How Science Supports Yoga as a Cure for Depression

Zoloft, Prozac, and many other infamous antidepressants have had thousands, if not millions of dollars funding research on their benefits. At the same time, what may be the world’s best depression treatment remains consistently under-tested and under-advertized, namely because there’s no company that stands make enough money off of it to support its promotion.

Nonetheless, small studies have been conducted, and time and time again this miracle cure has proven not only its efficacy, but its lack of negative side effects—and plethora of positive side benefits—as well.

What is this miracle drug? It’s not a drug at all: its exercise.

Studies conducted at Duke University in the late ‘90s and early 2000s revealed that after just four weeks, patients of major depression who exercised daily instead of taking medication experienced 95-100% of the improvement prescription drugs produced in their non-exercising counterparts.

Furthermore, a 10 month follow-up showed that the exercise-only group maintained the highest remission and stay-well rate.

So what is it about exercise that can so drastically improve our mood? Researchers suspect it comes down to the way our brains are wired. Like most species, we evolved as active organisms. Scientists suggest that our brains are simply not designed to handle life without physical activity.

In support of this argument, research reveals that exercise not only helps with depression, but also anxiety and even substance-dependence. Scientists have noted that in addition to balancing serotonin and endorphin levels, exercise produces natural chemical compounds that support brain cell growth and maintenance

Neuroscience researchers have also found that exercise can switch on genes to increase galanin, a neurochemical that tones down the brain/body stress response. In other words, exercise can help the stressed as well as the depressed.

But order to get the most benefit from exercise, whether we’re suffering from depression, stress, anxiety, or all of the above, we can’t rely on cardio alone.

While aerobic activity plays a key role in physical and psychological health, stretching, strength training, and developing our body’s core muscles are all vital components to maintaining optimum well-being.

One study revealed that even stretching for 15-20 minutes alone could decrease depression by nearly 30%. Combining stretching with other types of physical activity offers even greater benefits.

By integrating stretching, strengthening, and balancing exercises, yoga for depression offers one of the best methods for elevating one’s mood.

Studies have illustrated yoga’s ability to combat depression through balancing brain chemistry and stress hormone levels. Through a regular yoga routine, we can pull ourselves out of the pit of depression and rise once more to enjoy vitality and inspiration in our day-to-day lives.