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Why Yoga Is a Valid Mental-Health Treatment

Research shows regular practice reduces symptoms of depression.

Key points

  • A new research review found that yoga can relieve symptoms of depression present in many mental-health disorders.
  • The more participants practiced yoga, according to these studies, the more relief they experienced.
  • The exact process by which yoga relieves depressive symptoms is not clear but may involve the combination of physical movement and meditation.
Anatoliy Karlyuk/Adobe Stock
Source: Anatoliy Karlyuk/Adobe Stock

Over the last several decades, the practice of yoga has become increasingly popular in the U.S. You have likely heard that yoga can help to increase strength and flexibility, improve balance, and reduce stress.

A new systematic review published by Australian and British researchers in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that a regular yoga practice can also help to alleviate the symptoms of depression common in many mental health disorders.

For the review, researchers analyzed 13 studies that included more than 630 people with mental health problems. Some participants were assigned to participate in movement-based yoga called asana and others were assigned to a waitlist for the yoga class, or just received standard treatment. Everyone in the studies had been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, alcohol dependence, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers found that study participants who practiced yoga experienced a significant reduction in symptoms of depression. In addition, the more yoga participants practiced each week, the fewer symptoms they showed.

Researchers do not understand exactly how yoga helps to improve depression. There is some evidence that yoga’s combination of physical movement and meditation helps to reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. There is also clear evidence that regular yoga practice reduces symptoms of anxiety in the short- and long-term.

As a result of COVID-19, yoga studios across the country paused their services, and many were forced out of business. But at-home yoga is more popular than ever, with a variety of options including live online and pre-recorded classes. While you may not be able to attend classes in person where you live, it’s still possible to practice yoga wherever you are. And that’s a good thing: The evidence clearly demonstrates that yoga is a helpful part of treatment for mental health disorders.

Visit Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s website for more information on our work.

LinkedIn image: Mangostar/Shutterstock

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