weeks.

Veterans who had elevated depression scores before starting the yoga program, showed signs of reduction in depression symptoms at the end of eight weeks.

Relation Between Bikram Yoga and Depression

Another version of hatha yoga that is commonly practiced in the West is Bikram yoga or Heated yoga. About 52 women in the age group of 25 and 45 who practice Bikram yoga were investigated by Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University in San Francisco.

More than half veterans who participated in the study were asked to take part in the yoga program twice a week for eight weeks and the rest were wait-listed and were included in the control group.

At the very beginning of this study, all the participants were tested for depression levels and later after three weeks, then six and nine.

The symptoms of depression were found to reduce in participants who practiced Bikram yoga for eight weeks, when compared with the control group, revealed Shallit and her co-author Hopkins.

In the same session, the data from a pilot study was presented by Maren Nyer, PhD, and Maya Nauphal, BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital. In this pilot study, 29 adults have also showed that practicing Bikram yoga twice a week for eight weeks significantly reduced depression symptoms. It was also found that it improved quality of life, optimism, and cognitive and physical functioning.

Nyer, who currently has funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Bikram yoga for individuals with depression said that as the number of participants who attended yoga classes increased, the symptoms of depression lowered in the participants at the end of the study.

The data from two studies were presented at a meeting elsewhere on the potential for yoga to address chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression by Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands.

In the first study, 12 patients participated in nine weekly yoga sessions for about 2.5 hours each. These patients who took part in the study have experienced depression for an average of 11 years.

Yoga Improved the Quality of Life

The levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry were measured by the research team in all the participants before the yoga sessions, directly after nine weeks and later after four months.

Throughout the program, the scores for depression, anxiety and stress have significantly decreased, which is a benefit that lasted even after four months of training.

Two things that did not change immediately after treatment were rumination and worry. However, at follow up session it was found that rumination and worry were decreased significantly in the participants.

In another study, yoga has been controlled to a relaxation technique, where 74 mildly depressed university students were involved lead by Vollbehr and her colleagues.

Participants received 30 minutes of live instruction on either yoga or on the relaxation technique. They were asked to repeat the same exercise for eight days at home, using a 15-minute instructional video.

The results taken immediately after the treatment showed that yoga and relaxation technique used were equally effective at reducing symptoms. But two months later, it was found that the participants in the yoga group had lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress, when compared with the relaxation group.

Vollbehr said that all these studies show that the yoga-based interventions have promising results for reducing symptoms of depression and is also feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression.

U.S. military is investigating the creation of its own treatment programs on the concept of yoga as complementary or alternative mental health treatment.

Outlining a standardized, six-week yoga treatment for U.S. military veterans enrolled in behavioral health services at the university-run clinic was presented by Jacob Hyde, PsyD, of the University of Denver.

The results found could be expanded for use by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The research on yoga as a treatment for depression is still in the preliminary stage, noted Hopkins.

Hopkins said: "At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist. Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential."

  1. Lindsey Hopkins et al. American Psychological Association (APA). "Yoga effective at reducing symptoms of depression." August (2017).

Source: Medindia

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