There is no one cause of depression, and neither is there is one cure for everyone. Depression can have catastrophic effects on the life of the person suffering, and their loved ones. It can feel never ending and futile to fight, which is why the more tools there are to help those who are down suffering or preventing a relapse, the better.
As of May 2021, the Office for National Statistics reported 21% of adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021.1 Which has more than doubled the rate of the previous year (10%).2 This is unlikely to reduce at such a rapid rate as it increased, as the consequences of the trauma of COVID-19 will not be a quick fix. The rate of depression is even higher in the most deprived areas of England, where almost 3 in 10 people experienced depressive symptoms, compared to the 2 in 10 in the least deprived areas of England.3 This is important to know, as it can guide researchers to investigate easily accessible treatments with little to no expense, such as yoga.
It is important to face the facts of depression head on to demonstrate the necessity of research and treatments. Both meditation and yoga have been found to improve psychiatric disorders, including depression.4 Mindfulness, a form of meditation which is practiced in yoga, has been research thoroughly. Meditative practices, such as mindfulness, have been found to be effective in treating both mild depression and Major Depressive Disorder.5 A review study from John Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and depression.6 The effect size of meditation was found to be moderate, 0.3. This is the same as the effect size of anti-depressants, which were also found to be 0.3. The reason behind this is that meditation is an active form of brain training. Although mindfulness meditation practiced in yoga is not a magic fix, it is an inexpensive tool with no side-effects to help those with depression.
Yoga helps to reconnect the mind with the body and allows practitioners to become aware of tension and let go of it. A 2010 study found a significant decrease in self-reported depression in incarcerated women who completed a twelve-week program of Iyengar yoga, a style of yoga particularly focusing on alignment of asanas, twice a week.7 The mean score of the women on the Beck Depression Inventory, the standard scale for measuring depression, fell from 24.90 at the beginning of the study, to 5.67 at the end of the twelve weeks. The results of this study suggest yoga to be a valuable tool for those with depression. However, this study originally recruited twenty-one women, yet only six women completed the twelve weeks. Therefore, it would be beneficial to conduct further research into the reasons behind why people continue or end yogic practice, to understand if yoga is an equally useful tool for everyone.
The biology of how yoga affects the brain has begun to be researched. In one study out-patient dysthymic patients received treatment of yoga alone.8 After their first session an increase was found in their levels of plasma prolactin and stable cortisol, which are thought to be crucial in the production of effective antidepressant responses. Yoga was found by Gangadhar et al. to have better efficacy than pharmaceutical treatments for patients with depression.9 Although it cannot be advised that yoga should be prescribed over pharmaceutical treatments, this knowledge is invaluable for yoga to be considered a legitimate treatment for depression, and to encourage further research into the relationship between yoga and depression.
A yoga class tailored for depression would be mindfulness meditation based. A fast paced, vinyasa flow would help to connect the breath to movement, which would slow the thoughts and release endorphins to lift the mood. This vinyasa should comprise of simple and easy movements to avoid struggle, fear of judgement or triggering negative self-talk. Stretching the body will help to release tension, which will create a lighter feeling in the body. Repeating internally, or out loud, affirmations during class will help the person to take what they are learning about themselves on the mat into the rest of their day.
The research thus far has indicated that yoga, specifically the mindfulness meditation and asanas, are useful and effective treatments for depression. Yoga is low-cost, has no side-effects and leads to a sense of community. It may be exactly what an individual needs to begin their recovery from depression.
1 Williams, T. Davis, J. Figueira, C. Vizard, T.Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: January to March 2021. Office for National Statistics. Accessed on 25th July 2021: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/januarytomarch2021
2 Williams, T. Davis, J. Figueira, C. Vizard, T.Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: January to March 2021. Office for National Statistics. Accessed on 25th July 2021: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/januarytomarch2021
3 Williams, T. Davis, J. Figueira, C. Vizard, T.Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: January to March 2021. Office for National Statistics. Accessed on 25th July 2021: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/januarytomarch2021
4 Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 11(1), 189–201. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2005.11.189
5 Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 11(1), 189–201. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2005.11.189
5 Harner, H., Hanlon, A. L., & Garfinkel, M. (2010). Effect of Iyengar yoga on mental health of incarcerated women: a feasibility study. Nursing research, 59(6), 389–399. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181f2e6ff
6 Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357–368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
7 Harner, H., Hanlon, A. L., & Garfinkel, M. (2010). Effect of Iyengar yoga on mental health of incarcerated women: a feasibility study. Nursing research, 59(6), 389–399. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181f2e6ff
8 Bridges, L., & Sharma, M. (2017). The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(4), 1017–1028. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156587217715927
9 Gangadhar B N, Naveen G H, Rao M G, Thirthalli J, Varambally S.(2013) Positive antidepressant effects of generic yoga in depressive out-patients: A comparative study. 55(7), 369-373. Accessed on 28th July 2021: https://www.indianjpsychiatry.org/article.asp?issn=0019-5545;year=2013;volume=55;issue=7;spage=369;epage=373;aulast=Gangadhar;aid=IndianJPsychiatry_2013_55_7_369_116312