While the trial found benefits of yoga increased over time, the intervention of 1 class per week was less than what is typical for people with a regular practice.
Adding the practice of hatha yoga to medication may not alleviate symptoms of depression right away, but the benefits may accumulate over time, according to the largest study of yoga for depression to date.
Results from the randomized controlled trial, reported in the journal Psychological Medicine, compared the effects of a weekly yoga class with a health education class for 2 groups of patients taking antidepressants for symptoms. A blind rater assessed depression symptoms after 10 weeks, using the Quick Inventory of Depression Symptomatology, or QIDS.
Other outcomes included depression symptoms during the intervention and at follow-up periods, as well as social functioning, pain, and physical functioning.
The yoga intervention in the trial is less than what is typical for those with a regular practice. While there is no set amount for a person who is starting yoga, 3 sessions per week is recommended to acclimate the body to the poses and breathing of hatha yoga. This is the form commonly practiced in the United States.
At 10 weeks, the researchers did not find a statistically significant difference between the 2 groups. However, over the length of the interview and follow-up period, those who took part in the yoga intervention had lower levels of depression than the education group—at 6 months, 51% of the those who took yoga had a response, which was defined as more than a 50% reduction in symptoms, compared with 31% of the education group. Those in the yoga group also had significantly better social functioning and overall health.
“The purpose of this study was to examine whether hatha yoga is effective for treating depression when used in addition to antidepressant medication,” Lisa Uebelacker, PhD, a research psychologist at Butler Hospital and an associate professor at Brown University, said in statement. “We found that yoga did indeed have an impact on depression symptoms.”
More and more studies are being done about yoga’s effects on health. Clinical trials are examining its effects on preventing diabetes and managing glycemic control in those who have the disease, as well as helping seniors maintain good balance as they age. Yoga is not typically covered by health plans, but some employers have experimented with offering it as part of wellness programs.
Uebelacker LA, Tremont G, Gillette LT, et al. Adjunctive yoga v. health education for persistent major depression: a randomized controlled trial [published online April 6, 2017]. Psych Med. 2017; doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717000575.