How Yoga Helps Anxiety & Depression (Plus 15 Blissful Types To Try)


Yoga has brought health and peace of mind to people all over the world and so it is no surprise that yoga is commonly used to help with anxiety and depression, even if you just practice once a week.

Yoga originated in India an estimated 5,000 years ago and has been widely practiced in the West for well over one hundred years. The growing popularity of yoga is in part due to its ability to attract hundreds of thousands of people searching for stress reduction and a more meaningful life. 

Yoga classes can be tailored to peoples’ needs and desires and so they can vary from gentle to physically challenging. And so for anyone dealing with anxiety and depression in search for a yoga class that may help, read on as I guide you through how yoga can help and then see my recommendation on 15 different types of yoga to try out that may help bring a more calm and relaxed body and mind.

Anxiety & Depression: A Background

Firstly, lets have a look at the definitions of both anxiety and depression along with their symptoms.

What Is Anxiety?

According to Healthline:

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous.

In their article, Healthline then lists the symptoms of general anxiety:

  • increased heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • restlessness
  • trouble concentrating
  • difficulty falling asleep

Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health problems found in the United States. According to the ADAA it affects 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.

When left untreated, both stress and anxiety have been found to be contributors to many chronic diseases and to decreased quality of life.

What Is Depression?

According to Healthline:

Sadness and grief are normal human emotions. We all have those feelings from time to time but they usually go away within a few days. Major depression, or major depressive disorder, however, is something more. It’s a diagnosable condition that’s classified as a mood disorder and can bring about long-lasting symptoms such as overwhelming sadness, low energy, loss of appetite, and a lack of interest in things that used to bring pleasure.

In their article, Healthline then lists the symptoms of depression:

  • Extreme irritability over seemingly minor things
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Trouble with anger management
  • Loss of interest in activities, including sex
  • Fixation on the past or on things that have gone wrong
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

When attempting to treat anxiety and depression, there in no single treatment that can work for everyone. More and more studies are pointing to the positive effects yoga can have and so that is why yoga is now recommended as a way to help deal with anxiety and depression.

How Yoga Can Help With Anxiety & Depression

Many people think of yoga as a workout. In part, this is true, especially when we consider the emphasis on the physical practice we see on social media.

However, it is important to look beyond that. Indeed, there is a physical side to yoga. But more importantly, it is a mind-body practice whose goals are to cultivate balance, calm, and awareness.

With so many people nowadays turning to yoga as a way to deal with the stresses of everyday lives, it is now more important than ever to try to understand why yoga may help and which type may be right for us.

And so one key reason that yoga is so popular is that it is actully made up of four components:

  • postures
  • breathing
  • relaxation
  • meditation

Some types of yoga may focus more on one component rather than the other. And within that some teachers may focus on one more than the other, depending on their background, knowledge, and way of teaching. And that is one of the benefits of yoga, as it can be tailored to individual needs and desires.

Discussing anxiety and depression specifically, there are several ways yoga may help. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on two mechanisms (cognitive and biologic) as were presented in a review article I read recently, titled: ‘Yoga for Depression and Anxiety: A Review of Published Research and Implications for Healthcare Providers’ by Uebelacker and Broughton.

Cognitive mechanism

In their article, Uebelacker and Broughton discuss the effect of mindfulness on anxiety and depression symptoms. They point out that in yoga classes we are taught to bring our attention to present moment experiences, feelings, and sensations, all of course in a non-judgment way. They then go on to argue that if we use this practice of mindfulness in our everyday lives, we will be able to focus on what we are feeling in the present moment, rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future.

Biologic mechanism

Uebelacker and Broughton then argue that yoga may help regulate the autonomic nervous system, as a dysfunction in our autonomic nervous system is actually associated with anxiety and depression.

Indeed, in yoga, it is a slow, and rhythmic breathing that is encouraged, which in turn activates our parasympathetic nervous system. This then promotes a more balanced, relaxed state. Our heart rate slows, and hormones that promote feelings of calm and social bonding increase. And this is why yoga has been found to help improve our mood.

What the science says

A regular yoga practice can help guide us towards a more calm and relaxed daily life. Indeed, yoga teaches us how to maintain a calm, steady breath no matter what happens in our day.

There are a number of studies that look at the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression and have found that yoga does indeed help.

