Hot yoga exhibits promise in relieving symptoms of depression

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A recent study has found that individuals with moderate-to-severe depression who engaged in hot yoga sessions experienced significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to those who did not. The randomized controlled clinical trial, led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a founding member of Mass General Brigham (MGB), and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, suggests that hot yoga could be a viable treatment option for depression patients.

The eight-week trial involved 80 participants who were randomly assigned to two groups: one group received 90-minute sessions of Bikram yoga in a room heated to 105°F, while the other group was placed on a waitlist (those on the waitlist completed the yoga intervention after their waitlist period). The analysis included 33 participants from the yoga group and 32 from the waitlist group.

The intervention group was recommended to attend a minimum of two yoga classes per week, but on average, they attended 10.3 classes over the eight-week period. After eight weeks, the yoga participants demonstrated a significantly greater reduction in depressive symptoms as evaluated through the clinician-rated Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-CR) scale when compared to those on the waitlist.

The researchers also observed that 59.3% of the yoga participants experienced a 50% or more decrease in symptoms, compared to only 6.3% in the waitlist group. Additionally, 44% of the participants in the yoga group achieved such low IDS-CR scores that their depression was considered to be in remission, in contrast to 6.3% in the waitlist group. Notably, even participants who only completed half of the recommended yoga sessions still experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms, suggesting that attending heated yoga sessions just once a week could be beneficial.

“By offering a non-medication-based approach with additional physical benefits, yoga and heat-based treatments have the potential to revolutionize depression treatment,” says lead author Maren Nyer, PhD, director of Yoga Studies at the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“We are currently developing new studies to determine the specific contributions of each element – heat and yoga – to the observed clinical effects in depression,” added Nyer. Participants rated the heated yoga sessions positively and reported no serious adverse effects associated with the intervention.

“To explore whether heat provides additional benefits over yoga alone for the treatment of depression, future research should compare heated and non-heated yoga,” suggests senior author David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, Director of the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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