August 11, 2017
2 min read

Yoga effective for treatment-resistant, chronic depression

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Two studies presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention indicated feasibility and efficacy of a yoga intervention for treatment-resistant and chronic depression.

“Yoga may be well suited as a depression intervention, as it consists of a combination of exercise and meditation, both of which have been shown to alleviate depressed mood. Another benefit of yoga is its appeal as a practice for well-being. This appeal may help to circumvent stigma that prevents many from seeking treatment for depression,” Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands, and colleagues wrote.

To assess feasibility of a 9-week manualized yoga-based intervention, researchers conducted a pilot study among 12 individuals diagnosed with a mood disorder. Mean illness duration was 11 years and current mean treatment duration was 5 years. Study participants completed nine weekly 2.5-hour sessions and were provided with a manual, weekly registration forms and practice videos. During yoga classes, the instructor prompted participants to focus on the present moment and avoid self-judgement. Depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry were assessed before the intervention, after the 9-week intervention and 4 months later.

All study participants agreed to participate and two dropped out during the intervention due to physical problems.

Qualitative interviews indicated participants perceived benefits of the intervention outweighed costs and rated the intervention an 8.7 out of 10.

All participants reported they would recommend the intervention.

From baseline to after the intervention, depression, anxiety and stress decreased. These effects remained 4 months after the intervention.

Rumination and worry did not decrease from baseline to postintervention; however, rumination was lower than baseline levels 4 months after intervention.

Yoga for mild depression

To assesses effects of a short yoga intervention in a student sample, researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial among 74 university students with depression symptoms. Study participants were randomly assigned to receive a yoga intervention or active control, which included a relaxation intervention. Both interventions were instructor-led and 30 minutes long. After sessions, participants practiced the same intervention at home for 8 days using a 15-minute instruction video.

Depression, anxiety, stress, and rumination symptoms did not differ between treatment groups before or directly after the intervention.

At 2-month follow-up, participants who received yoga reported lower depression and stress levels, compared with those who received the relaxation intervention.

Anxiety and rumination symptoms did not differ at follow-up.


“These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression,” Vollbehr said in a press release. – by Amanda Oldt


Vollbehr NK, et al. The effects of yoga for depression. 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.