Yoga and Mental Health

In North America, 10% of adults are currently taking an anti-depressant.  The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada estimates that 1 in 5 adults fall under the diagnostic criteria for mild to moderate depression.

While the number of people with severe depression has remained the same, the amount of people diagnosed with moderate depression has increased significantly.

The diagnostic criteria for depression is broad, containing symptoms such as decreased or increased appetite, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, fatigue and low self-esteem. Considering our often stressful, inactive lifestyle, it’s no wonder that 20% of North American adults have the potential to be diagnosed with depression!

The most common conventional medical treatment for depression are anti-depressants, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, Cipramil or Seropram.   According to one of my professors, these are “life-changing drugs” that bring with them a plethora of negative side effects.  These side effects include sleeping problems, nausea, reduced sexual desire, weight gain and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately for patients experiencing depression, there are more options than simply going on anti-depressant medication.  Naturopathic doctors offer a large selection of therapies in the form of supplements, botanical tinctures, acupuncture and diet and lifestyle modifications to help improve mood, most of them offering little to no negative side effects.

Although “yoga therapy” is not necessarily a naturopathic healing modality, it does fit into the category of lifestyle counseling, which involves psycho-education and lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise.

In a Meta Analysis – a large study that compiles a number of well-conducted studies and is termed The “Gold Standard” of Evidenced Based Medicine – performed by the California State University Department of Psychiatry, researchers examined 10 studies looking at the effects of regular yoga practice on major psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study found that yoga is not only a wonderful form of exercise, but an effective therapy to be used alongside other treatments for patients with major psychiatric illness.

Here is the abstract from the study:

Yoga professionals recommend practicing for one hour, three times a week, in order to reap all the physical, mental and emotional benefits.  While attending regular yoga classes at a studio can be costly, you can now follow yoga classes from the comfort of your own home (in your pajamas!) with this excellent website:

I’ve seen my yogi skills and fitness levels greatly improve after becoming a member of My Yoga Online in 2009.  The site is based out of a Vancouver yoga studio and features local teachers, filmed live classes and commerical yoga videos.  By signing up, you are granted unlimited access to these videos.  One of my favourite teachers on the site is Clara Roberts-Oss.  I recommend signing up for a month (it costs $12!) and trying a few of her flows.  If you’re new to yoga, you can start by clicking on the beginner button.

If you prefer in-studio classes, a colleague of mine started this website, which features weekly deals on yoga classes in Toronto, Montreal and New York:

I highly recommend trying each of these websites and experiencing the mental benefits of yoga for yourself!


5 thoughts on “Yoga and Mental Health

  1. Hi Talia
    this is amazing. Andrea read it and left you a message.
    You both should talk sometime and she will tell you all about what she is doing
    You both could be beneficial to one another in the future.
    Love Aunt Gwen

    1. Hi, Aunt Gwen,

      Thanks for reading this blog! I’m glad that both you and Andrea like it! Yes, Andrea told me that she is a Reiki master and has studied spiritual healing, fascinating! I would love to hear more! I hope you both continue reading!

  2. Nevertheless, a slightly far more Western way of looking at the effects points less to the mystical Qi and far more towards the solid science of brain chemistry. It has been noted that acupuncture increases production of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel good” brain chemical that also plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle, egg production and possibly ovulation.

    1. I find that sometimes we need to balance out the Eastern historical records of the effectiveness of Eastern philosophy of medicine with the Western scientific view. I think it’s exciting to see that the positive effects of yoga are supported by both models of evidence! And, yes, acupuncture has shown to have a plenitude of positive effects, shown both in Chinese historical medical records dating back 3000 years and, recently, according to modernly designed scientific studies, both in China and here, in the West. Thanks for reading!

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