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Yoga for Depression

In a recent study (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2017) assessing the effect of yoga classes on participants diagnosed with major depressive disorder found the practice reduced symptoms by at least 50 percent.

As noted by study author Dr. Chris Streeter, (Associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine), yoga has the clear advantage of avoiding side effects from drug treatments.

Prior studies using other forms of yoga for treatment of depression have also recorded positive results. As noted by Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City:

"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals … [and may] reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.”

In his book ‘Light on Life’ (2006), Iyengar spoke of needing yoga to deal with mental woes;

“Many people have approached me over the years full of the woes that befell them because they did not respect this elementary precaution. Often they were ignorant about the need to build a solid foundation and had signed up for various courses in the hope of leaping into a facile spirituality. Their weakness of body and mind betrayed them and compounded their troubles. Patanjali himself warned that if the base is not firm, sorrow, despair, unsteadiness of body, and shakiness of breath will result. Mental depression and accompanying tremors are a serious matter. They are extreme, and in his third sutra on asana, Patanjali specifically said that asana practice will protect us from the dangers and vicissitudes of extremes”.

Another study (Boston University School of Medicine), researchers recruited 32 people with moderate to severe depression. They were prescribed a yoga plan. Average depression scores fell over the course of the 12-week study. Many people reported finding yoga and breathing exercises to be relaxing and helpful for their mental health. This study provides some evidence that yoga might help people with symptoms of depression.

The yoga view on depression is interesting. Osho Rajneesh, although controversial, added invaluable commentary on the ancient yoga teachings. His articulate and logical mind helped people understand the vast poetic work that makes up the “ancient texts”. In his Book of Secrets (2010), Osho tells us to not battle with depression. But face it and move forward with life. He says we wont find solace in the form of pills and therapy, the only therapy is from within. Do not feel depressed about feeling depressed. He says “You are depressed, so remain with it”. Accept it and just move on with life. Don’t fight it and feel like something is wrong. Iyengar tells us that we make our situations worse because we seek freedom but all we do is cling to bondage. He says we don’t allow life to take shape, we don't allow life to happen. “When we have done all that can be done, we are ready to face the future fearlessly, and we are able to handle whatever it may bring”.

We are all vulnerable humans who feel pain. There is nothing wrong. Acceptance is the first part. Then force a smile and continue with your life. The pain is in fighting for your mental health. The following is excerpted from the works of Osho Rajneesh; “You are depressed, so remain with it. Wait and watch. You cannot be depressed for long because in this world nothing is permanent. This world is a flux. This world cannot change its basic law for you so that you remain depressed forever. Nothing is here forever; everything is moving and changing. Existence is a river; it cannot stop for you, just for you, so that you remain depressed forever. It is moving, it has already moved. Feel depression, taste it deeply, live it. It is your fate. Then suddenly you will feel it has disappeared because the man who can accept even depression cannot be depressed”

In light on life, Iyengar talks about mental disturbances; “Through yoga we are able to lessen the six emotional disturbances that cause us so much anguish. They are called negative emotions by Western psychology”

Iyengar prescribes meditation and a few simple asana’s to help fight depression.

“Meditation (dhyana) is an essential part of yoga, and potentially there is dhyana in every aspect or petal of yoga. Each one requires a reflective or meditative mood. Meditation is related to the higher mental faculty for which one needs preparation. Learning asanas certainly helps. If I say, “Relax your brain,” you cannot do it. If I put you in a certain asana, your brain relaxes, and you become quiet. This is the beauty of yoga. If you do depression disappears, though you do not know how this transformation has occurred. This is how the body is used to cultivate the mind. When the suffering, depressed mind is cured, the light of the soul can itself radiate to the surface of our being”.

From a yogi to a late great comedian, it was Charlie Chaplin who famously said; “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles."

The video below is not yoga related, but is related to the subject of the blog. If you or anyone who know has felt depressed, share them this video.

Please Note this is not a "cure", just an interesting insight into mood depression that fits in with many yogic views on this subject. As the presenter says; "This video focuses on mood depression, not clinical depression".

Further reading:


1.Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate FreedomKindle Edition

by B.K.S. Iyengar (Author), John J. Evans (Author), Douglas Abrams (Author) 2006

2.MARY KEKATOS FOR DAILYMAIL.COM. 2017. Why yoga beats depression: Harvard and Columbia study 'prove' how the relaxing workout eases symptoms. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 2 August 2017].

3.PubMed Health. 2017. Can yoga and breathing really help 'cure' depression?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 2 August 2017].

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