The specifics varied, but each yoga program was at least 50% physical movement. Participants were randomly assigned to either add yoga to their usual treatment, go on a waitlist for yoga or to stick with standard care alone.
Overall, Brinsley’s team found, people practicing yoga showed a greater reduction in depression symptoms than those in the comparison groups.
Researchers said the average effect was “moderate,” not dramatic. And the studies were short-term, generally lasting a couple of months. So it’s not clear how long the benefits last, according to Brinsley.
But, she said, like other therapies, yoga is not a quick fix.
“Often, we don’t take a course of medication for 12 weeks and are cured, so we need to think about exercise and yoga and mindfulness in the same way,” Brinsley said. “It’s not necessarily a cure. To get the benefits, you’re going to have to keep doing it.”
Terri Miles is a registered yoga teacher in Culpeper, Va., who specializes in working with cancer patients and trauma survivors.
She agreed that consistency is crucial and stressed that yoga practice need not involve the “acrobatics” characteristic of some styles.
“Just the simple act of breathing properly can bring a change. You see it in people’s faces,” said Miles, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.
Even a series of simple poses, she said, can be powerful, partly because it “distracts the mind from whatever was bothering it,” and also because of the movement itself.
“If I cue someone to ‘feel the stability of your feet,’ and they feel it, that sends a message to the brain, ‘Hey, you’re OK. You’re grounded,'” Miles said.
She agreed that now could be a good time to find online opportunities for yoga — with some classes being offered for free. Miles urged prospective students to check out teachers’ credentials and find out if their yoga style is what you’re looking for.
She also encouraged people to keep an open mind.
“If you try a class and it works for you, fantastic,” Miles said. “If it doesn’t, it might be the style, or the teacher. Or you might not have been ready that day because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. So try again tomorrow.”