UCSF study suggests yoga eases depression

Researchers have found a break-through anti-depressant, and it's thousands of years old: yoga.

A study at UCSF, with subjects who have major depression, found their condition eased with regular yoga classes.

"I can do this anywhere, at any point in my life, to center myself, " participant Amanda Vigil told KTVU, "because these are tools I learned and took with me."

31-year-old Amanda had dabbled in yoga before, but for the research she attended 90 minutes sessions, twice a week.

"At the beginning of the study I was really struggling with centering myself, that's how depression is, you get sunk into a feeling or a moment, a sort of drudgery," she explained.

The study adds to a growing body of research showing yoga's mental health benefits, but unique in its approach.

"It's the very first study in the U.S. that's looking at yoga as a sole treatment for diagnosed major depression," lead researcher Dr. Sudha Prathikanti told KTVU.

Prathikanti evaluated men and women, age 18 to 72, at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

The participants were diagnosed with major depression, but it was mild or moderate, not severe.

Half of them learned about yoga in lectures. Half actually did yoga in structured classes. After eight weeks?

"60 percent of the people in the yoga group got remission, which means minimal to zero symptoms of depression, a dramatic decrease," said Dr. Prathikanti, "and the control group only got 10 percent remission."

None of the patients were taking medication, or in psychotherapy, so the effect was solely yoga.
And none of this comes as a surprise to those who practice.

"Really it is transformative, and a lot of it is about being quiet, having dedicated quiet space, " explained Maile Sivert, owner of The Mindful Body, the second-oldest yoga studio in San Francisco.

Sivert says often, people begin yoga because of a physical ailments, but get hooked on the mental benefits.

Many yoga stretches that expand the chest are known as mood-lifting.

"So when we are depressed, there's the hunched posturing we think of, closed-in, so opening up the opposite way, we breathe and get some space in."

By definition, Sivert says, yoga is about calming the mind.

"We don't feel like we're good enough, or we question our choices, and get lost in our mind, so this is about quieting that."

The UCSF study group was small, just 38 people, And more research is certain to follow.

"But for the general public standpoint, if they enjoy yoga and they find mood benefits, they'll keep doing it and that's what's driving the science," enthused Dr. Prathikanti.

For Amanda Vigil, a high school arts teacher, the study was a turning point.

She now feels self-empowered managing her depression .

"I learned to say to myself, 'I love you Amanda," she said, showing one of favorite poses, the corpse pose her class always ended with.

"You lay down and give yourself some soothing, the way a mother would to a child, but you're giving it to yourself, it's really sweet, and really healing."