Study: Yoga Helps Prevent Stress, Depression, and Anxiety

Studies suggest that having a strong sense of intrinsic spirituality can act as a buffer against stress, anxiety and depression. One way in which yoga may offer therapy for stress, depression, and anxiety may be by developing a greater sense of intrinsic spirituality and greater inner calm and self-acceptance.

Australian researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne tested this hypothesis in a study using yoga as a preventative and treatment for symptoms of mental illness.  Study participants went through a six-week yoga therapy program, which included yogic breathing techniques (pranayama); yoga postures (asanas) designed to enhance strength, vitality and flexibility; and a guided relaxation (yoga nidra) and meditation.  The aim was to see if participants would increase their resistance to emotional distress by developing greater calmness, self-acceptance, a more balanced perspective on life, and enhanced concentration. Psychometric tests were used to compare symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression across three groups: regular yoga practitioners, beginners practicing yoga as therapy for depression and stress for the first time, and a control group that did not practice yoga. 

The study also looked at the participants’ sense of intrinsic spirituality before and after the six-week yoga practice for stress. Intrinsic spirituallity is an inherent sense of spiritual connection or fullness; it is different from just having religious beliefs, although people with intrinsic spirituality may also have specific religious beliefs. 

When the three study groups were compared at the end of six weeks, the people in the beginners’ yoga groups on average had lower levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress than before the beginning of the study. The people who already practiced yoga and the people in the control group, not surprisingly, showed no change.  In addition, the participants in the beginning yoga group showed growth in their self-reported level of intrinsic spiritual experience.

Campbell, D.E., Moore, K.A.. Yoga as a preventative treatment for depression, Anxiety and stress.  International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 2004, 14:53-58.

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