Regular yoga practice may help reduce depressive symptoms in people with other mental health disorders, a new study suggests.
The findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is based on a systematic review and data analysis of 13 studies with 632 participants. The effects were most noticeable for depression and schizophrenia, and to some extent, for alcohol misuse, the scientists said.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, with more than 264 million people living with the mental disorder, according to the World Health Organisation. Depressive symptoms often appear alongside other mental health issues, such as generalised anxiety and psychotic disorders.
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Lead author Jacinta Brinsley, from the University of South Australia, along with an international team of researchers, wanted to know if yoga might be beneficial for people with mental health issues.
They looked for randomised controlled trials that analysed the effects of yoga on a range of mental health disorders including depression, generalised anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, panic disorders and substance misuse.
On average, each weekly yoga session lasted between 20 and 90 minutes over a period of around two and a half months and included breathing exercises, mindfulness and moving postures. The movement component comprised more than half of each session, the researchers said.
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Yoga was found to have a moderate effect in reducing depressive symptoms when compared with usual, no, or self-help treatments for depression. The higher the number of weekly yoga sessions completed, the greater the effect on reducing depressive symptoms, the researchers said.
The team wrote: “Consideration of yoga as an evidence based exercise modality alongside conventional forms of exercise is warranted, given the positive results of this review.”
They added: “Yoga may provide an additional or alternative strategy to engage people experiencing depression in meaningful physical activity.”
Meditation leaves me feeling more stressed. What am I doing wrong?
While there’s plenty of evidence for the positive effects of meditation, it’s not completely risk-free. Its contemplation and focused awareness can bring uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to the surface.
A 2017 survey by psychologists in Spain and Brazil found that around 25 per cent of regular meditators have ‘unwanted experiences’, including panic attacks, emotional feelings and derealisation (losing contact with reality). So you might not be doing anything ‘wrong’. In fact, in many meditative traditions, confronting the challenges – and learning how to accept and work with them – is seen as an important part of the exercise.
However, some people are more vulnerable than others. For example, people with pre-existing severe anxiety can experience ‘relaxation-induced anxiety’ when they meditate. This might be because they fear a shift back to their baseline anxiety level after being in a more relaxed state. If you’re struggling with this or any other mental health issue, you should seek professional support before experimenting with meditation any further.