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Using Yoga to Relieve The Symptoms of Depression

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

How does yoga affect depression?

More studies are using randomized controlled trials to look at the relationship between yoga and depression. Randomized controlled trials are the best ways to verify study results. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, recent studies suggest that yoga can:

  • reduce the impact of stress
  • help with anxiety and depression
  • be a self-soothing technique similar to meditation, relaxation, and exercise
  • improve energy
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Yoga is a physical exercise that involves different body poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. The therapy may help with depression and your symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating or loss of energy.

Many people use yoga therapy to manage:

  • mental and emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression
  • conditions and disorders, such as ongoing low back pain
  • chronic or long-term pain
  • overall health and well-being

You can find yoga classes at fitness studios, hospitals, and local community centers. The classes can be gentle or challenging, depending on the style.

How yoga therapy works

Dr. Mason Turner of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group says yoga therapy “can be very powerful in the treatment of depression.” Even if yoga isn’t your forte, the combination of meditation and physical movement provide two important elements for relieving depression. Meditation helps bring a person into the present moment and allows them to clear their minds. Controlled, focused movements also help strengthen the body-mind connection.

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Breathing exercises are effective in reducing depressive symptoms, according to one study. You may find yoga helpful as the exercise focuses on deep, controlled breathing.

What does depression do to your body? »

To improve mood and relaxation

As exercise, yoga is a natural way to increase serotonin production. According to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, serotonin production plays a role in the treatment of depression. Serotonin is believed to play a major role in happiness. One study also suggests people with depression have lower serotonin levels.

Yoga is also especially helpful because of its gentle, calming, and fluid nature. Each pose is flexible, so people of all levels can practice. Your instructor will emphasize breathing, concentration, and smooth movement. They’ll also encourage you to focus on positive images to calm the body and mind.

To reduce stress and anxiety
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Yoga also increases your heart rate variability (HRV), or change in time between heart beats, by increasing the relaxation response over the stress response in the body. A high HRV means that your body is better at self-monitoring or adapting, particularly to stress.

Yoga can also:

  • reduce resting heart rate
  • lower blood pressure
  • ease breathing
  • increase pain tolerance

One study, according to Harvard Mental Health, found that people who were more stressed had a lower pain tolerance.

Styles of yoga

If you prefer doing yoga in a private setting, you can try one-on-one therapy with a yoga instructor or do yoga by yourself at home while watching an instructional video.

Yoga poses

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Some yoga asanas, or physical movements of yoga, can help reduce certain symptoms. For example, you may want to try the dolphin, bridge, or extended puppy pose for back pain.

The corpse pose, in which you completely relax flat on your back, can help sleep issues. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression. For instructions on the go, download former Australian pole vaulter Amanda Bisk’s “Sleep Better Stretch Guide.” It has a video and photo tutorial.

Gradually tackling more challenging poses such as the supported shoulder stand or supported headstand can boost your concentration. It can also be a great way to measure improvement. If you enjoy exercising alone and at home, try Yoga With Adriene’s all-levels instructional video, “Yoga For Depression.”

What are the pros and cons of yoga therapy?

Yoga complements traditional therapies, such as medication and psychotherapy. But it’s not meant to be a sole treatment.

Read more on: therapy


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