A series of studies focusing on the antidepressant effects of yoga were presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
While the research is still preliminary, yoga as a treatment for depression does have potential, says researcher Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who chaired the session.
One of the studies, led by Hopkins, examined the effects of hatha yoga, a type of yoga that emphasises physical movement and breathing exercises.
For eight weeks, 23 male veterans participated in hatha yoga classes twice a week.
By the end of the program, veterans with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms.
Meanwhile, a pilot study conducted by researchers at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands followed patients with chronic depression for 11 years.
As part of the research, the participants took weekly 2.5 hour classes for nine weeks combined with their usual care – generally a combination of therapy and antidepressants.
At the end of the treatment period, patients’ scores of depression and anxiety were reduced compared to when they’d started the yoga.
Another study found that an eight-week course of Bikram yoga (hot yoga) helped reduce depression symptoms in young to early middle-age women, compared to those in the control group.
“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,” Hopkins said.
“Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential,” she said.
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