Does Yoga Really Help with Depression?

Does Yoga Really Help with Depression?There is no question that antidepressants have saved lives, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right option for everyone. Not to mention all of the people who are over medicated. There’s not a one size fits all cure for depression, and like most conditions, you can’t just pop a pill expecting it to fix all of your problems. That’s where holistic measures and natural healing comes in.

Antidepressants may be the right choice for plenty of patients, but growing evidence shows that antidepressants might be over prescribed, while holistic measures like diet changes, meditation, and yoga are being ignored. Recent studies have shown concrete evidence that yoga especially can improve depression.

Are Antidepressants Over Prescribed?

One study found that 80% of antidepressants are prescribed by a doctor other than a psychiatrist, implying that there might be potential for misdiagnosis and improperly prescribed medication. Another study estimated overuse of antidepressants to be near 20%.

A 2002 study found that 70% of subjects who were prescribed antidepressants had no medical need for the medication, while 10% fell into a grey zone where it was unclear whether they needed antidepressants or not. The same study found that psychiatrists were largely unconcerned about over medication.

Antidepressant Use Has Rocketed By 400%

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the use of antidepressants has increased 400% since 1988. Now, around 11% of Americans take at least one antidepressant. Some critics claim this increase is due to marketing from pharmaceutical companies; antidepressants are a multi billion dollar industry.

On the other hand, plenty of mental health professionals would say this increase represents a growing awareness of mental health concerns.

People Are Relying On Medication Rather Than Making Lifestyle Changes

While these statistics aren’t all necessarily concerning, what is a problem is that one third of people taking a single antidepressant haven’t seen a mental health professional in over a year. Additionally, many of the prescriptions weren’t even written to treat depression, but other conditions like menstrual disorders. It also seems that patients are relying exclusively on antidepressants instead of making lifestyle changes and seeking the help of a therapist.

What About The Direct Effects ( Side Effects)

yoga to fight depression

Reports indicate that 40% of people taking antidepressants report side effects, while the effects of overmedication could be much more severe.

Common side effects of antidepressants include migraines, sleep disturbances, weight gain, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, memory problems, and ironically even depression.

Over medication in general can likewise cause fatigue, weight gain, cognitive disturbances, and insomnia, as well as psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions. Yoga may be able to help alleviate many of these adverse side effects.

Can Yoga Help?

can yoga help with depression

Whether you’re looking to treat antidepressant side effects, add a new tool to your existing treatment plan, or wean yourself off of antidepressants altogether, the scientific evidence suggests that yoga can help.


If you have a good psychiatrist, one of the first things changes they may recommend when you’re diagnosed with depression is to start an exercise regimen.

Those Feel Good Endorphins Combat Depression As Effectively As Any Pill

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise facilitates the release of feel good chemicals like neurotransmitters and endorphins, which can instantly improve your mood.

The Mayo Clinic also found that exercise provides a healthy way to keep your mind off of the negative thought patterns that come with depression, while helping people to gain confidence and socialize.

Because yoga focuses on meditation, it’s an especially powerful way to break negative thought patterns. Most yoga studios or retreat centers also make great effort to cultivate a sense of community, enhancing the benefits of socialization.

Exercise Flushes Out Your Mind And Body

exercise for help for depression and anxiety

Depression also fries your immune system and nervous system. Exercise is soothing for the nervous system, while studies have shown it also increases white blood cell count and flushes bacteria out of the lungs, reducing your risk of infection. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the flow of stress hormones into the body.

Not only do stress hormones, like cortisol, exacerbate depression and anxiety, they’re also toxic for the immune system. Most yoga classes put a heavy focus on relaxation and releasing stress, increasing the stress busting benefits of exercise.

Yoga Exercises Help Those Physical Symptoms Of Pain

Those with depression know that it doesn’t just affect your emotional health, it also wreaks havoc on your body. The deep stretching and skeletal alignment that comes with yoga can help treat the body aches associated with depression and antidepressants.

Depression, as well as the use of antidepressants can have an adverse effect on your appetite in a way that only makes depression and anxiety worse. Exercise has been shown to help regulate your appetite. For those suffering from eating disorders and depression at the same time, going to the gym might not be the best idea, but the intuitive and low impact exercise combined with breathing practices and meditation you find at a yoga class might be a good solution. 

