The inaugural Yoga in Healthcare Conference (February 2019) in London will explore the benefits of yoga for depression and anxiety – health problems which are becoming ever more pressing both for individuals and the NHS. To find out more visit our conference page, or you can book tickets now

Depression and anxiety are massive issues in current Western society, In fact, the most common neurotic disorders in the United Kingdom are anxiety and depression, with one in six adults having been found to experience such presentations in any given week in the UK.

Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger and manifests as the arousal of the sympathetic (‘fight or flight’) nervous system, which involves adrenalin being pumped quickly through the body to enable it to cope with any impending catastrophe. Problems arise, however, when this response is out of proportion to the level of actual danger present in the situation or, indeed, if no true danger is present.

The physical symptoms of anxiety can include a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, a tight chest, nausea, the urge to pass urine or empty bowels, tremors and sweating – to name just a few. Psychologically, a person with anxiety may experience tension, agitation, a sense of a loss of control, impending feelings of dread, and a sense of detachment.

Clinical depression is characterised by a persistent anxious, sad, or empty mood. Anxiety and depression, therefore, whilst separate diagnoses which can manifest independently, can commonly occur simultaneously. Other symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, a sense of guilt or worthlessness, a loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, fatigue and decreased energy, sleeping and eating changes and thoughts of death and/or suicide.

In order to be diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must have had such symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least a two-week duration.

There is a growing body of research and increasing interest in the use of yoga as a way to soothe and manage both depression and anxiety. There are several ongoing large-scale randomised controlled trials exploring yoga’s potential benefits to these populations, with preliminary evidence suggesting that yoga can be helpful for both depression and anxiety in a myriad of ways.

Prevalent findings in scientific studies include reductions in depression and anxiety scores, a modulation of the stress-response through an increase in parasympathetic (‘rest and digest’) nervous system arousal, reductions in obsessive-compulsive tendencies, an easing of heightened respiration, and improved mood following a yoga intervention. Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and reductions in anxiety for the elderly, carers of people with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and people with epilepsy.

In two recent systematic literature reviews of yoga for depression, researchers concluded that yoga could and should be considered as an ancillary treatment option for patients with depressive disorders and individuals with elevated levels of depression; and that yoga has a range of beneficial effects on depressive disorders (Cramer et al, 2013; Pilkington et al., 2005).. Research by Javnbakht et al., (2009) found that participation in a two-month yoga class led to a significant reduction in perceived levels of anxiety in women who suffered from anxiety disorders.

In another study by Streeter et al, (2010) a 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. In another study conducted in Germany in 2005 (Brown et al, 2005), 24 women who described themselves as ‘emotionally distressed’ took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. The women in the control group maintained their usual activities without engaging in an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

At the end of the three months, the women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50% and anxiety scores by 30%. Complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than the control group. These findings are echoed by Cyndi Roberts, now a yoga teacher, who explains;

“I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder at the age of eighteen and put on prescription medication, from which I quickly began to experience side effects. Shortly after, I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. There was a time when I was hopelessly lost in the dark. I was trapped in the despair of depression and the crippling grip of anxiety, with a prescription in my hand as the only thing that was supposed to make me feel better. For twelve long years, I believed it was the only option.

Moment by moment, I now choose life on my terms instead of waiting for the quick fix or the magic pill. I choose life without clouded judgment or the fog of medication like I once did. For me, yoga is not a gimmick. Exercise and meditation aren’t fads—these practices helped saved my life and have become an inextricable part of my daily routine.”

The research demonstrating yoga’s benefits for anxiety specifically is also very compelling. For example, significant improvement was seen in the anxiety levels of patients of hypertension, coronary artery disease, obesity, cervical spondylitis and those with psychiatric disorders following a short 10-day yoga programme (Gupta et al., 2006). In another study, stress, anxiety and quality of life scores improved for participants following a ten-week yoga programme (Smith et al., 2007), Researchers concluded that yoga can reduce stress, anxiety and improve health status in several key domains.

The research firmly suggests that yoga has huge potential benefits to offer people experiencing depression and anxiety. The Yoga in Healthcare Alliance (YiHA) is a social enterprise that is supporting and enabling the National Health Service to both train healthcare professionals in therapeutic yoga techniques and make yoga available to them directly.

It also aims to lobby, raise awareness and provide support for yoga’s infusion into the NHS. In February 2019 (15th-17th) the first Yoga in Healthcare Alliance Conference will take place at Westminster University in London. The aim is to discuss how we can collaboratively incorporate yoga into healthcare, share success stories, raise the profile of yoga in healthcare, and effectively move towards a future where yoga is offered on prescription. Specific benefits of yoga for anxiety and depression will be extensively explored including keynotes and workshops from specialists in yoga for these conditions.

Places for the Conference are filling up fast. To find out more and to claim one of the remaining tickets, visit the Conference page at The College of Medicine will be offering a certificate of attendance to all delegates that can be used towards CPD points.


Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya Yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part II—clinical applications and guidelines. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 711-717.

Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Langhorst, J., & Dobos, G. (2013).

Yoga for depression: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Depression and anxiety, 30(11), 1068-1083.

Gupta, N., Khera, S., Vempati, R. P., Sharma, R., & Bijlani, R. L. (2006). Effect of yoga based lifestyle intervention on state and trait anxiety. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 50(1), 41.

Javnbakht, M., Kenari, R. H., & Ghasemi, M. (2009). Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Complementary therapies in clinical practice15(2), 102-104.

Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., & Richardson, J. (2005). Yoga for depression: the research evidence. Journal of affective disorders, 89(1-3), 13-24.

Smith, C., Hancock, H., Blake-Mortimer, J., & Eckert, K. (2007). A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety. Complementary therapies in medicine15(2), 77-83

Streeter, C. C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., & Jensen, J. E. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine16(11), 1145-1152.

Nicole Schnackenberg


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