[Image: Michael Pravin | Flickr]

The Boston University has recently published medical research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine on the effect of Iyengar yoga on people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). They solidly concluded that Iyengar yoga does indeed help in treating this disease.

“This dosing study provides evidence that participation in an intervention composed of Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms for individuals with MDD, both on and off antidepressant medications.”

“This study supports the use of an Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing intervention as a treatment to alleviate depressive symptoms in MDD.”

The thirty participants of the study were divided into two groups: the high dose group, who did three 90-minute Iyengar Yoga group classes per and four 30-minute home sessions per week, and the low dose group, who did two group classes and three home sessions. This was conducted over a twelve week period, using eleven unique yoga sequences.  These sequences emphasized back-bends and inversions in accordance with the Iyengar method for treating depression.

The participants of the study were aged 18-55, all with a current diagnosis of MDD, some with co-morbid anxiety disorders such as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and/or social phobia. The participants were accepted into the study whether they were on or off antidepressant medications, provided that the medication had not changed dosage within 3 months before the start of the study and wouldn’t change during the study.

The participants were assessed using the BDI-II (Beck Depression Inventory II) at 4 points: at the start of the study, Week 4, Week 8 and Week 12. The LDG started at “moderate” to “severe” levels of depression, which dropped to “mild” to “moderate” in Week 4. The depression levels remained within this range in Week 8, but ultimately dropped to the “minimal” to “mild” range in Week 12.

The HDG, who did more yoga than the LDG, also started the study at the level of “moderate” to “severe depression,” which then sunk down to “mild” to “moderate” in Week 4, before reaching the levels of “minimal depression” even earlier in Week 8, and remained at these low levels through until the end of the study.

Lead author Dr. Chris Streeter is an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine. He has stated that the practice has far fewer side effects and potential drug interactions than mood-altering medications.

Research has also shown that 40 percent of people on antidepressants alone do not recover fully from depression, which increases their risk for relapse. “Getting that 40% all the way better is a really important goal. Instead of adding another drug, I would argue that yoga is another thing you can add to the treatment regimen that might help,” said Dr Streeter.

This study joins a growing abundance of medical research supporting yoga as treatment for mental health disorders, such as this study on Sudarshan Kriya yoga by the University of Pennsylvania. American therapists also recommended yoga to treat rising stress level during the 2016 elections.

Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, is one of the most common mental health disorders. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization.


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