August 03, 2017
2 min read

Yoga improves depression, anxiety in depression

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Data from two studies presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention showed significant benefits of yoga for depression and anxious depression.

“Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” study researcher Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said in a press release. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”

To assess yoga’s effects on depressive symptoms and the role of mindfulness and self-compassion, Hopkins and Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University, San Francisco, conducted secondary analyses of a randomized controlled trial. Women with high perceived stress and disordered eating were randomly assigned to receive Bikram yoga twice weekly for 8 weeks (n = 27) or a waitlist control (n = 25). Depression, mindfulness and self-compassion were evaluated at baseline, week 3, week 6, and postintervention at week 9.

Multi-level modeling indicated Bikram yoga had significant effects on depression (P = .009), self-compassion (P = .003) and mindfulness (P = .004).

When evaluating potential mediators together in a multiple mediation model, self-compassion was the most robust mediator of depression outcomes (P = .003).

Yoga for anxiety in depression

Another study presented at the meeting explored the potential of heated yoga for treatment of anxious depression.

Maya Nauphal , BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues evaluated 29 adults with a Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D-17) score of at least 10 who were asked to attend heated yoga classes at least twice per week for 8 weeks.


At baseline, 48.3% (n = 14) of the cohort met criteria for anxious depression, compared with 5.9% (n = 1) at study endpoint. This was not explained by lower attendance rates among participants with anxious depression, according to researchers.

When controlling for attendance, participants with anxious depression exhibited greater, albeit nonsignificant, decreases in total HAM-D-17 scores, compared with participants without anxious depression.

Attendance was a significant predictor of lower anxiety/somatization scores at endpoint when controlling for baseline anxiety/somatization scores.

Further, attendance explained a significant proportion of variance in anxiety/somatization scores, according to researchers.

“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 in the release. “Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.” – by Amanda Oldt


Nauphal M, et al. Heated yoga for the treatment of anxious depression.

Shallit S, Hopkins LB. Effects of a hatha yoga intervention on depressive symptoms: Mediating roles of mindfulness and self.

Both presented at: American Psychological Association Annual Convention; August 3-6, 2017; Washington, D.C.

Disclosure: could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.