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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 4 (2007), Issue 4, Pages 493-502
http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nel114
Original Article

Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression: Effects of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome

1Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
2Department of Neurophysiology, Moscow Research Center of Narcology, Moscow, Russia
3Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

Received 5 June 2006; Accepted 14 December 2006

Copyright © 2007 David Shapiro et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Preliminary findings support the potential of yoga as a complementary treatment of depressed patients who are taking anti-depressant medications but who are only in partial remission. The purpose of this article is to present further data on the intervention, focusing on individual differences in psychological, emotional and biological processes affecting treatment outcome. Twenty-seven women and 10 men were enrolled in the study, of whom 17 completed the intervention and pre- and post-intervention assessment data. The intervention consisted of 20 classes led by senior Iyengar yoga teachers, in three courses of 20 yoga classes each. All participants were diagnosed with unipolar major depression in partial remission. Psychological and biological characteristics were assessed pre- and post-intervention, and participants rated their mood states before and after each class. Significant reductions were shown for depression, anger, anxiety, neurotic symptoms and low frequency heart rate variability in the 17 completers. Eleven out of these completers achieved remission levels post-intervention. Participants who remitted differed from the non-remitters at intake on several traits and on physiological measures indicative of a greater capacity for emotional regulation. Moods improved from before to after the yoga classes. Yoga appears to be a promising intervention for depression; it is cost-effective and easy to implement. It produces many beneficial emotional, psychological and biological effects, as supported by observations in this study. The physiological methods are especially useful as they provide objective markers of the processes and effectiveness of treatment. These observations may help guide further clinical application of yoga in depression and other mental health disorders, and future research on the processes and mechanisms.