Each year, more than 15 million Americans suffer from depression. For many, modern treatment methods produce marginal results and often have negative side effects. A new research study has shown yoga to be an effective way to treat depression—offering a ray of hope for those who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). From a yoga therapy point of view, this news is also exciting as this study incorporated yoga poses along with breathing practices (pranayama) and yoga philosophy.
Psychiatric researchers at Boston University School of Medicine recently conducted a study that revealed yoga does markedly improve depression. In the study, 30 participants between 18 and 64-years-old with MDD practiced yoga for 12 weeks and tracked changes in their mood. The study employed the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI), which is a self-inventory that ranks the severity of a patient’s depression. BDI scores 0-9 indicates minimal depression, 10-18 suggests mild depression, 19-29 signals moderate depression, and 30-63 warns of severe depression. All participants had a BDI score of at least 14 when beginning the study.
The subjects were arranged into two randomized groups: a high-dose group and a low-dose group. The high-dose group participated in three 90-minute classes and four 30-minute home practices each week. The low-dose group participated in two 90-minute classes and three 30-minute home practices a week. The 90-minute classes started with ujjayi pranayama and sixty minutes of Iyengar Yoga that included sun salutations, standing poses, twists, transitions, backbends, and inversions. Then, the practitioners took savasana with continued ujjayi pranayama and twenty minutes of coherent breathing. Home practices consisted of fifteen minutes of asana and fifteen minutes of coherent breathing.
According to the experts at Boston University, yoga truly does improve one’s mood. The average BDI for the high-dose group at the beginning of the study was 24.6. By the end of the twelve weeks, the average BDI was 6. The results for the low-dose group were just as positive. The BDI dropped from a mean of 27.7 to 10.1. Though more people in the high-dose group ranked themselves with minimal depression (BDI 0-9), these findings suggest that even low doses of yoga can be an effective treatment for depression.
Seasoned yogis understand the importance of yogic philosophy as a part of the practice. Luckily, so did the research team at Boston University. The treatment trials were grounded in Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path and emphasized asana, pranayama, dharana, and dhyana. Additionally, each of the 90-minutes classes started with an opening meditation and a sutra from “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.”
Here are a few tips to ease the effects of depression:
The benefits of yoga reveal themselves through consistent practice over time. Commit to practicing at least three times a week.
Find a Teacher
Home practices are a great way to fit yoga in with a busy schedule. But having a teacher can help you learn the often complicated philosophical components to yoga. A teacher can ensure that you are getting a well-rounded practice that will leave you feeling balanced and harmonized. Try to practice with a teacher at least once a week.
Focus on Backbends and Inversions
The Iyengar Method identifies energizing postures such as backbends and inversions as effective relief for depression. Backbends and inversions don’t have to be advanced. You can get the same benefits from poses such as supported bridge pose, camel pose, and legs up the wall.