Can yoga and breathing really help 'cure' depression?

5:30pm Thursday 16th March 2017

content supplied by NHS Choices

This is the equivalent of a change from moderate depression to minimal depression symptoms. There was no difference between the groups in terms of how many people had only minimal symptoms at the end of the study.

One person dropped out of the study from each group. Nobody reported severe adverse effects from taking part in the classes, although 13 people reported muscle soreness.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers say their study "provides evidence that participation in an intervention composed of Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms for individuals with major depressive disorder."

They note that people taking three classes a week said it "entailed a demanding time commitment" and concluded that, "Although the thrice-weekly classes (plus home practice) had significantly more subjects with BDI-II scores ?10 at week 12, the twice-weekly classes (plus home practice) may constitute a less burdensome but still effective way to gain the mood benefits from the intervention." 


Many people report finding yoga and breathing exercises to be relaxing and helpful for their mental health. This study provides some evidence the practice might help people with symptoms of depression.

But flaws in the study mean we can't be sure this is the case. The lack of a control group is the big problem.

For some people, depression simply gets better over time. For others, taking part in a class, being able to talk about their mental health, or getting out and doing some gentle physical exercise may improve their symptoms.

We don't know whether yoga specifically made a difference because the study doesn't tell us this.

Other problems include the study's relatively small size. Also, the cut-off point of 10 on the depression score seems to have been randomly chosen, rather than being of any clinical significance.

The large number of people who dropped out of the study or lost touch with organisers before the study began (approximately 63) also points to the practical difficulty with the intervention.

Attending two or three yoga classes a week, plus three or four home practice sessions, may be difficult for many people with moderate to severe depression to fit into their lives.

And some people may have felt they were unable to cope with the experience of interacting with others in a group activity.  

But it's encouraging that most people in the study saw big improvements in their mental health over the 12-week period.

There are many treatments for depression, including antidepressant medicines and talking therapies, as well as relaxation therapies like yoga. An important first step is to talk to your GP.

Read more about treatments for depression.


"Taking yoga classes can help ease depressive symptoms, a new study says," reports the Mail Online. A small study from the US found yoga was associated with a clinically significant improvement in depression symptoms.

Links to Headlines

Why yoga beats depression: Harvard and Columbia study 'prove' how the relaxing workout eases symptoms. Mail Online, March 15 2017

Links to Science

Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Whitfield TH, et al. Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Published online February 16 2017

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