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.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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 types of yoga also include mindfulness and mediation practices. There are many different types of yoga, with some styles more strenuous than others.

How does it work?

Yoga could work in several different ways to help depression. Depending on the style of yoga, it can be performed:

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.

Is it effective?

A review of 34 randomised controlled trials found that participants with depression who practice yoga had reduced depression symptoms compared those who keep their standard treatment (for example, antidepressant medication or no other treatments). There is also evidence that yoga is more effective when combined with antidepressant medication, than as a stand-alone treatment.

Another review of 13 studies found that yoga was more effective for individuals with depression if they practiced more sessions each week.

However, larger studies of higher quality are required to understand which types of yoga, for how long and how often, might be most beneficial.

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 many 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 purchase yoga books or instructional videos from bookshops or other retailers.
  • There are many courses and instructional videos available online.


While yoga should not be used as a stand-alone treatment for major depression, it appears to be a promising complimentary therapy. In particular, yoga may be useful in addition to antidepressant medication.

Key references

  • Brinsley J, Schuch F, Lederman O, Girard D, Smout M, Immink MA, et al. Effects of yoga on depressive symptoms in people with mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2021; 55(17):992-1000.
  • Cramer H, Anheyer D, Lauche R, Dobos G. A systematic review of yoga for major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2017; 213:70-7.
  • 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.
  • Martínez-Calderon J, Casuso-Holgado MJ, Muñoz-Fernandez MJ, Garcia-Muñoz C, Heredia-Rizo AM. Yoga-based interventions may reduce anxiety symptoms in anxiety disorders and depression symptoms in depressive disorders: a systematic review with meta-analysis and meta-regression. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2023: bjsports-2022-106497.
  • Wu Y, Yan D, Yang J. Effectiveness of yoga for major depressive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2023; 14:1138205-.
  • Zou L, Yeung A, Li C, Wei GX, Chen KW, Kinser PA, et al. Effects of Meditative Movements on Major Depressive Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2018; 7(8).

Last reviewed and updated: 27 November 2023