According to the World Health Organization, just under 4% of the population have depression. It is more common in women than in men and more common in adults over sixty years of age. Treatments for depression include standard antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and, most recently, psychedelic medications. Very recently treating depression with heated yoga sessions has been shown to help as well. Because depression by itself is debilitating and because it increases the risk of suicide, anything that helps treat this condition is important.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice that most likely started in India. It includes meditation, breathing techniques, and prescribed movements. This mind and body practice builds flexibility and strength. It tends to reduce stress and often helps with pain management. There are numerous varieties of yoga in terms of meditation, breathing techniques, and physical postures. The variety that was recently tried as a treatment of depression was heated yoga.
What Is Heated Yoga?
Heat yoga or hot yoga is any of a variety of yoga techniques done in a heated environment and generally includes a more strenuous workout. Originally, the idea of heated yoga was to mimic the hot climate in India where yoga came from. Room temperatures for heated yoga range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A variety called Bikram yoga is done at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity. It includes twenty-six poses and a two breathing exercise sequences. Other names or types of heated yoga include Vinyasa yoga, Moksha yoga or Modo yoga, CorePower yoga, Forrest yoga, Hot yoga barre, Hot Yin yoga, Hot Power yoga, and Hot Fusion yoga.
Benefits of Heated Yoga
Prior to the study relating to depression, heated yoga was found to increase flexibility, balance, and strength in older adults. The active stretching in yoga is what increases muscle strength and flexibility. Bone density increases have been seen in post-menopausal women who engage in heated yoga. This process has also been shown to improve fat metabolism. Something that has been known about depression is that it tends to get better when people exercise routinely.
Heated Yoga and Depression
A recently completed study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that heated yoga sessions helped improve depression. The researchers studied people with moderate to severe depression. The test subjects were randomized into two groups. One first group had 90 minute Bikram yoga sessions and the second group were put on a waiting list. The second group had heated yoga sessions after the initial results were tallied. In the trial of 8 weeks, test subjects were scheduled for two heated yoga sessions a week and attended on average 10.3 sessions over the 8 week trial period.
Heated Yoga Depression Study Results
After eight weeks of heated yoga sessions, depressed individuals had a significant reduction in symptoms of depression when compared to the control group (the waiting list). 50.3% of heated yoga participants had a decrease of depressive symptoms of 50% or more. Comparatively, the control group had a 6.3% improvement. 44% of the yoga-treated group was sufficiently better that their depression was said to be in remission. In the control group 6.3% went into remission.
How Much Heated Yoga Is Necessary to Treat Depression?
In the study, depressed individuals got better even when they only attended half of the scheduled sessions. Thus, it appears that one heated yoga session a week is beneficial for helping depression. The researchers plan to follow up with studies to find out the degree to which the heat is responsible for improvement of depression versus the yoga versus the combination.
Yoga As a Social Experience
Social isolation is often a contributor to depression. Yoga has been shown to increase social interconnectedness both for elderly and younger adult populations. Life satisfaction tends to improve with yoga about the same as it does with other physical activities. Yoga has been found to increase a sense of community in those who participate, improve existing relationships, increase self-awareness, and make people kinder. These are factors that tend to improve depression. The combination of physical activity and social interaction would seem to provide twice the benefits of one of these factors alone. To the extent that this approach removes the need for medications and costly therapy sessions, that seems to be a good thing.