Depression Relief: Breathing and Yoga

Yoga can be a truly effective option for regaining control over your mind and emotions, as well as your body.

Yoga is fast becoming one of the most popular exercise trends in the country. People from all walks of life and levels of fitness are able to enjoy the many health benefits of yoga: better mobility and flexibility, increased muscular endurance, enhanced cardiovascular function, improved lymphatic drainage, reduced stress, and the list goes on.

In November 2016, the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published a study that offered insights into the amazing effects of yoga on our mental state. In the study, it was discovered that just eight weeks of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga had significant effects on the depression and anxiety symptoms of patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga is a cyclical controlled breathing yoga practice that incorporates slow and rapid breathing techniques to produce feelings of alertness, excitation, and physical and mental calm. According to the study, it was discovered that the breathing practice also helped to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The study included 25 adults diagnosed with MDD. All of the participants had been taking antidepressants without visible results. The adults were randomized into either a “waitlist” group or a Sudarshan Kriya group. The waitlist group only received the yoga intervention at the end of the 8-week study. The yoga group underwent a 6-session program in the first week, incorporating Sudarshan Kriya Yoga exercises, meditations, and postures into their lives. They also underwent stress education. After the first week, the participants completed one weekly Sudarshan Kriya Yoga session, as well as continuing their practice at home.

At the onset of the study, the participants Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS-17) score averaged 22.0. By the end of the 8-week study, those who had participated in the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga sessions saw a 10.27-point improvement on average. Not only that, but their depression and anxiety scores (Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventory) decreased significantly.

What makes this study so amazing is the fact that the MDD patients were not responding to antidepressants, but that yoga practice helped to reduce their anxiety and depression. The yoga practice proved an effective option for counteracting MDD symptoms even when medication didn’t work.

The findings of the study were summed up nicely by the lead author: “With such a large portion of patients who do not fully respond to antidepressants, it’s important we find new avenues that work best for each person to beat their depression. Here, we have a promising, lower-cost therapy that could potentially serve as an effective, non-drug approach for patients battling this disease.”

Incorporating yoga—not just this one form of yoga, but any yoga practice into your life can do more than just improve your physical health. As the study proves, it can be a truly effective option for regaining control over your mind and emotions, as well as your body.


1. “A breathing-based meditation intervention for patients with major depressive disorder following inadequate response to antidepressants: A randomized pilot study“, Anup Sharma et al., Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, doi: 10.4088/JCP.16m10819, published online November 2016.