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Yoga Improves Symptoms in Study Participants With MDD

November 18, 2019

At both lower and higher doses, a yoga and breathing intervention improved symptoms of depression and anxiety in a group of people with major depressive disorder (MDD), according to a study published recently in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.

The dosing study looked at the effect of an intervention that combined Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing in 30 adults diagnosed with MDD. To determine the optimal dosage, researchers randomly assigned participants to either a high-dose group, which spent 123 hours in yoga-and-breathing sessions over 3 months, or a low-dose group, which spent 87 hours in such sessions.

Regardless of the dose, participants showed significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as sleep quality, tranquility, positivity, and physical exhaustion, according to the study. Benefits were acute and cumulative, observable within 1 month and accumulating over time.

Scans Show Shared Brain Abnormalities With Mood, Anxiety Disorders

“Although the high-dose group showed greater improvements on all scales, between-group differences did not reach significance, possibly due to lack of power because of the small sample size,” researchers wrote. “Cumulative yoga minutes were correlated with improvement in outcome measures.”

The study did not include nonintervention participants to serve as a control, which researchers noted was a study limitation. Still, the findings may offer insight that can help guide the treatment of people with MDD.

“Providing evidence-based data is helpful in getting more individuals to try yoga as a strategy for improving their health and well-being,” said study co-author Marisa M. Silveri, PhD, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Boston. “These data are crucial for accompanying investigations of underlying neurobiology that will help elucidate ‘how’ yoga works.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Scott TM, Gerbarg PL, Silveri MM, et al. Psychological function, Iyengar yoga, and coherent breathing: a randomized controlled dosing study. Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 2019;25(6):437-450.

Just what the doctor ordered: take a yoga class and depression, anxiety improve [press release]. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston University School of Medicine; November 13, 2019.

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