Yoga

Our rating
1 smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.

What is it?

Yoga is based on Hindu religious practices. It includes exercises and adopting different poses (asanas) that aim to give greater control of the body and mind and to increase wellbeing. Some yoga also includes mindfulness and mediation practices. There are many different types of yoga, with some styles more strenuous than others.

How does it work?

Yoga may boost chemicals in the brain that can affect mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are natural chemical messengers in the brain and it is thought that increasing levels of these can be helpful in depression.

Yoga may also help to reduce stress and promote general wellbeing.

Is it effective?

A systematic review looked at 12 different studies on yoga for the treatment of depression. In general, participants who practiced yoga had reduced depression symptoms compared those who simply kept their standard treatment (for example, antidepressant medication or no other treatments). Yoga may also provide more benefits than other similar alternative therapies, such as general relaxation and aerobic exercise.

The benefits of yoga for depression seem to be limited to styles of yoga that include a meditation-based component.

Are there any disadvantages?

Some yoga exercises require muscle strength and good flexibility, however beginners are encouraged to modify poses to suit their skill level. Private yoga classes can be expensive, but there are many low cost options available.

Where do you get it?

There are a number of ways to practice yoga. Group classes are offered at private yoga studios and by some gyms. Yoga teachers may also offer classes from a home studio, or at community centres. You can also purchase yoga books or instructional videos from bookshops or other retailers.

Recommendation

While yoga should not be used as a standalone treatment for major depression, it appears to be a promising complimentary therapy. If you want to try yoga to improve mood, make sure you find a style that includes a mindfulness or meditation based component.

Key references

  • Cramer H, Lauche R, Langhorst J, Dobos G. Yoga for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Depress Anxiety. 2013 Nov; 30(11):1068-83.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016