Practicing yoga may help relieve the symptoms of several types of mental disorders, according to a new review.
Researchers compiled the findings of 16 significant studies that examined the effects of yoga on mental illness.
The results conclude that yoga may offer positive effects for people with depression and sleep problems even if they don’t take medication, as well as for individuals with schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who are taking medication.
No benefit was found, however, for people with eating or cognitive disorders.
Yoga research has suggested that the practice positively influences chemical messengers in the brain, inflammation in the body, and other biological factors in much the same way as antidepressants and psychotherapy, said study researcher Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center.
In one study of 69 older adults with mild depression, weekly yoga sessions reduced depression scores by 40 percent at six months. A comparison group of adults who did not practice yoga, and a group that practiced a form of complementary medicine called Ayurveda, did not show changes in depression scores.
In another study, seven weeks of yoga improved sleep quality and reduced the need for sleep aids in 39 adults who were experiencing insomnia while undergoing chemotherapy. Individuals who did not take the yoga sessions (control group) showed no improvement in sleep.
“If the promise of yoga on mental health was found in a drug, it would be the best selling medication world-wide,” added Doraiswamy.
The studies in the review did have some limitations, however. Most of the studies that were focused on depression involved patients with mild depression, so it’s not clear if the results would be replicated for those with more severe forms of the disorder.
Also, in many of the studies, people practiced yoga in groups, so it’s difficult to separate the effect of yoga from that of social interaction, said Doraiswamy.
Source: Frontiers in Psychiatry