There is increasing interest in yoga as an intervention for mental health concerns including depression and anxiety. Yoga is popular and appealing for many people and may be suitable for people with mental health concerns due to its broad focus on mind-body lifestyle and is viewed as a way to promote physical and mental health, rather than just a treatment of a mental illness.

As well as quality service delivery, The Yoga Foundation is committed to being involved in the development of an evidence base for the benefits of yoga amongst various groups. As part of this commitment, Founding Director Michael de Manincor completed PhD research in yoga and mental health at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research (CompleMED), University of Western Sydney. Click here for more details on Michael's research

First-ever Australian study into the impact of yoga on prisoners

In 2017 we supported an 8 week pilot for male adult prisoners in the ACT. The aim was to measure the impact on mental and physical wellbeing and was the first Australian clinical trial evaluating such a program
The research has now been published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology and is summarised in this article. Prisoners showed improvements in their levels of depression, anxiety and stress. They also reported an increase in self-esteem and an improved ability to accept their emotional responses and engage in goal-directed behaviour. These are important outcomes because they are all crucial for the healthy functioning of the prison, and prisoners’ ability to build strong relationships after release. The research paper is available here.

Program Evaluation

Measuring the outcomes from our programs is an important part of our work. The objectives of our evaluations are:
1. To study how well yoga programs are working
2. To determine whether these programs are successful

All stakeholders are involved with the evaluation and it is particularly important to give participant beneficiaries a voice. Structured feedback allows the beneficiaries to identify the benefits of yoga for them at an personal level and our Partner organisations to know whether the yoga programs are effectively addressing the needs of their clients and how.

Our evaluation feedback loop enables The Yoga Foundation:

  1. To plan yoga programs effectively

  2. To improve the quality and impact of yoga programs

  3. To show evidence of yoga as a cost-effective health intervention for disadvantaged people with mental health concerns

Evaluation requirements of our programs vary with the length of the program, the needs of partner organisation, funding, and intended target groups. Please see a recent Evaluation Report on some of our services here.

Research into the link between yoga practice and mental health

There are many different studies and methodologies and therefore reviews of the research suggest that caution is required in interpreting the results. However the research is promising is establishing an evidence-based approach of the mental health benefits of yoga. As part of this ongoing research Founding Director Michael de Manincor recently conducted two studies through the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at the University of Western Sydney.

The first study sought to gain a consensus statement from experienced yoga teachers and researchers in the field of yoga and mental health throughout the world on recommended approaches and techniques to include or avoid in yoga practices for people with depression or anxiety. The results of this study were used to develop Yoga for Mental Health Intervention Guidelines which have been presented at international Yoga Therapy and Positive Psychology conferences and published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal. This is freely available to download here.

The second study was a randomised clinical trial to evaluate the benefits of individualised yoga in addition to conventional or usual mental health care, for reducing depression and anxiety and improving wellbeing. This study and the results have been published in the journal Depression and Anxiety and the abstract can be viewed here.

Other Research studies

Yoga and Mental Health: A Review

Abstract: The need for effective population mental health promotion approaches is urgent as mental health concerns are escalating globally and current allopathic treatment regimens are insufficient to bring people towards the state of mental well-being (citation). Successfully alleviating stress has the potential to promote wellbeing and prevent illness. Worldwide, yoga is gaining popularity as an accessible, acceptable and cost-effective practice for mind and body. People are turning to yoga for mental health improvement because of preferences for: self-treatment as opposed to clinical intervention; perceived greater efficacy than medication; fewer side effects; lack of response to medication. Yoga has minimal side effects and is cost-effective in comparison with pharmacological treatments and psychotherapy. Yoga’s added benefit is that it improves physical fitness and encourages self-reliance. In this brief article we discuss the evidence for yoga as a form of mental health promotion, illness prevention and treatment for depression.

A Feeling of Connectedness”: Perspectives on a Gentle Yoga Intervention for Women with Major Depression

The women who participated in this study reported that yoga was beneficial for managing their stress levels and as an aid to get them out of the house, into a safe space where they feel a sense of connectedness with others. The techniques the women learned from yoga helped them focus their energy into positive thoughts instead of being consumed by negative thinking, which is common in those suffering from depression.  The women also reported an enhanced sense of self-esteem and competence after completing the 8-week program.        

The Use of Yoga, Meditation, Mantram, and Mindfulness to Enhance Coping in Veterans with PTSD

This study looks at 6 research studies, conducted from 2011 – 2013, examining the effect yoga, meditation, mantram, and mindfulness have on active duty and retired military personnel. Results show a significant decrease in stress and anxiety levels, daytime dysfunction, hyperarousal, depression, negative thinking, and symptoms of PTSD. 

Managing Mental Health Disorders Resulting from Trauma through Yoga: A Review

This review article evaluates 11 research studies where mental health disorders resulting from trauma is being managed using yoga and meditation.  The trauma they are referring to includes, natural disasters, motor vehicle accidents, child abuse, war, torture, rape and sexual assault, interpersonal traumas, etc. The review found that yoga helped the trauma victims gain a positive mental state, changing their negative thoughts into positive ones. There was also evidence that regular meditators exhibit higher plasma dopamine levels.

Yoga in an Urban School for Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Feasible Study

This study looks at the effects that yoga has on children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Most traditional special education programs do not take in consideration of the needs of children with emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD).  During the 3 ½ month intervention, the children participated in yoga twice a week. 80% of the children said they were very satisfied with the intervention and the teachers reported improved attention in class.  

Reducing the Symptomatology of Panic Disorder: The Effects of a Yoga Program Alone and in Combination with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The goal of this study was to examine the effects of yoga alone in 20 patients diagnosed with panic disorder, while also examining the effects of yoga combined with psychotherapy. The researchers found significant reductions in anxiety levels using yoga alone but saw even further reductions when yoga was occupied by psychotherapy.

Meditation and Yoga Can Modulate Brain Mechanisms That Affect Behavior and Anxiety- A Modern Scientific Perspective

This article reviews the psychological effects of meditation and yoga on neurotransmitters, using EEG and fMRI. They found evidence that meditation may encourage the growth of new neurons.

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga as an Adjunct Mental Health Treatment in Group Therapy for Survivors of Domestic Violence: A Feasibility Study

This study considers the effects yoga has on women who have experienced domestic abuse, resulting in anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The women participated in a 12-week yoga intervention once a week for 30-40 minutes after their group therapy session. Following the 12 weeks, the women reported that the intervention was meaningful and would benefit others.

Yoga on Our Minds: A Systematic Review of Yoga for Neuropsychiatric Disorders

The article reviews several studies that investigated the effects of yoga as treatment for psychiatric disorders such as, schizophrenia, depression, sleep complaints and ADHD. Sixteen studies were reviewed, supporting the claim that there are benefits using yoga to help control these psychiatric disorders. The studies supported the claims but the studies only looked at yoga as being secondary to tradition medicines.