Yoga For Depression: 3 Effective Ways Yoga Can Help

By the end of 2022, according to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 10% of Americans suffered from depression, as well as 280 million people globally.

Studies presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association pointed to the clear evidence that the practices of yoga can be beneficial to those suffering from the symptoms of depression.

If you or someone you know experiences or has experienced depression, we encourage you to seek the support of a therapist first, before trying alternative therapies.

Yoga for depression is not meant to treat or replace any medical treatment.

We invite you to read on and learn about how yoga for depression can be a supplemental practice.

We’ll discuss:

  • What Depression Is
  • Causes Of Depression
  • Symptoms Of Depression
  • Benefits Of Yoga For Depression
  • Yoga Poses For Depression
  • Pranayama For Depression
  • Meditation For Depression

None of the points made in this article are meant to diagnose, treat, or give advice on depression, but rather inform you of how yoga for depression can be a supplement.

Let’s dive in!

lady doing seated side stretch by the lake

What is Depression?

Depression is also called massive depressive disorder as well as clinical depression.

The World Health Organization says that globally, around 5% of adults suffer from depression.

They describe this condition like this:

Depression is characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities. It can also disturb sleep and appetite. Tiredness and poor concentration are common.

Depression is a leading cause of disability around the world and contributes greatly to the global burden of disease. The effects of depression can be long-lasting or recurrent and can dramatically affect a person’s ability to function and live a rewarding life.

Causes of Depression

There are many ideas on what causes depression, yet what is true is that it affects different people in different ways, and it is often a combination of factors rather than a particular inciting event.

There are biological, phsycological, and environmental components that can lead to depressive disorder. Here are just a few:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Childhood experiences and trauma
  • Life experiences
  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Drug use (medications and recreational)
  • Alcohol use
  • Lifestyle and exercise
  • Diet
man sat in easy pose on yoga mat

Symptoms of Depression

Same as the causes of the health condition, the symptoms vastly vary from one individual to the next, but here are five of the most common ones:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and emptiness.
  • Irritability, frustration and anger
  • Disrupted sleeping patters
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and diminsihed engagement
  • Lack of energy, extreme tiredness

It is considered clinical depression when these feelings are persistent, almost daily, and continue over time.

Benefits of Yoga for Depression

Although yoga is not meant in any way to replace any medical program to treat depression, more and more health and medical professionals are partnering up with yoga and wellness teachers and coaches and encouraging patients to introduce various practices.

From yoga asana and meditation to pranayama as a part of their treatment plans.

A four-year study in Australia, India, Iran, Italy, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States found a significant improvement in persons prescribed slow yoga movements, mindfulness meditations, and breath practices to treat their depression.

Yoga is meant as a tool to harmonize body, mind, and spirit, hence bringing us to a deeper state of awareness from which we can better operate in our daily lives.

group of yogis sat meditating by a lake

These are some of the benefits that yoga can bring to any person, including those who report feelings of depression:

  • Increased body awareness
  • Reduced levels of cortisol
  • It can be self-administered
  • Elevated energy levels
  • Improves sleep
  • Gentle access to movement and body-mind connection
  • Boosts confidence

Yoga Poses for Depression

To practice yoga for depression you do not need to do yoga poses, but there are many asanas that can be beneficial.

With one of the symptoms of depression being lack of energy, sluggishness, and loss of motivation, doing a physical practice is often the last thing that someone who is experiencing depression feels like doing, but it may be worth considering.

Some specific types of physical yoga like Viniyoga, Restorative Yoga, Iyengar, and Hatha are designed to be more accessible and less fitness-based.

These can be great options to start to regain bodily awareness, but the best asana practice is the one that you choose and that feels good in your body, allowing you to access more joy.

Yoga Therapy is also a widely used method to supplement treatments for depression.

group of people in a yoga class

Here are a few yoga poses that you can try and if, of course, they don’t alleviate but aggravate, come out of the posture and simply breathe.

