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 has just 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

Currently we are working with a team at the Australian College of Applied Psychology on a 12 month research project exploring the effects of yoga on the populations we work with. Data collected so far shows participants reporting reduced stress and anxiety, improved understanding of the importance of self care, anger management and release of emotional tension. A written report is expected in late 2017.

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

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.