Yes, yoga can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (strength of recommendation [SOR]: B, systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials [RCTs] with significant heterogeneity). Across multiple RCTs using varied yoga interventions and diverse study populations, yoga typically improves overall symptom scores for anxiety and depression by about 40%, both by itself and as an adjunctive treatment. It produces no reported harmful side effects.
Across 3 systematic reviews of yoga for depression, anxiety, and stress, yoga produced overall reductions of symptoms between 12% and 76%, with an average of 39% net reduction in symptom scores across measures (TABLE).1-3 The RCTs included in the systematic reviews were too heterogeneous to allow quantitative analyses of effect sizes.
Yoga found to significantly reduce depression symptoms
Two 2012 systematic reviews of yoga for depression evaluated 13 RCTs with a total of 782 participants, ages 18 to 80 years with mild to moderate depression. In the 12 RCTs that reported gender, 82% of participants were female; in 6 RCTs a total of 313 patients had cancer.1,2
The RCTs compared yoga to wait-list controls, counseling, education, exercise, or usual care. They evaluated yoga both as a stand-alone intervention and an adjunct to usual care. Yoga sessions varied from 1 hour weekly to 90 minutes daily over 2 to 24 weeks and included physical postures, relaxation, and breathing techniques.
Eight moderate- to high-quality RCTs with a total of 483 participants reported statistically significant reductions in depression symptoms in the yoga groups compared with control groups. In 3 RCTs, yoga was equivalent to wait-list controls; 2 RCTs showed results equivalent to exercise and superior to wait-list controls.