It’s likely that you or someone you know has been diagnosed with or experienced symptoms of depression. These cases can range from mild to moderate, to severe and can impact your daily life. For instance, an episode of major depression lasts about 6 to 12 months if left untreated, and tends to recur.
A randomized-controlled pilot trial found that yoga can be used to aid mild-to-moderate depression. Yoga is the practice of yoga poses (called “asanas”) combined with breathing and meditation. The researchers used a Hatha style which is a slower paced class that focuses more on holding poses for several breaths.
A randomized controlled pilot trial on the effect of yoga on mild-to-moderate major depression was done on 38 adults. The individuals weren’t involved in psychotherapy, antidepressant medication, herbal therapy, or other mind body practices to rule out other possible factors.
20 participants were grouped to 90-minute hatha yoga 2x per week for 8 weeks, while the other 18 participants were grouped to a 90-minute attention control education 2x per week for 8 weeks. The researchers looked at depression severity as well as self-efficacy and self-esteem at the beginning of the study and again at 8 weeks. Results showed that the yoga group saw a significant reduction in depression scores compared to the control group, and similar increases between both groups in self-efficacy and self-esteem.
The instructors used many chest opening poses including Wheel, Bow, Fish, Cobra, and Bridge, and Camel, deep breathing techniques, and a final relaxation pose. The same sequence was used each time. Beginners are strongly recommended to practice these poses with an experienced instructor to ensure proper alignment and prevent injury.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms alongside body
- Hug your shoulder blades together
- Inhale to press into feet and lift hips and chest up toward the sky
- Exhale to lower back down onto the mat
(Photo features arms up but for beginner purposes keep hands on the mat beside your chest)
- Lie on your stomach with hands beside your chest and elbows tucked into side body
- Keep gaze down so chin is slightly tucked and top of head lengthens forward
- Root the tops of your feet down
- On the inhale press into hand and lift chest up off the mat just slightly, keeping gaze at the top of your mat and chin down
- Exhale to lower
(Photo features hands on ankles but beginner option to use a strap around the ankles and hold onto it with hands)
- Lie face down on your mat
- Bend your knees and reach your hands back to clasp onto your ankles (or a strap)
- Keep chin down and top of head lengthening forward
- On the inhale lift your chest and press your ankles into your hands to lift up
- Exhale to hold and then release
- Lie on your back with legs straight
- Tuck your hands underneath your glutes or legs (you’ll likely need to bend your elbows to do this)
- Keep elbows hugged into your body
- As you inhale press into your forearms and lift your chest up so that just the back of your head is on the mat
- *Be sure to not put weight into the head, focus on lifting the chest and supporting yourself with your forearms
This pose is more advanced and it is recommended to be familiar with yoga before attempting wheel to prevent injury.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet close to your body
- Plant your hands on either side of your ears so your elbows are bent and fingers point toward you
- Without lifting onto the head press your hips and chest up toward the sky so you are supported only by hands and feet
- Shoulders should stack over wrists as chest presses out
(Photo features hands on feet but beginner option to use blocks on either side of the ankles to rest the hands on)
- From kneeling, either keep feet flat or toes tucked under
- Take your hands to your hips or lower back
- Inhale to press hips forward and tilt chest up and as you exhale release your hands down to heels or blocks
- Release the head to open through the throat
- Keep pressing hips forward and breathe
Throughout each pose remember to breathe and try to stay in each one for at least 5 breaths. Move slowly and mindfully to each new pose, modify if you need to, and never push yourself farther than your body wants to go.
Open up your heart and breathe into love. Breathe out anything that is weighing you down.
Above all always, always reach out for help when you need it. We are all in this together.
Read more about the study here:
Prathikanti S, Rivera R, Cochran A, Tungol JG, Fayazmanesh N, Weinmann E (2017) Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0173869. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0173869 E
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