Can Yoga Help Manage Depression Symptoms?


December 14, 2021     benefits of yoga | Yoga Research

Weekly yoga sessions increased some components of mindfulness for depression sufferers

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Can yoga help manage depression symptoms by increasing mindfulness and/or reducing rumination?

Type of Study

Randomized control trial with an active control group

Study Participants (Sample)

  • Sample size: 110 total participants
  • 86% female; 14% male
  • Mean age of participants was 47.2 years old

Methods

Participants completed 10 weeks of either a weekly yoga class or health education class. The research team measured aspects of mindfulness and rumination at baseline, 3.3 weeks, 6.6 weeks, and 10 weeks.

Results

The research team found an increase in the Observe Subscale of Mindfulness and a greater rate of increase on the Awareness Subscale of Mindfulness in the yoga treatment group compared to the health education group.

Conclusion

Yoga may help manage some symptoms of depression by increasing the observation and awareness components of mindfulness.

Check out our online courses and workshops

Background

Depression is a common disease with a variety of symptoms. And symptoms of depression are often difficult to treat due to the complex nature of the disease. Common treatments include pharmacological and psychotherapy options. However, even when pharmacology and psychotherapy treatments are used together, many patients still don’t respond to the treatments. For that reason, doctors continue to evaluate other treatment options.

Interestingly, yoga has previously shown promise for reducing symptoms of depression. One potential result of yoga practice is an increase in the ability to focus more often on the present in a non-judgemental way. And, one of the specific symptoms of depression is excessive rumination. So, a possible mechanism for yoga’s positive effect on depression symptoms is a decrease in rumination due to the emphasis on non-judgemental focus on the present moment.

Research question

Can yoga help manage depression symptoms by increasing mindfulness and/or reducing rumination?

Research methods

Study participants (sample): 110 total participants

  • 61 assigned to the yoga treatment and 49 in the health education control group
  • 86% of sample was female
  • Mean age of participants was 47.2 years

All study participants met certain requirements in order to be involved. Those criteria included: diagnosis by a medical doctor as having a major depressive disorder, taking an antidepressant, engaging in psychotherapy, and not currently doing a yoga or meditation practice. Participants were then randomly assigned to either a yoga treatment group or a control group which consisted of health education classes. The study lasted for ten weeks. During that time, participants had to attend at least one of the two classes offered weekly in their group in order to be included in the study.

The yoga classes were 80 minutes. They included breathing exercises, seated meditation, sun salutations, standing postures, seated postures, and relaxation. The health education classes were 60 minutes. They included sharing health-related information on topics such as diabetes, physical activity, or causes of depression. The content was presented using slides, audio or video clips, and/or demonstrations.

Mindfulness and rumination were measured for all study participants. The researchers collected data from both the yoga and control groups at baseline before the study began and then at 3.3 weeks, 6.6 weeks, and 10 weeks. The research team measured mindfulness using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire. They measured rumination using the Brooding Subscale of the Response Styles Questionnaire.

Results

The research team found an increase in the Observe Subscale of Mindfulness in the yoga treatment group compared to the health education group over the whole ten weeks. They also reported a greater rate of increase on the Awareness Subscale of Mindfulness in the yoga treatment group compared to the health education group. The Awareness Subscale of Mindfulness continued to increase in the yoga treatment group over the ten weeks. But, the awareness scores of the health education group stayed about the same over the ten weeks.

There were no differences between the treatment groups for the other three subscales of mindfulness (Describe, Non-judge, and Non-reactivity). Additionally, there was no difference in total mindfulness between the groups at the measured time points. Finally, the researchers found no difference in rumination between the yoga treatment and control groups.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

We may not all experience the challenges of clinical depression. However, this research points out that there are mental health benefits to all of us when we increase our ability to remain in the present moment. And yoga offers us tools to practice that skill. Depending on how we practice, yoga has the potential to be a mindfulness practice. It’s a mindfulness practice when we focus our attention on our body and breath in a non-judgemental way, as we do in yoga. We then notice when our attention has wandered, and gently bring it back to our object of focus. Unsurprisingly, operating from a place of greater mindfulness helps us stay calmer, more responsive, and less reactive during our day-to-day activities.

Signup for our newsletter!

Get the latest articles in your inbox each month.

"*" indicates required fields

Conclusion

Depression is a common condition that many people experience at some point during their life. Due to the complex nature of its causes and symptoms, it can be hard to effectively treat depression. However, this research suggests yoga may be helpful as one part of an overall treatment plan for this disease.

Reference citation

West, J.L., G. Tremont, I. W. Miller, and L. A. Uebelacker. 2021. Yoga v health education for attentional processes relevant to major depressive disorder. Mindfulness. 12(3):604-612.

Comments