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Study Shows Heated Yoga Can Alleviate Depression Symptoms

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A recent randomized controlled clinical trial conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) sheds light on a potential non-medication-based approach for individuals with moderate-to-severe depression. 

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, explores the impact of heated yoga sessions on reducing depressive symptoms, revealing promising results that could open new avenues for the treatment of depression.

The eight-week trial involved 80 participants with moderate-to-severe depression who were randomized into two groups. The intervention group underwent 90-minute sessions of Bikram yoga in a room heated to 105°F, while the control group was placed on a waitlist. After eight weeks, the yoga participants experienced significantly greater reductions in depressive symptoms compared to the waitlist participants.

Using the clinician-rated Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-CR) scale, the researchers found that yoga participants had a significantly greater reduction in depressive symptoms. Notably, 59.3% of the yoga group experienced a 50% or greater decrease in symptoms, compared to only 6.3% in the waitlist group. Additionally, 44% of those in the yoga group achieved such low IDS-CR scores that their depression was considered in remission, compared to 6.3% in the waitlist group.

Even participants who attended only half of the prescribed yoga sessions showed a reduction in depressive symptoms, suggesting that heated yoga sessions, even once a week, could be beneficial. The positive impact observed in the trial emphasizes the potential of non-medication-based approaches for depression treatment.

Lead author Maren Nyer, PhD, director of Yoga Studies at the Depression Clinical and Research Program at MGH, and an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, expressed optimism about the findings. Nyer mentioned the potential of yoga and heat-based interventions to change the course of depression treatment, offering a non-medication-based approach with additional physical benefits.

While the study has shown promising results, the researchers acknowledge the need for further research to understand the specific contributions of each element – heat and yoga – to the observed clinical effects in depression. Future studies may explore whether heated yoga has benefits beyond those of regular yoga for depression treatment.

Senior author David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, Director of the Depression Clinical and Research Program at MGH, highlighted the importance of future research in comparing heated to nonheated yoga for depression. This exploration will help determine whether heat provides additional benefits over and above regular yoga in the treatment of depression, especially in light of promising evidence for whole-body hyperthermia as a treatment for major depressive disorder.

The study on heated yoga’s impact on depression symptoms marks a significant step in exploring alternative, non-medication-based approaches for individuals struggling with depression. The positive outcomes observed in the trial suggest that heated yoga sessions could be a viable and accessible treatment option, offering both mental and physical benefits. As researchers delve deeper into the specific mechanisms at play, the findings may contribute to the development of holistic and personalized approaches to depression care.

Have you ever tried heated yoga? What impact did it have on your mood? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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