One study examined the effect of yoga on patients with mild depression. Twenty-eight volunteers were assigned to two groups:

  • Group A was the control group and they did not practice any yoga
  • Group B practiced specific yoga asanas and sequences of asanas, considered by B.K.S. Iyengar to be particularly effective for alleviating depression. These asanas involved opening and lifting of the chest, inversions and vigorous standing poses.

The yoga group practiced yoga twice a week for 5 weeks, while the control group received no intervention. The results form this study showed a significant reduction in depression levels. Interestingly, the positive effects yoga had on their depression were emerged by the middle of the course and remained at the end of the study.

One other study examined the effects of yoga on anxiety and depression in women. Sixty-five volunteers were assigned to two groups:

  • Group A was the control group and they did not practice any yoga.
  • Group B practiced a 90 minute class of Ashtanga yoga twice a week for two months.

The results of the study showed that yoga can effectively decrease anxiety. The authors went on to point out that these findings were in line with other studies that found similar results.

Additionally, the authors also argued that:

The effectiveness of yoga as a tool for reducing anxiety levels
should be considered. Yoga classes encourage individuals to
become aware of their bodies, and thus tension through specific
body postures (Asana). By raising awareness of body tension and in
learning a method by which this can be reduced, may serve to
increase self-confidence by promoting a personal sense of control.

15 Powerful and Blissful Types of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

Yoga has been found to help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. There are a variety of practices to choose from and depending on your needs and desires, some may be more beneficial than others.

Below is a list of yoga types that you could try out and see if they help.

Yoga typeBrief description Good for
HathaA mix of postures, breathing and relaxation.Learning basic poses and how to breathe efficiently
Yin yogaLong holds of posturesFlexibility and relieving tension
Restorative yogaLong hold of relaxing posturesRelieving tension and relaxation
Ashtanga yogaDynamic sequence of posturesBuilding strength and calming the mind
Iyengar yogaLong holds of postures and an anatomically focused classCorrect alignment
Aerial yogaAnti gravity class with the use of hammocksWorking against gravity and a unique approach to yoga
Vinyasa yogaDynamic sequence of posturesBuilding strength and flexibility
Partner yogaWorking with a partner in a grounding wayBuilding trust and connection with another person
Forrest yogaLong holding of positions, emphasis on abdominal core workBuilding strength and concentration
Flow yogaFlow in an out of posturesConcentration and flexibility
Hot yogaExperiencing the benefits of heat in a yoga practiceVery cold weather, endurance and flexibility
Yin and yang yogaFlow to warm up body followed by yin opening posturesSurrender and relaxation
Yoga nidraAlso called, yoga sleep. Relaxation and better sleep
Prenatal yogaYoga postures adapted to expecting mothersPreparing the mind and body for the new baby
Post natal yogaHelping new mums feel their body againNew mamas
Types of yoga for anxiety and depression

Overall, there are many uncomfortable physical side effects of anxiety and depression. These may involve tension and tightness. Yoga postures may be able to stretch and lengthen the body and thus, in turn, release the built-up tension and stiffness.

Each type of yoga discussed below may help relieve tension and stiffness and may even be able to calm the mind. It is important to choose what is right for you and if you do find a practice that resonates with you.. never give up!

1. Hatha Yoga

Good for: Learning basic poses and how to breathe efficiently

Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced type of yoga in the West. In this type of class, you will learn basic poses, how to breathe effectively, relaxation, and maybe even some meditation.

Yoga for stress and depression

2. Yin Yoga

Good for: Flexibility and relieving tension

In our dynamic and sometimes fast-paced lives, yin yoga asks us to pause and stay in the moment. We hold poses for 3-5 minutes in an effort to stretch out our connective tissue where we tend to hold a lot of build-up tension.

Yin yoga for stress

3. Restorative Yoga

Good for:  Relieving tension and relaxation

This is like yin yoga but taken up a calming notch. We use bolsters, blankets and pillows to put our body in stress-relieving postures where we are then asked to stay and breathe and let the world melt away.

Restorative yoga for depression

4. Ashtanga Yoga

Good for:  Building strength and calming the mind

A physically demanding class that places emphasis on the breath. A set sequence of postures is used and so we flow in and out of what soon becomes a familiar path with the breath as a guide. It links movement to cycles of the breath.

