Study Finds Breathing-Based Yoga Treats Severe Depression

Written by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Breathing-Based Yoga

Depression is defined as a serious mental illness and a public health concern. Contrary to the popular belief that depression equal to sadness, it’s indicated by a broad range of both physical and psychological symptoms. According to the CDC, more than 1 out of 20 Americans aged 12 and older reported current depression. The mental illness was more prevalent among females and individuals aged between 40 and 59. Antidepressants are usually prescribed to manage symptoms of depression, the illness that is treatable, but the latest study showed practicing yoga could help you as well.

Yoga and Depression

Yoga is an ancient practice associated with a multitude of health benefits and various studies already confirmed its potential to help individuals with depression. Anup Sharma and a team of scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania carried out a study whose primary objective was to analyze the efficacy and tolerability of Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY) as a complementary intervention in patients suffering from MDD (major depressive disorder). They focused on adults who didn’t find relief in antidepressants.

For the purpose of the research, 25 patients with MDD who were depressed despite taking antidepressants for about eight weeks were divided into two groups: SKY group and waitlist group. Participants in the yoga group participated in a six-session program in the first week which involved SKY exercises, yoga postures, sitting meditation, and stress education. During remaining, seven weeks of the research, participants from yoga group attended SKY sessions once a week and practiced at home. On the other hand, participants from the waitlist group had yoga intervention at the end of the 8-week period. Subjects in both groups continued taking antidepressants during the course of the research.

At the beginning of the study and upon its completion, symptoms of anxiety and depression were evaluated using the HDRS-17 (17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale). The mean score at baseline was 17, indicating severe depression.

Findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, revealed that after the study participants in the SKY group improved the HDRS-17 score by 10.27 points on average. The control (waitlist) group didn’t experience significant improvement. To analyze the relationship between breathing-based yoga and depression more thoroughly, scientists evaluated participants’ depression and anxiety symptoms using the BDI (Beck Depression Inventory) and BAI (Beck Anxiety Inventory) scales. Once again, the control group didn’t show improvement while the yoga group showed improvement by 15.48 points on average in BDI and 5.91 in BAI scale.

Stress Management info

Based on these discoveries, a team of researchers concluded that SKY-based intervention for patients with severe depression shows promising results for individuals who haven’t responded to antidepressants. Lead author of the study explained it’s highly important to find new manners of managing depressions considering that a significant portion of patients doesn’t respond to antidepressants and Sudarshan Kriya yoga poses as a successful and cost-effective solution. SKY allows people to experience deep meditative state that’s easy to accomplish and include in different settings.

What is Sudarshan Kriya Yoga?

SKY is a kind of cyclical controlled breathing practice with roots in traditional yoga practice. The primary aim of SKY is to place the mind into a profound and restful state by alternating slow and calm breaths with fast and stimulating breaths.

It is well-known for its role in stress reduction, PTSD, reduced cholesterol levels, energy boost, stronger immune system, and improved overall health and wellbeing. Good thing is, a wide array of yoga studios teach Sudarshan Kriya yoga, and it’s something you can do at home watching how experts do it.


Sudarshan Kriya yoga, a practice of rhythmic breathing, proved to be highly effective for severe depression in individuals who didn’t find antidepressants helpful. Although you shouldn’t discontinue using your medications until your healthcare provider says so, SKY can be used as a complementary depression management technique that will improve both your physical and psychological health.


Contributor : Dr. Ahmed Zayed ()

This Article Has Been Published on November 25, 2016 and Last Modified on December 10, 2018

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain Shams University. You can connect with him on Linkedin.

View All

Take Action: Support Consumer Health Digest by linking to this article from your website

Permalink to this article:

Embed article link: (Click to copy HTML code below):

Reprinting this article:
Non-commercial use OK, cite with clickable link.