Feeling blue? Practicing yoga might help boost your mood

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New research shows the exercise may ease depression

If you’re a devout yogi, your downward dog poses may have more health benefits than just to your physical well-being.

New research shows practicing yoga, in conjunction with traditional therapy, is effective in boosting your mood and decreasing depression.

Gloria Oyeniyi, MD, psychiatrist at Seton Shoal Creek, said yoga can be beneficial to mental health because it releases tension and stress. Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

“Yoga, meditation and deep breathing is a relaxation technique,” Oyeniyi said. “It’s a way for people to step back from the chaos of the day and focus on the here and now. When they are done with the exercise, some people experience improved mood and sleep.”

The findings behind how “Om” can help orient your mood

Recent studies looked at the depression scores of participants before and after practicing yoga. Depression scores are often used by mental health professionals to measure depression levels.

One study included 23 male veterans who practiced Hatha yoga, which has physical, meditative and breathing exercises, twice-weekly for eight weeks.

A second study examined 52 women ages 25-45, who practiced Bikram, or hot yoga, twice-weekly for eight weeks.
In both studies, results showed that depression symptoms decreased significantly.

Another study, which examined Bikram yoga, found that participants who practiced Bikram twice-weekly for eight weeks had eased depression, improved quality of life and optimism.

An American Psychological Association news release stated other studies have similar findings.

During a panel discussion at an annual APA meeting, experts said this research should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Oyeniyi said the research is worth noting because of the decreased depression scores after practicing yoga. But it’s difficult to know whether yoga alone reduced depression or whether other activities and lifestyle choices were also contributing factors, she said. Therefore, more research is needed.

“This research is yet another positive sign that interventions like yoga help improve mood symptoms,” she said.

Yoga’s influence on emotional stress

In addition to depression, Oyeniyi said yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises can be beneficial to other aspects of mental health, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Poor concentration
  • Low energy
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome
  • Anger and hostility

The physical aspect of yoga can also help with blood circulation, pain control and other physical ailments like fibromyalgia.

What other exercises help reduce emotional stress?

Oyeniyi said a consistent exercise regimen is helpful for mental health. In addition to yoga, other beneficial exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Stretching
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics

Mental and physical upkeep

To ensure your body and mind are well taken care of, it’s important to find a routine that works for you.

“Yoga is a practice and there’s no prescribed way to do it or how to start,” Oyeniyi said. “Yoga is a very easy way to get some benefit for your mental and physical health at the same time. Exercise is generally very beneficial and when people incorporate it into their lifestyle, it boosts well-being.”