yoga for depression and anxiety

Yoga for Depression and Anxiety: Does It Really Help?

Yoga, an ancient practice that has stood the test of time, is often recommended for managing depression and anxiety. The practice has been celebrated for its holistic approach to well-being — but can practising yoga genuinely ease the symptoms of poor mental health?


The short answer: Yes, but it’s not a cure.


Yoga’s connection to mental health


The therapeutic use of yoga is not a recent development; it has roots that extend deep into history. Yoga has always encompassed not only physical postures but also meditation and breath control techniques. These techniques were originally developed as a means to harmonize the body, mind, and spirit.


In recent decades, yoga has been studied and recognized by the medical community as a complementary therapy for various mental health struggles, including depression and anxiety.


Numerous scientific studies have now explored the beneficial impact of yoga on mental health. The findings of these studies suggest that yoga can indeed have a positive effect on alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.


How yoga for depression and anxiety works


Research shows that yoga, a mind-body practice, affects both mental and physical well-being. The practice can reduce the production of stress hormones and increase the production of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. This physiological change can help individuals feel more relaxed and less anxious.


Furthermore, regular yoga practice has been associated with improved sleep, which can be a crucial element in managing depression and anxiety.


Yoga fosters emotional well-being through the following components:.


Physical postures: Yoga asanas, or postures, not only enhance flexibility and strength but also promote physical relaxation. The deliberate focus on body awareness can help individuals become more attuned to physical sensations, especially those related to negative emotions. In other words, yoga can help build self-awareness both emotionally and physically. This increased self-awareness can contribute to recognizing negative thought patterns and challenging them.


Breathwork: Pranayama, or controlled breathing exercises, is a fundamental aspect of yoga. These techniques can have a calming effect on the nervous system, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation.


Yoga’s effect on mental health


Yoga can be an effective tool to support mental health in several ways. As a regular practice:


Yoga lowers stress levels. Yoga incorporates mindfulness and relaxation techniques that can reduce stress levels. The practice encourages individuals to be present in the moment, easing the grip of depressive and anxious thoughts.


Yoga is a form of healthy exercise. Engaging in physical activity, even in the form of gentle yoga, can stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood elevators. This can contribute to improved mood regulation.


Yoga can build resilience. Regular yoga practice fosters self-awareness and self-compassion, which are essential for building emotional resilience. These qualities can help individuals better cope with the challenges that depression and anxiety present.


Tips for trying yoga for depression or anxiety


If you’re considering incorporating yoga into your mental health management efforts, here are some helpful tips.


  • Start slowly. If you’re new to yoga, begin with a beginner’s class or instructional videos to familiarize yourself with the practice without risking injury. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your practice as you become more comfortable.
  • Practice mindfulness. Yoga is not just about physical postures; it also emphasizes mindfulness. Focus on being present during your practice, observing your thoughts and sensations without judgment. This habit can become a powerful tool for managing both depression and anxiety.
  • Listen to your body. Pay attention to your body’s cues. Don’t push yourself too hard too soon, and modify poses as needed to accommodate your comfort and ability level.

How to tell when yoga isn’t enough


While yoga can be a valuable addition and beneficial tool in managing depression and anxiety, it is not a cure-all. If you find that your symptoms of depression or anxiety persist or worsen despite regular yoga practice, it’s essential to seek professional help. Therapy, whether conventional or digital, and/or consulting a psychiatrist can provide tailored treatment options.


Yoga is a powerful and accessible practice that can contribute to improved mental well-being, especially when used in support of other therapies. The key to realizing yoga’s potential for managing anxiety and depression is to approach it with realistic expectations and consider it as only one part of a broader mental health strategy.



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Vidula V Sawant (M.A., M.Phil., CRR No. A80980) is a clinical psychologist with  4+ years of experience and a passion for understanding the complexities of our minds and behaviours.

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