Yoga’s Effect on Depression

By Leili Najmabadi 

            To many, yoga is seen as a gateway to flexibility, strength, and mindfulness. Now it is being used as a treatment for people with depression. Compared to other diseases, depression unfortunately leads to the greatest number of years affected by the disability. The most common form of depression is major depressive disorder (MDD), and 40% of patients using antidepressants for this disorder do not fully recover.

            At Boston University School of Medicine, individuals with MDD were exposed to lyengar yoga, which promotes breath control and a focus on precision and posture. Random assignment allowed for participants to have no knowledge if they were part of the high or low dose group. Participants attended either three classes with additional home practice per week (high dose) or only two classes with additional home practice per week (low dose). Each class was 90 minutes long and all individuals benefitted from these classes, which is evident through the universal reduction in their depressive symptoms. However, the high dose group that took three classes instead of two had even more of a decrease in their depressive feelings.

Taking these classes without antidepressants shows that yoga’s effect on depression is a valid alternative to pharmacologic treatments. A professor of psychiatry and neurology from the school, Chris Streeter, MD, suggests that yoga treatment is more advantageous than using antidepressants because there are no side effects from any drugs. The yoga works with the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system to calm the body, while pharmacologic treatment targets monoamine systems from the sympathetic nervous system. While drugs arouse the body, aiming to reduce depressive symptoms, yoga relaxes the body in order to produce the same result and does so without adverse drug effects and interactions.


Boston University Medical Center. "Twice weekly yoga classes plus home practice effective in reducing symptoms of depression." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 March 2017. <>.