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Yoga for Depression and Anxiety

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 27, 2020

You know that exercise is good for you, but depression and anxiety can zap your energy and make it harder to get active. Yoga can be another way to work movement into your routine and feel better.

In general, yoga’s benefits may include less stress, a lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure.

Keep in mind that yoga doesn’t replace other types of depression or anxiety treatment. Your doctor may suggest it and other types of exercise along with your treatment plan, which could include therapy and/or medication. Don’t stop other treatments without consulting with your doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist.

What the Research Shows

Studies show that yoga also may help people who have depression, but its effect on anxiety disorders isn’t clear.

A review of studies found that people with a variety of mental health disorders who did “physically active” yoga for an average of 60 minutes, once or twice a week, for about 2.5 months had fewer depressive symptoms. Yoga styles were considered physically active if they had people moving for at least half of the class time and focused on specific body movements (asana), breathing (pranayama), and/or mindfulness (including meditation).

Researchers still need to learn more about how yoga reduces depressive symptoms and if specific styles of yoga and poses work better than others.

How to Get Started With Yoga

If you haven’t exercised regularly in a while, you should be able to add light to moderate movement to your routine without talking to your doctor. If you’re older than 50, have a medical condition, or are pregnant, check with your doctor before you start a new exercise routine.

The Right Yoga Class for You

Yoga comes in many styles, so read the class description before you sign up. Iyengar, Bikram, and Hatha are three popular types of yoga that focus on physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation.

You can look for a class for beginners at a local gym, yoga studio, community center, or place of worship. You can always ask an instructor if you may preview a class to see if you’d be comfortable taking it. If you prefer online sessions, those are also a good way to see if a class style works for you -- and there are lots of online options.

When you take a class, let the teacher know about any of your concerns or physical limits. The instructor should help you adjust poses as needed.

Researchers don’t know if there is an ideal amount of yoga to do, but one hourlong class a week could be a good place to start. If that’s too much, start with a few poses and build your practice slowly. Research suggests that the more yoga sessions you do a week, the more your depressive or anxiety symptoms may ease. But as with any activity, don’t overdo it.

Stay in tune with how your body and mind feel during and after a yoga class. Physically, yoga may be a challenge but shouldn’t hurt. If you feel sad, stressed, or like you don’t have any energy after a class, that type might not work for you. You can try other styles of classes until you find the right fit.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Mental Health: “Depression,” “Anxiety Disorders.”

American Family Physician: “Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation.”

British Journal of Sports Medicine: “Effects of yoga on depressive symptoms in people with mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Yoga: What You Need To Know.”

Mayo Clinic: “Exercise: When to check with your doctor first,” “Intimidated by yoga? 3 easy ways to get started,” “Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity.”

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