Ashtanga yoga for beginners

5. Iyengar Yoga

Good for:  Correct alignment

Iyengar yoga places a strong focus on alignment. And so it may help with anyone dealing with slouching and hunching.

Iyengar yoga for beginners

6. Aerial Yoga

Good for:  Working against gravity and a unique approach to yoga

The support of the aerial yoga silks helps to relieve compression in the spine and also challenge your central nervous system. Lowering the hammock helps to make the practice more restorative and calming.

Restorative aerial yoga

7. Vinyasa Yoga

Good for:  Building strength and flexibility

Yoga postures are taught in sequences that can be a more powerful version of a more static Hatha class. It links movement to cycles of the breath.

Vinyasa yoga to heal your heart

8. Partner Yoga

Good for:  Connecting and building trust with another person

By working with another person, this practice helps build relationships, helps to surrender.

Relaxing partner yoga

9. Forrest Yoga

Good for:  Building strength and concentration

This type of yoga is a slow-paced vinyasa practice that works a lot on core work and long pose holds.

Forrest yoga for beginners

10. Yin and Yang Yoga

Good for:  Surrender and relaxation

Warming up the body with some yang (dynamic) postures followed by total relaxing yin yoga postures.

Yin and yang yoga for stress

11. Hot Yoga

Good for:  Very cold weather, endurance and flexibility

Yoga poses performed in a heated studio. This means you will sweat a lot and this can improve circulation. It’s physically strenuous but will improve your flexibility and may help boost your mood.

Hot yoga for beginners

12. Power Yoga

Good for:  Building strength and stamina

Challenging your body and mind as you work through a dynamic set of postures. It links movement to cycles of the breath.

Power yoga for S.A.D.

13. Yoga Nidra

Good for:  Relaxation and better sleep

Yoga nidra can help both the body and mind to gain a sense of calm and ease.

Yoga nidra for anxiety

14. Prenatal yoga

Good for:  Preparing the mind and body for the new baby

Yoga has been found to help with the discomforts of yoga. It has even been found to help reduce anxiety in pregnant women.

Prenatal yoga for relaxation

15. Postnatal yoga

Good for:  New mamas.

This practice helps build core strength and muscle tone, both of which may be able to help reduce any back pains and, in turn, help the new mother be able to relax.

Postnatal yoga

16. Yoga for stress course

If you are looking for a more substantial course, then you may be interested in investing in a paid course that will guide you along your journey. MindBodyGreen offers a series of courses worth checking out, and here are 3 you may find interesting:

  • How To Control Anxiety
  • The Ultimate Stress Management Guide
  • Managing Depression

Tips for when you feel overwhelmed

Whether in a yoga class or during the day if you experience feelings that overwhelm you, try this simple thing.

Bring your attention to your breath. Notice how you are breathing. And now try to deepen the breath so as to fill the lungs. Hold the breath slightly. And now slowly let all the air our. And again, and again.

What may have happened is that when we feel anxious and depressed, our breathing tends to become shallow and more rapid. This sends a message to our nervous system that says we are in trouble. Instead by focusing on the breath and slowing it down, we send a message to our brain that we are ok and that its ok to relax.

And so as yoga places a strong emphasis on the breath, we gradually learn how to be able to maintain a calm and steady breath, throughout the yoga practice and eventually, throughout our day.

One other thing you can try is yo notice your thoughts. When we are under pressure and feeling anxious or depressed, our thoughts become the main characters in our life.

So first try to notice your thoughts. As stressful and ugly as they are.

And then.. Let them go.

Try to move into a space where you are able to observe your thoughts, but do not engage with them. Simply notice them and let them pass. In time and with practice you will feel lighter and more at peace with your thoughts; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And if you feel like you need a little mood boost, then perhaps it is worth checking out the benefits of using supplements tailored to your needs. For example, MindBodyGreen has developed what they call the ‘Next-generation mood support‘ with hemp seeds, vitamin D, black cumin seed, rosemary, and hops.

Alexia Koletsou

Alexia Koletsou is a Level 1 Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher with a Ph.D. in Science Communication. She received her blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2019, from the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, where she has had the honor of practicing with R. Sharath Jois multiple times over the years. She is the owner of her own Shala in Greece and now shares her knowledge on yogamyoldfriend.com and her YouTube channel Alexia K Yoga.

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