Gentle Exercise Induces Deeper, Better Sleep

yoga benefits for depression

One major side effect of both depression and antidepressants is sleep disturbances. Not only can insomnia and the resulting chronic fatigue affect your ability to work, take care of yourself, and connect with others, it actually makes mental illness worse. Insomnia and depression often form a chicken or the egg kind of situation as they mutually reinforce each other.

Sleeping Pills Are NOT The Answer Long Term

Many people with insomnia turn to sleeping pills for relief, however there is some evidence to suggest that taking depressants, like sleeping pills, can actually make depression worse, while delivering poor quality sleep. Holistic options like yoga, exercise, and meditation seem to be a much better option.

Exercise Can Work As A Natural Sleeping Pill

Exercise in general improves sleep by increasing body temperature, decreasing depressive and anxious symptoms, and realigning the circadian rhythm of the body. Because of the focus on relaxation, release, and meditation in yoga, studies have shown that a regular yoga practice is especially beneficial for chronic insomnia.

What if You Could Experience An 85% Reduction In Stress?

A national survey completed by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that over 55% of people reported improved sleep after practicing yoga, while over 85% saw reductions in stress levels. One study found that yoga as a treatment for insomnia delivered greater sleep time and sleep efficiency. Another study looking at cancer patients suffering from insomnia saw decreased fatigue and greater sleep quality in patients. 

The Standout Benefits Of Mindfulness

yoga to cure depression

Yoga actively cultivates the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness asks you to calmly focus your full attention on the present moment. A mindfulness practice should cultivate the ability to examine your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a non-judgemental way.

It can also help to assess your emotional state from an emotionally detached perspective. This healthy, cultivated level of emotional detachment is a key to analyzing deeply held emotional pain that often lies beneath depression.

It’s no wonder therapists across the world are (finally) integrating mindfulness into their sessions in a relatively new kind of therapy called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
Here are 9 Ways To Help Your Body Relax, Heal And Restore Well Being Today

Yoga And Mindfulness Work Together

One groundbreaking study combined yoga with other mindfulness techniques and found that the mindfulness based treatment plan was at least as effective as medication for treating depression. A recent review of the literature that analyzed thousands of studies confirmed these findings.

The evidence also points to the possibility of mindfulness decreasing the rate of depressive relapse. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how, but think that it might be related to self-compassion cultivated through mindfulness.

Mindfulness can also be effective in treating insomnia because it discourages obsessive thoughts about the past or the future; anyone with anxiety, depression, or insomnia knows that these negative thought patterns can keep you up all night. 

There’s Nothing to Lose And Everything To Gain 

Is yoga good for anxiety?

The scientific as well as anecdotal evidence is pretty clear, yoga can help diminish side effects of depression and help to treat the root cause. From a less scientific perspective people also report feeling increased self-esteem, connection to others, and emotional resilience after a yoga class, all aspects that tend to take a beating from depression.

If you’re considering making changes to your treatment plan for depression, try to work with a trusted doctor. Psychiatrists recommend weaning yourself off of antidepressants slowly and under medical supervision; quitting antidepressants cold turkey can have disastrous consequences including physical withdrawal symptoms, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts.

Keep A Journal Of Your Day….Learn What Triggers You

If you decide to add yoga to your treatment plan, try keeping a journal that indicates when you practiced yoga or meditation. Journalling is a key component of MBCT. This can help you track your moods and assess for yourself whether yoga is having a positive effect.

You can also keep track of the foods you eat, how much sleep you’re getting, and for women, where you are in your monthly cycle, to identify any other potential triggers or benefits.

Be Brave, Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone…. You Never Know What’ll Happen….

When suffering from depression, it can be hard to motivate yourself to try new things, but getting outside of your comfort zone is usually where the healing happens. Even if you’re hesitant, trying yoga is pretty low risk. Unlike antidepressants, yoga is low cost, or free, and has virtually no side effects, so you really have nothing to lose.


Oh, and yoga is a lot of fun!

yoga for anxietyKosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga.

He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online:



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