How Yoga Helps Depression – The Scientific Evidence

Yoga Gurus have always known about the beneficial effect of Yoga on mood levels.  However, an increasing number of scientific studies now also demonstrate how Yoga helps depression and low mood in a significant way.

In this article, we delve into some of the more common causes of depression and the role of Yoga in alleviating it.  We also look at some key science on how Yoga helps depression and suggest a few of free YouTube videos anyone can do at home.

What Causes Depression?

We all know how it is to be blue at some stage in our lives.

At times it may just be because it is cold outside or raining cats and dogs.   And there’s a good reason for this – a lack of the right amount of sunshine and light can cause what’s known as SAD – seasonally affected depression.  Something that can be addressed relatively easily with the right kind of light exposure.

Other times, we are facing difficulties in our personal lives or jobs that we can’t see a way through.  Whether this is an abusive situation at work or home, unrelenting stress, or the loss of a valued relationship or a loved one – many factors can contribute to low mood or depression.

Finally, there are also those events to consider that happened much earlier in our lives but still have a significant effect on our mood long term.  These can be experiences and situations we only have a vague memory of, but their effect persists in our current lives.  There can also be very specific traumatic events that remain unsolved in their acuteness and have ongoing effects on our present state of wellbeing.

Often the consequence is that we retreat from the world and social engagement.  Our energy levels drop and our mood may even go down further.

If circumstances persist and we do not seek or get appropriate help and support, we can easily slip into a more serious depressive state.

Yoga and depression - what the science says

How Does Yoga Help With Depression?

For anyone with mild depression or low mood, Yoga can be very helpful.

Most regular Yoga practitioners know that Yoga influences mood, anxiety and energy in a very positive way. It does this by helping release any stuck energy or “chi” so that it can move out of the body. 

However, Yoga also fundamentally affects our emotional state at a nervous system and hormonal level, with significant benefits to mood and well being. 

Check out our articles on the Emotional Benefits of Yoga and Why Yoga Feels So Good to find out more about this.

And then there is yet another way of looking at this whole problem area.  Did you know that our thoughts guide our emotions?

Therefore, if we purposefully guide our thoughts about our circumstances in a more positive direction, more upbeat emotions will follow.

Yoga, with its focus on the breath, helps us relax and find a space where we can respond to our circumstances in a more positive way.

Yoga For Depression – The Scientific Evidence

The scientific community has developed a growing interest in demonstrating the benefits of Yoga for depression – with many surprising results.

For example, a recent report by the American Psychological Association talks extensively about the benefits of Yoga as an effective therapy for depression.  In one of the documented studies, 74 mildly depressed university students received a 30-minute live instruction on Yoga.  Then, they were asked to practice Yoga for eight days at home, using a 15-minute instructional video.

Two months later, the participants had significantly reduced scores for depression, anxiety, and stress.  Not only that, these scores were much lower than for a comparative group that just did relaxation exercises.

Although it is noted that the study participants only suffered a mild level of depression, the results are important.

Effectively, a simple Yoga practice of just 15 minutes each day can have a big influence on how you feel and your overall wellbeing.

In the overall scheme of a day, 15 minutes is very minor and very doable.  Therefore, a little Yoga goes a long way.

If you feel like reading a bit more about the science behind Yoga and mood, read our article on Yoga, curiosity and happiness.  This delves into this a bit further into how Yoga can guide you towards greater happiness.

Yoga Sequences For Depression

Below we suggest three short Yoga routines that might get you started in the right direction.  Both are slow and gentle.  They are very helpful in opening up the body, awaken the chi and get it to flow again.  Some Yoga asanas work particularly well for low mood and depression.

Remember, do only what serves your body: don’t do anything that feels painful or uncomfortable. Fall back to a good “standby” pose if necessary.  Otherwise, just use a few props to relieve any pressure points or sore joints – including a chair.

If anything is too much, just wait a pose out sitting on the floor or a chair.

In no time, your chi will rise again.  Soon, you will develop a sense of wellbeing no matter what the weather of life does around you.

We thank Yoga With Adriene and Healthy approach with sharing these videos on YouTube.

1. Yoga For Depression – Yoga With Adriene

2. Yoga Poses for Anxiety, Stress & Depression Relief | 15 minute Relaxing Workout – by Healthy Approach

3. Yoga For The Winter Blues – Yoga With Adriene

Final thoughts

Yoga is just one of the tools in the overall toolbox to help depression.

However, significant and ongoing depression must be taken seriously.

If your depression is severe, please consult with your medical practitioner to map out the best path forward for you.  This may include some medication or sessions with a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you move to a better place.

There is no shame but only courage in admitting you need help.

Personal story:  My life partner Stephen has struggled with depression his whole life.  Long term counselling (which is still ongoing) has fundamentally turned his life around.  His resilience and level of skill in navigating and understanding the “weather of emotions” – as he calls it – is amazing.  He has all of my support and admiration.