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Yoga Exercise and Deep Breathing Complement Treatment for Depression

hatha Yoga exercise and depression treatment

Those diagnosed with major depressive disorder should consider a twice-weekly yoga class as a complement to treatment.


Major depressive disorder is a common, but serious, condition. Current research suggests that it is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Per the NIMH, depression can be treated but the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it is.

Treatment for depression includes medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Self-care is also very important – and that includes exercise. One particular form of exercise that especially seems to help is yoga.

Researchers publishing in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine find that a twice weekly yoga class plus home practice decreases depressive symptoms significantly. Yoga affects the parasympathetic nervous system which slows the heart and lowers blood pressure which allows for recovery after a stressful event. Increased activity in the PNS leads to mental relaxation.

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In this particular study, the subjects participated in Iyengar Yoga which has emphasis on both posture and breath control. The practice aims to unite the body, mind and spirit for health and well-being.

"This study supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in major depressive disorder in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," explained Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center.

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Journal Reference:
Chris C. Streeter, et al. Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2017; DOI: 10.1089/acm.2016.0140

Additional Resources:

National Institute for Mental Health – National Institutes of Health
Yoga Journal

Photo Credit:
By Flora-Victoria - Own work, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons