Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Say Yes to Yoga

A new randomized study shows efficacy in treating anxiety.

Anjali Gupta
Source: Anjali Gupta

My own personal fascination with yoga dates back multiple decades to a daily, individualized routine at the Yogic Health Center in Mumbai during a gap year in my early 20s. It seems quite fitting that my love would start in Northern India, the birthplace of yoga’s origins more than 5,000 years ago. For a practice to continue forward thousands of years, there must have been perceived advantages along the way.

Now research shows the physical benefits of yoga can include enhanced flexibility and agility, reduced body mass index, improved hypertension, better glycemic control, reduced lower back and neck pain, and improved menopausal symptoms. Yoga may have additional mental health benefits including improvement in well-being, sleep, resilience, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The past several months, COVID has caused families across our nation to worry about issues including change in employment routines, fears of contracting the virus, child care, food security, and social isolation. New CDC Pulse data from January 2021 shows that 36% of Americans are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder, 28% are experiencing symptoms of a depressive disorder, and 41% are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder.

Therapy and medications are the first-line treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. Yet there may be a role for yoga as an adjunct treatment or for milder symptoms. A study published this month in JAMA Psychiatry of 226 adults with generalized anxiety disorder found a 12-week course of yoga was efficacious in treating GAD. Yoga was shown to be more effective than stress education received by a control group; however, this study did still support cognitive behavioral therapy as a first-line treatment.

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, explains, "Several controlled research trials have examined the impact of yoga practice on anxiety and stress symptoms. Though in general, they have found positive effects, many of these studies compare yoga against no treatment, so participants may be biased to answer positively. Our JAMA Psychiatry study design is more methodologically rigorous; it compares yoga participants against a group of participants receiving education as well as attention and support from staff."

So how do you get started with your yogic practice? First, your practice should be under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Adults who are pregnant, older, or have a health condition, should discuss their individual yoga plan with their doctor and yoga teacher.

Ease yourself in and avoid extreme poses during your practice. Tara Antonipillai, Cultivate founder and yoga teacher, recommends that if you are new to yoga and have no restrictions, you should look for three things: a Beginner/Level 1/or All Levels class, Vinyasa or “Flow” style, and a Certified Teacher.

Do you have limited time and a day of back-to-back Zoom calls? Taking a quick break with a few poses might allow a few moments of necessary movement and stretching. Tara reminds us, “These should be gentle and warming so that you don’t injure yourself. ... You can hold each pose for several deep breaths ... changing poses with each inhale and exhale.” Forward fold, chair pose, and mountain pose are her three choices for a quick break.

GM and yoga instructor at FLEXX fitness, Anne Bailey, underlines the importance of our breathing to center ourselves if we only have a couple of minutes, “The box breath method can be such a powerful mechanism to reset your body and your mind.”

How do you get more regular with your practice during COVID? Eleanor Gollob, a teacher at CorePower Yoga, discovered the power of yoga in her 50s. She recommends trying a few different beginner online classes, figuring out which one works for you, and then setting a goal to stick with it twice a week for a month.

So what do you say? Say yes to yoga today. Namaste.


Cramer, H., Anheyer, D., Lauche, R., & Dobos, G. (2017). A systematic review of yoga for major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 213, 70-77.

Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Anheyer, D., Pilkington, K., de Manincor, M., Dobos, G., & Ward, L. (2018). Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and anxiety, 35(9), 830-843.

Cramer, H., Peng, W., & Lauche, R. (2018). Yoga for menopausal symptoms—A systematic review and meta-analysis. Maturitas, 109, 13-25.

Hagins, M., Selfe, T., & Innes, K. (2013). Effectiveness of yoga for hypertension: systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013.

Hartfiel, N., Havenhand, J., Khalsa, S. B., Clarke, G., & Krayer, A. (2011). The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 70-76.

Lauche, R., Langhorst, J., Lee, M. S., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of yoga on weight-related outcomes. Preventive medicine, 87, 213-232.

Li, Y., Li, S., Jiang, J., & Yuan, S. (2019). Effects of yoga on patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain: A PRISMA systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 98(8).

McCaffrey, R., Ruknui, P., Hatthakit, U., & Kasetsomboon, P. (2005). The effects of yoga on hypertensive persons in Thailand. Holistic nursing practice, 19(4), 173-180.

Mustian, K. M., Sprod, L. K., Janelsins, M., Peppone, L. J., Palesh, O. G., Chandwani, K., ... & Morrow, G. R. (2013). Multicenter, randomized controlled trial of yoga for sleep quality among cancer survivors. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 31(26), 3233.

Sherman, K. J., Cherkin, D. C., Wellman, R. D., Cook, A. J., Hawkes, R. J., Delaney, K., & Deyo, R. A. (2011). A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain. Archives of internal medicine, 171(22), 2019-2026.

Simon, N. M., Hofmann, S. G., Rosenfield, D., Hoeppner, S. S., Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., & Khalsa, S. B. S. (2020). Efficacy of yoga vs cognitive behavioral therapy vs stress education for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 78(1), 13-20.

Thangasami, S. R., Chandani, A. L., & Thangasami, S. (2015). Emphasis of yoga in the management of diabetes. J Diabetes Metab, 6(613), 2., H., & Dobos, G. (2013). A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. The Clinical journal of pain, 29(5), 450-460.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed January 2021.

More from Anjali Gupta M.D.
More from Psychology Today