Study: Yoga Offers Encouraging Mental Health Benefits

Mental illness is a significant health concern worldwide, in spite of increasing improvements in treatment modalities and access to care. And, while the number of medications that are available for mental health disorders has been increasing, drugs are often very expensive, have significant side effects, and don’t necessarily offer the desired results.

In this environment, it is generally recognized that there is a need for safe, cost-effective forms of treatment for mental illness. A number of studies looking at the effects of yoga for people with mental health issues have shown promising preliminary results. But does the cumulative evidence across studies support the use of yoga to help offer relief for depression and other forms of mental illness? 

This was the question asked by a group of researchers at Duke University, who set out to examine the evidence across a number of studies for the usefulness of yoga for mental health disorders. 

To answer the question, the researchers conducted a review of studies on the mental health benefits of yoga. They initially looked at a pool of 124 studies, but only 16 studies met the rigorous criteria for final inclusion in the review. Specifically included were studies on the effects of yoga on depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, sleep complaints, eating disorders, and cognition problems. The study was published in the January 2013 issue of Frontiers of Psychiatry.

Across multiple studies, the review found, there is cumulative evidence for the usefulness of yoga as an adjunct modality in the treatment several mental health issues.

In particular, studies have consistently shown potential benefit for depression and for schizophrenia (as an adjunct to drugs treatments), as well as for sleep complaints and for children with ADHD.

The review also found that yoga may balance biochemical markers thought to play a role in mental health. One of the studies included indicated that a regular yoga asana practice affects neurotransmitters as well as markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, lipids, and growth factors. Other significant benefits noted above drug therapy were the absence of side effects, the low cost of practicing the postures, good accessibility, and general improvement of the patients’ level of fitness. 

Still, while results are promising, more rigorous research with larger groups is required, the researchers concluded. The studies revealed conflicting results for cognitive and eating disorders, and none of the existing studies looked at issues around primary and relapse prevention, or compared the effectiveness of yoga therapies versus drug therapies.


Yoga on Our Minds: A Systematic Review of Yoga for Neuropsychiatric Disorders
Meera Balasubramaniam, Shirley Telles, and P. Murali Doraiswamy
Front Psychiatry. 2012; 3: 117. Published online 2013 January 25. 

Recent articles


Upcoming courses


Yoga for
every body

How to Avoid the Top 3 Pitfalls of Forward Bends

With Julie Gudmedstad

Recent articles


Sorry, You have reached your
monthly limit of views

To access, join us for a free 7-day membership trial to support expanding the Pose Library resources to the yoga community.

Sign up for a FREE 7-day trial