Yoga therapy involves different yoga poses, techniques, and meditation practices as a means for exercise and mental relief. Yoga may be used as treatment for various mental and emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

How Yoga Therapy Works

Yoga uses multiple poses to stretch muscles and promote strength, flexibility, detoxification, and more. Yoga continues to be a popular choice of exercise and therapy for a variety of conditions, from chronic pain and stress to late-stage cancer. It is offered not only at yoga studios, but also at hospitals, homeless shelters, and elsewhere.

People suffering from depression can benefit from yoga therapy. Exercise is an important part to any depression treatment plan, and yoga can be especially helpful because of its gentle, calming, and fluid nature. It can ease physical pain, combat lethargy, and improve self-esteem. It might even increase production of serotonin, the brain chemical that experts believe is deficient in people with depression.

Yoga instructors emphasize breathing, concentration, and smooth movement that can calm the body and mind. Instructors also encourage participants to focus on positive images to help relieve stress and anxiety.

There are numerous styles of yoga. Some of the more common ones in the U.S. include: 

  • Hatha. This style is typically gentler than other styles. Its slower pace may be best suited for beginners. 
  • Vinyasa. This style more closely links breathing with movement. The classes typically begin slowly to warm the body up for a faster pace toward the end of class.
  • Bikram. Also called “hot yoga,” this style takes place in a hot room to loosen muscles and induce large amounts of sweat, which adds to the cleansing process.
  • Ashtanga. Also known as “power yoga,” this fast-paced yoga is one of the more physically demanding styles.

Exploring different styles and yoga studios will allow you to find what works best for you.

If you’re uncomfortable doing yoga in a group setting, try one-on-one therapy with a yoga instructor, or consider instructional videos that you can do by yourself at home.

Pros of Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy is generally safe. People suffering from depression can benefit from any exercise program, but the gentle movements, concentration, and self-focus of yoga are a bonus for people with stress, anxiety, or depression. 

Cons of Yoga Therapy

Yoga can be a challenge for beginners or for people with limited flexibility. Many find the poses difficult or uncomfortable. Yoga classes can also be expensive. And yoga therapy is not meant to be a sole treatment for people with depression. However, it can be a nice complement to traditional therapies such as medication and psychotherapy. 

What the Expert Says

Dr. Mason Turner, Chief of Psychiatry, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, said yoga therapy combines meditation and adds in a physical component, both of which are important in combating depression. The meditative qualities bring the person into the present mindset and allows them to clear their minds. The physical aspect helps aid the body-mind connection, which is very important in depression.

“Yoga is also something that can be very powerful in the treatment of depression,” Dr. Turner said.

Even if yoga isn’t a person’s forte, he said, the meditative and physical qualities are important in helping a person overcome depression.

 “There are many different ways to get there,” Dr. Turner said. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.”