Hot Yoga May Help With Depression, Study Says

Attending one hot yoga class a week may help to reduce depressive symptoms, a small study suggests.

Bikram yoga, also called hot yoga, is practiced in a room heated to 105°F (41°C) and with a humidity of 40% to replicate the climate of India.

The new study that appeared in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry examined hot yoga's efficacy in treating moderate-to-severe depression.

Eighty study participants were randomized into two groups: those attending 90-minute hot yoga classes at least twice weekly and those placed on a waitlist.

The yoga group experienced a significantly greater reduction in depressive symptoms, as measured by the clinician-rated version of a tool called the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-CR).

Six in ten (59.3%) of those assigned to hot yoga classes saw a 50% or larger decrease in symptoms compared with 6.3% of the participants on the waitlist. Nearly half (44%) of the yoga group achieved IDS-CR scores low enough so their depression was considered in remission.

Although the participants were assigned to at least two weekly hot yoga classes, they attended only 10.3 classes on average over eight weeks. However, they still saw reduced depressive symptoms, suggesting that hot yoga sessions just once a week could be beneficial and improve quality of life.

Additionally, the participants experienced no serious adverse effects and rated the hot yoga and its aftereffects positively in exit interviews.

"Yoga and heat-based interventions could potentially change the course for treatment for patients with depression by providing a non-medication–based approach with additional physical benefits as a bonus," says lead author Maren Nyer, Ph.D., director of Yoga Studies at the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Benefits of hot yoga

Research on the benefits of hot yoga is limited, as many previous studies included a small number of participants and didn't use randomized clinical trial design.

Nevertheless, a 2015 literature review suggests that hot yoga may improve lower body strength, lower and upper body range of motion, and increase balance in healthy adults.

In non-randomized clinical trials, Bikram yoga positively affected glucose tolerance, bone mineral density, blood lipid profile, lowered blood pressure, and arterial stiffness in some populations. By utilizing breathing exercises and forms of yoga poses in a heated environment, mindfulness, calmness, and attention to breath may also be connected to a holistic treatment for depression.

As most of these studies examined apparently healthy adults, it is not well understood how hot yoga interventions should be adapted to treat chronic diseases.

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