One investigation focused on the benefits of hatha yoga, defined as a yoga system that emphasizes physical movements mixed with meditative and breathing exercises. Over approximately a two-month period, 23 male veterans were instructed to attend classes twice a week. Using a scale of 1 through 10, the men rated their enjoyment level at an average of 9.4. But even more noteworthy, the participants who had elevated depression showed a significant reduction in depression symptoms once the course had ended.
Bikram yoga, sometimes referred to as hot yoga (which is a branch of hatha yoga), was the subject of two additional studies highlighted during the convention, which also concluded that adults who took classes two times a week for eight weeks had the same positive results. And the findings from one of these reviews stated that volunteers further reported improvement in quality of life and optimism, as well as cognitive and physical functioning.
In fact, the research is so promising that the U.S. military is currently creating its own yoga-based treatment programs.
“Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, from the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said in a press release. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”
However, this isn’t the first group of studies to highlight the potential mental health benefits that may be derived from this ancient practice. Earlier in 2017, research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine stated that people who suffer from major depressive disorder should consider participating in yoga and deep breathing classes twice a week, which were found to improve mood, regardless if someone was taking antidepressants.
Also, investigators from the University of Michigan discovered that pregnant women reported significant reductions in depressive symptoms, as well as a stronger bond with their babies in the womb, after attending a 10-week mindfulness yoga intervention (which combined meditative focus with physical poses).
“At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” concluded Hopkins. “Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.”