Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Randomized Controlled Trial
, 12 (3), e0173869

Treating Major Depression With Yoga: A Prospective, Randomized, Controlled Pilot Trial

Randomized Controlled Trial

Treating Major Depression With Yoga: A Prospective, Randomized, Controlled Pilot Trial

Sudha Prathikanti et al. PLoS One.


Background: Conventional pharmacotherapies and psychotherapies for major depression are associated with limited adherence to care and relatively low remission rates. Yoga may offer an alternative treatment option, but rigorous studies are few. This randomized controlled trial with blinded outcome assessors examined an 8-week hatha yoga intervention as mono-therapy for mild-to-moderate major depression.

Methods: Investigators recruited 38 adults in San Francisco meeting criteria for major depression of mild-to-moderate severity, per structured psychiatric interview and scores of 14-28 on Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI). At screening, individuals engaged in psychotherapy, antidepressant pharmacotherapy, herbal or nutraceutical mood therapies, or mind-body practices were excluded. Participants were 68% female, with mean age 43.4 years (SD = 14.8, range = 22-72), and mean BDI score 22.4 (SD = 4.5). Twenty participants were randomized to 90-minute hatha yoga practice groups twice weekly for 8 weeks. Eighteen participants were randomized to 90-minute attention control education groups twice weekly for 8 weeks. Certified yoga instructors delivered both interventions at a university clinic. Primary outcome was depression severity, measured by BDI scores every 2 weeks from baseline to 8 weeks. Secondary outcomes were self-efficacy and self-esteem, measured by scores on the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSES) and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) at baseline and at 8 weeks.

Results: In intent-to-treat analysis, yoga participants exhibited significantly greater 8-week decline in BDI scores than controls (p-value = 0.034). In sub-analyses of participants completing final 8-week measures, yoga participants were more likely to achieve remission, defined per final BDI score ≤ 9 (p-value = 0.018). Effect size of yoga in reducing BDI scores was large, per Cohen's d = -0.96 [95%CI, -1.81 to -0.12]. Intervention groups did not differ significantly in 8-week change scores for either the GSES or RSES.

Conclusion: In adults with mild-to-moderate major depression, an 8-week hatha yoga intervention resulted in statistically and clinically significant reductions in depression severity.

Trial registration: NCT01210651.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Participant flow diagram.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Intent-to-treat analysis: Adjusted mean BDI scores plotted by time.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 8 PubMed Central articles

See all "Cited by" articles


    1. Hedden S, Kennet J, Lipari R, Medley G, Tice P, Copello E, et al. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet]. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. HHS Publications No. SMA 15–4927, NSDUH Series H-50; 2015.
    1. Murray CJL. The State of US Health, 1990–2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors. JAMA. 2013;310: 591 10.1001/jama.2013.13805 - DOI - PMC - PubMed
    1. Johnson NB, Hayes LD, Brown K, Hoo EC, Ethier KA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC National Health Report: leading causes of morbidity and mortality and associated behavioral risk and protective factors—United States, 2005–2013. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep Surveill Summ Wash DC 2002. 2014;63 Suppl 4: 3–27. - PubMed
    1. Angst J, Angst F, Stassen HH. Suicide risk in patients with major depressive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 1999;60 Suppl 2: 57–62-76, 113–116. - PubMed
    1. Barth J, Schumacher M, Herrmann-Lingen C. Depression as a risk factor for mortality in patients with coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis. Psychosom Med. 2004;66: 802–813. 10.1097/01.psy.0000146332.53619.b2 - DOI - PubMed

Publication types

Associated data

Grant support

SP obtained 3 grants: 1) Mental Insight Foundation 435299-86871-01, 2) Pritzker Family Foundation 556501-41743, and 3) Mt. Zion Health Fund P0035738. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.