Depression
57 Case Studies
36 Member Stories
74 Research

Research shows Yoga may serve to regulate the autonomic nervous system and to be an effective mind-body exercise to help anxiety & depression.

What is depresssion?

Do you feel isolated and disconnected from the world? Does nothing on earth interest you and you feel like ending your life? All these symptoms can be a sign that you are suffering from depression. 

Depression is a serious medical illness that causes significant impairment in daily life. It can affect a person's social, personal as well as professional life. According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and lack of interest. Also called a major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, believe and act and may cause various emotional and physical issues. You might have trouble doing normal day-to-day tasks, and at times you may feel like life is not worth living. It is not simply a weakness and you can not simply "snap out" of it. Depression may require long-term therapy, and even if it may occur only once during your lifetime, people typically have several episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur in the majority of the day and almost daily.

Nowadays, the lifestyle of people has become very busy and restless which results in increased stress among many people causing various mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and aggressive behavior. Many pharmacological interventions like fluoxetine, Paroxetine, Sertraline, citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro) may feel appealing but their use is likely to have severe adverse effects. A number of people with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety turn to nonpharmacological and nonconventional interventions, including yoga, exercise, acupuncture, and meditation. 

Meta-analyses and systematic reviews of research studies have shown that these interventions can be helpful for treatment-resistant depression and can improve various symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. 

See: Beat Depression with Meditation

How can Yoga help depression?

One may be wondering how yoga therapy can help in treating depression? Yoga asanas for depression follow a holistic approach in benefitting a person suffering from the disease. The therapy involves identifying and treating the root cause of disease rather than just alleviating the symptoms. 

It has been found that mental illness like depression results due to activated stress response systems that cause autonomic nervous system dysfunction leading to depression and anxiety. Yoga-based practices may modify under activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and serve to regulate the autonomic nervous system. This is directly correlated with improved mood. It has also been found that yoga for depression has a positive impact on various biologic pathways and there is some evidence that yoga may serve to decrease inflammation.

Accessible reviews of a wide assortment of yoga practices imply they can lessen the effect of exaggerated anxiety responses and might be useful for both depression and anxiety. In this regard, yoga acts like other soothing methods, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or listening to music.

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga seems to regulate stress response systems. This, in turn, reduces physiological stimulation -- for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and relieving respiration. There's also proof that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's ability to respond to stress more flexibly. Meditation and other stress-reduction techniques are studied as potential treatments for depression and anxiety. 

However, for many patients coping with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga could be a very appealing approach to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga shows that physical and mental health isn't just closely intertwined, but are essentially equal. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a rather low-risk, high-yield approach to improving general health.

Many people use yoga therapy to handle mental and psychological problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Yoga also helps keep a positive outlook and mood. As an exercise, yoga is a natural method for increasing serotonin production. According to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, serotonin production plays a role in treating depression.[2] Serotonin is thought to play a significant role in happiness. One study also indicates individuals with depression have lower serotonin levels.[3]

Yoga can also be particularly helpful because of its gentle, calming, and fluid character. Each pose is elastic, so people of all levels can practice. Your teacher will emphasize breathing, concentration, and smooth motion. They will also encourage you to concentrate on positive images to calm the body and mind.

More studies are using randomized controlled trials to consider the connection between yoga and depression.  According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter [4], recent studies suggest that yoga can:

- Decrease the impact of stress

- Help with depression and anxiety

- Be a self-soothing technique like meditation, relaxation, and exercise

- improve energy

Yoga is an integrative therapy combining physical and mental exercise.  Different body positions or poses, breathing techniques, and meditation are all integrated in a fluid set of movements. The treatment may help with depression along with other symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating or loss of concentration or vitality.

See: Suffering from Depression - Try Yoga Asanas

What are best yoga asanas for Depression?

There are many aspects of yoga, particularly for depression. Attending a yoga course in a class, and drawing on the energy in the room, is much more beneficial for those coping with depression than practicing in your own room. If that is not possible, a solo practice might be a more realistic daily aim. When you are feeling depressed, it's imperative to practice some energizing poses as hard as it may be.

Supported backbends like Viparita Dandasana can then lift the spirits without too much of stimulating the nervous system, as long as you concentrate on your breathing and do not aggressively work the pose. Backbends work better since they open the chest, which is vital for relieving both depression and anxiety. The combination of inhalation, which brings life force to the body and the exhalation for stress promotes a calm, peaceful mind. There are numerous poses and asanas for depression that aim to control breath and benefit the person with depression.

1. Pranayama for depression includes Ujjayi (Victorious Breath) which include breathing deeply and slowly at a rate of about 4 respirations/minute against mild airway resistance.

Benefits: Helps energize and relax the mind and body. It also sends fresh oxygen throughout the body which not only improves the mood but also uplifts and boosts energy.

2. Bhastrika (Bellows Breath):  Sit down in a yogic posture with your palms on your knees facing upwards and inhale and exhale forcefully through nostrils while using strong abdominal muscle contractions at a rate of about 20–30 respirations/minute. 

Benefits: Helps remove negative thoughts, by calming your mind and flushing out the toxins from the body. Good for the respiratory tract and the common cold.

3. Brahmari (Bumblebee Breath):  Slow breathing is done in this pose where your eyes are closed and ears are covered by placing your hands over the face and external ear flaps. Taking a deep breath and releasing it while making a gentle humming sound is the main component of this pose

Benefits:  Helps in reducing fatigue, high vital signs, and mental stress. It creates a chilling effect on the mind.

