Context: Yoga teachers and students often report that yoga has an uplifting effect on their moods, but scientific research on yoga and depression is limited.
Objective: To examine the effects of a short-term Iyengar yoga course on mood in mildly depressed young adults.
Design: Young adults pre-screened for mild levels of depression were randomly assigned to a yoga course or wait-list control group.
Setting: College campus recreation center.
Participants: Twenty-eight volunteers ages 18 to 29. At intake, all participants were experiencing mild levels of depression, but had received no current psychiatric diagnoses or treatments. None had significant yoga experience.
Intervention: Subjects in the yoga group attended two 1-hour Iyengar yoga classes each week for 5 consecutive weeks. The classes emphasized yoga postures thought to alleviate depression, particularly back bends, standing poses, and inversions.
Main outcome measures: Beck Depression Inventory, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Profile of Mood States, morning cortisol levels.
Results: Subjects who participated in the yoga course demonstrated significant decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and trait anxiety. These effects emerged by the middle of the yoga course and were maintained by the end. Changes also were observed in acute mood, with subjects reporting decreased levels of negative mood and fatigue following yoga classes. Finally, there was a trend for higher morning cortisol levels in the yoga group by the end of the yoga course, compared to controls. These findings provide suggestive evidence of the utility of yoga asanas in improving mood and support the need for future studies with larger samples and more complex study designs to more fully evaluate the effects of yoga on mood disturbances.