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A Yoga Intervention for Young Adults With Elevated Symptoms of Depression

Alison Woolery, MA, Hector Myers, PhD, Beth Sternlieb, BFA, Lonnie Zeltzer, MD

It is not unusual for yoga teachers and students to report that yoga has an uplifting effect on their moods, even when they are dysphoric. Congruent with these reports, a small body of research suggests that yogic techniques may help alleviate symptoms of depression.1-3 Other studies on non-depressed persons have found increased positive and decreased negative mood following yoga practices.4-7

However, the validity and clinical utility of these findings have been questioned because of a number of methodological limitations. In addition, these studies used different forms of yoga (eg, breathing, meditation, physical postures), making it difficult to determine whether the mood-enhancing effects of yoga are general or specific to certain approaches or teachers. To our knowledge, no prospective studies have tested how the practice of physical postures (asanas), as opposed to breathing and meditation, impacts mood in persons who are depressed.

The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the effects of a five-week Iyengar yoga course on symptoms of depression in mildly depressed young adults. Within the Iyengar yoga tradition, based on the teachings of yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, specific asanas and sequences of asanas are thought to be particularly effective for alleviating depression.8 These include asanas that open and lift the chest, especially back bends, inversions, and vigorous standing poses.

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