As yoga teachers everywhere are wont to repeat, unfurling your mat is akin to finding your own personal oasis: Yoga is a time for focusing solely on you. Sure it increases your heart rate, improves flexibility and tones major muscle groups, but it also centres and slows your mind—something beneficial for everyone, but especially those of us with anxiety or depression. What else can we say? Yoga works.
But if you’re anything like us, you’re lucky if you make it to yoga once a week. Life gets busy, and sometimes, we put ourselves on the back burner to focus on work, family and social commitments. But according to a 2017 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, we don’t have to feel bad about our less-than-daily yoga practice. In fact, the study found that engaging in a single weekly yoga session can reap significant benefits for the practitioner—and by significant we mean an improvement of depression symptoms by upwards of 50%. Keep reading to learn more about how yoga can scientifically alleviate depression and boost your mood!
The study compared 63 subjects who practised hatha yoga weekly with 59 subjects who went without yoga, taking health education classes instead. Both groups of people were taking anti-depressants during this time. FYI: Hatha yoga and regular yoga are pretty much the same thing. According to the experts at Gaiam, "Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is hatha yoga."
Onto the findings: After 10 weeks, researchers didn't actually see any "statistically significant results" between the group practising yoga and the group participating in health education. But changes did become apparent after three to six months. At that point, the researchers found that "yoga was superior to health education in alleviating depression symptoms."
In other words, it does take time to notice significant improvements from weekly yoga. "Although we did not see a difference in depression symptoms at the end of the intervention period, yoga participants showed fewer depression symptoms over the entire follow-up period," the study said. "Benefits of yoga may accumulate over time."
After the study was fully completed, the verdict was clear: "Yoga participants showed significantly better social and role functioning and general health perceptions over time." So no need to feel bad about missing out on your daily practice. Flow through once a week, and over time, it will do you more good than you know.
Next up, find the right type of yoga for you.
Macy RJ, Jones E, Graham LM, Roach L. Yoga for trauma and related mental health problems: a meta-review with clinical and service recommendations. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2018;19(1):35‐57. doi:10.1177/1524838015620834
Uebelacker LA, Tremont G, Gillette LT, et al. Adjunctive yoga v. health education for persistent major depression: a randomized controlled trial. Psychol Med. 2017;47(12):2130‐2142. doi:10.1017/S0033291717000575