4. Ardha Kati Chakrasana (Half Waist Wheel Pose):  Stand upright with your legs apart, and then gently bend from waist sideways to the left as far as comfortable. Keep your right arm upward while stretching. Returning to an upright stance, and repeat the exercise, bending to the right side while stretching your left arm up. 

Benefits: Improves breathing by clearing the blockages in the lungs and thus promote the good supply of oxygenated blood into the mind and body.

5. Pada Hastasana (Hands to Feet Pose): Stand upright with arms raised, then gently bend forward aiming to touch the ground, or until your torso is parallel to ground.  People who are flexible enough can continue to bend forward until their hands are touching their feet.

Benefits: It helps eliminates stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Improves, blood circulation especially in the upper part of the body. 

6. Bhujungasana (Cobra Pose):  Lay on the ground in a prone position with both your palms on the ground then gently arch the spine and head back as far as comfortable, supporting the torso with arms.

Benefits: Elevates mood in depressive patients.

7. Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand): Lie on your yoga mat in a supine position. Raise your legs slowly until the legs are perpendicular to the ground with sufficient strength and flexibility. Then raise the buttocks and trunk off the ground, while keeping the shoulders and elbows firmly on the ground.  Take support on your back with both palms.

Benefits: It helps calm a headache, relaxes the mind by improving circulation to the upper body and brain.

8. Matsyasana (Fish Pose): lie in a supine position with both your hands placed underneath the back with palms down. Raise your chest and back above the ground by pressing your palms against the ground, arch as far as comfortable, with your body weight supported on elbows.

Benefits: It helps reduce worries and nervousness, the release of negative feelings and pressure from the chest and mild depression effectively.

9. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose): lie on the ground in a supine position keep the feet and palms flat on the floor. Bend the knees while keeping the soles of the feet on the ground and lift your hips off the floor towards the ceiling as far as comfortable.

Benefits: Improves blood circulation, Helps alleviate stress and mild depression, by calming the brain.


In addition to the above mentioned poses some other yoga exercises for depression  that can bring wonderful experience in the individual include Nadi Shodana (Alternate Nostril Breathing), Chakrasana (Half Wheel Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Childs Pose (Balasana), Halasana (Plough Pose) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose

See: Pranayama Breathing Benefits & Physiology

Scientific Studies in Yoga for Depression

1. First study: Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial.[5].

38 adults meeting the criteria for major depression of mild-to-moderate severity were included in the study. The patients included in the study were divided into two groups where one group with twenty participants received a 90-minute hatha yoga practice, twice weekly for 8 weeks. Whereas, the other group containing eighteen participants, were randomized to 90-minute attention control education programs weekly for 8 weeks. Certified yoga instructors delivered both interventions.

Primary outcome measures included reporting depression severity, by BDI scores every 2 weeks from baseline to 8 weeks treatment. Secondary outcome measures evaluated self-esteem and self-efficacy parameters at baseline and at 8 weeks based on the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSES) and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES). 

Results reported showed that yoga participants exhibited a significant 8-week decline in BDI scores when compared to the control group. This concluded that 8-week hatha yoga intervention resulted in statistically and clinically significant reductions in depression severity in adults with mild-to-moderate major depression. 


2. Second study: Effects of yoga on depression, anxiety, and stress of women.[6].

In this study, 65 women participants with depression and anxiety were randomly assigned to an experimental and control group. The experimental group (n = 34) received yoga classes of 60 min duration daily for 3 months. The control group (n = 31) was assigned to a waiting list and did not receive any intervention. Both the groups were evaluated at baseline and again after the 3 month study period. 

The results showed that women who participated in yoga classes showed a significant decrease in anxiety and trait anxiety. However, a statistically insignificant decrease in depression scores was reported in the yoga intervention group.


See: Nose breathing exercises for health benefits

Summary

Depression is a disorder of fast-paced life and Yoga therapy for depression as a monotherapy or an adjunctive therapy has positive effects on depression. By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to maintain both physical and mental health. It helps decrease physiological arousal, for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. Yoga, when practiced regularly, helps improve flexibility, can loosen muscles resulting in reduced aches and pain, generates balanced energy, reduces breathing and heart rates, lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels, increase blood flow, and reduces stress and anxiety due to calmness. Yoga practices can thus improve preexisting medical conditions such as arthritis, cancer, and mental illness symptoms.

See: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation

References

1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007

2. Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007;32(6):394–399.

3. Paul-Savoie E1, Potvin S, Daigle K, Normand E, Corbin JF, Gagnon R, Marchand S., Clin J Pain. 2011 Jul-Aug;27(6):529-34. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31820dfede., A deficit in peripheral serotonin levels in major depressive disorder but not in chronic widespread pain.

4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

5. Sudha Prathikanti., Renee Rivera , Ashly Cochran, Jose Gabriel Tungol, Nima Fayazmanesh, Eva Weinmann. Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial.Plos one. 2017. 

6. Masoumeh Shohani, Gholamreza Badfar, Marzieh Parizad Nasirkandy, Sattar Kaikhavani, Shoboo Rahmati, Yaghoob Modmeli,  Ali Soleymani,and Milad Azami. The Effects of yoga on depression, anxiety, and stress of women.2.Int J Prev Med. 2018; 9: 21.

7. https://www.artofliving.org/yoga/yoga-poses/yoga-poses-for-depression

See: Deep and Slow Abdominal Breathing by Contracting the Diaphragm

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