1. Balasana (Child’s pose)

Regulates the nervous system and invites calm

2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

Energizes the body and increases blood circulation

3. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Opens up the front of the body and the heart, physically and energetically

4. Halasana (Plow Pose)

Promotes the relaxation of muscles and regulates the nervous system.

5. Supta Badha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle)

Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and improves blood flow, lowering stress levels and anxiety.

6. Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall)

Inverting the body in a gentle way, it improves blood circulation, helping you relax and feel grounded and present.

7. Savasana (Corpse Pose)

The ultimate relaxation pose and is known to reduce fatigue, anxiety, and even lower blood pressure.

If you’d like to practice yoga for depression symptoms, we invite you to try this YouTube class to support your mental health.

This yoga for depression class invites you to explore some of the yoga for depression postures mentioned in this article.

Pranayama for Depression

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the 8-limb path of yoga and it is often translated as breath control.

It can be a more accessible way to practice yoga that does not require physical movement.

There are many styles of pranayama that can assist you to shift from one state of being to another; for example, Kapalabathi pranayama is energizing and is designed to stroke your digestive fire, Agni.

Sithali pranayama on the other hand, is a cooling, calming breath technique.

Here are a few pranayama techniques that, due to their impact on our physical, mental, and energetic bodies, can be more suited for those experiencing depression.

1. Sama Vritti (Square Breath)

Designed to help you harmonize and equalize the energy and the prana moving through the channels in the body, the nadis

2. Dirga Pranayama (Full Yogic Breath)

Great to increase oxygen intake. This one calms down your body and mind and can reduce anxiety

3. Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Supports clear respiratory channels, balances the nervous system, and invites calm

woman doing alternate nostril breathing

4. Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath)

Stimulates the vagus nerve and down-regulates the nervous system.

Just as with the physical practice of yoga for depression, speak to a therapist or yoga teacher that can guide you, or explore a few techniques until you find what works for you and supports your journey.

Meditation for Depression

As the seventh limb of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, meditation (Dhyana) is another way to practice yoga for depression.

Like breathwork and pranayama techniques, meditation is a great tool that, paired up with professional support and sometimes medication, can complement treatment for depression.

Many studies concur that practicing mindfulness meditation techniques are a great way for supporting your journey.

Here are some of the benefits of meditation that directly relate to the underlying causes as well as symptoms of depression:

  • It helps you change your thinking by helping you notice your thoughts and feelings
  • It can help you learn to be present, reducing stress and anxiety
  • Increases self-awareness
  • It can help you gain new perspective.

There are many styles of meditation that you can try and explore.

Some that may help with saddness and depression symptoms are: mindfulness meditations, loving kindness meditation, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (CBT), walking meditation, chanting, mudras, and many more.

Here is a YouTube video for you to try:

Conclusion

Depression affects millions of people throughout the world, affecting children, teenagers, and adults. We know that it is a health condition that can be difficult to navigate, especially on our own.

We encourage you to seek mental health support from a therapist if you feel like you may have depression.

When introducing yoga for depression as a supplement to your treatment and medication, seek the knowledge of a yoga or meditation teacher to better guide you into what yoga for depression techniques and styles may align best with you.

Physical movement, breathwork, and meditation are some of the most common yogic tools, and they have brought significant improvement in many people’s moods and condition.

These techniques can help you improve or recover a sense of self-worth, a sense of self-awareness, and new vitality, and together with other therapies, they can potentially alleviate some of the symptoms and causes of depression.

If you’d like to learn more about how the brain works, check out this article on vagus nerve stimulation and polyvagal theory!

Photo of author
Laia Bové (she/her) is an Afro-Catalan yoga and meditation teacher and freelance writer currently living in Tampa Bay, United States. She is a former professional figure skater and has been teaching movement, yoga and meditation for over 11 years. Laia is E-RYT 500 & YACEP registered with the Yoga Alliance and currently offers group classes, private sessions both in person and virtually and she also leads workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings with a strong focus on accessibility and inclusivity. Laia teaches yoga with the intent to create a space for people of all backgrounds, abilities, shapes, and identities where they can feel empowered and learn tools that will support them in their lives.

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