Research summary: what yoga exercises do teachers think are best for anxiety and depression?

Our summary

Researchers asked 18 experienced yoga teachers how they believe yoga should be taught to people with anxiety and depression and what they thought the benefits were. Perhaps not surprisingly, the teachers agreed yoga was best taught by an experienced yoga teacher, with a minimum of 4 sessions per week.

The article contains a useful list of practices yoga teachers consider essential for people with anxiety or depression, and techniques that should be avoided. (The lists are different for the two conditions).

Sample size is small, with a potentially vested interest by participants and researchers, and the approach is not evidence-based. However, it is an interesting look at capturing the wisdom of the practitioner. Yoga is traditionally taught by an experienced teacher, and practiced daily.

Name of paper Establishing key components of yoga interventions for reducing depression and anxiety, and improving well-being: A Delphi study method (read full paper)
Authors Michael De Manincor, Alan Bensoussan, Caroline Smith, Paul Fahey & Suzanne Bourchier
Research location University of Western Sydney
Journal BioMed Central: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015

What the researchers wanted to find out
Document expert opinion on yoga interventions for reducing depression and anxiety, specifically dosage (length, frequency, duration); techniques to include or avoid; required experience for teachers; and expected benefits.

How they did it
Researchers approached 33 senior teachers to complete 2 online surveys over 5 months in 2012. 24 completed the first survey and 18 completed the second.

What they found
Survey participants recommend people experiencing anxiety and depression practice 30-40 minute sessions of yoga, 5 times per week over 6 weeks to achieve a reduction in symptoms of 50-90%. For each condition, specific techniques work better and others are best avoided.

For example, in depression – breathwork and postures were considered most essential

Interviewees also recommended teachers have a minimum of 500 hours yoga teacher training and specific training in yoga for mental health issues.

Of note
The styles of yoga taught isn’t known (so we presume a range of styles were taught) and a small sample size was used. The authors do have a vested interest in the topic as they deliver training in yoga for mental health.

Practical applications for teaching yoga for people with pain
Depression and anxiety often co-exist with chronic pain and other diseases. The paper contains a comprehensive listing of what to avoid and what is essential for these conditions. It’s also an interesting look into the wisdom of the practitioner as a compliment to evidence-based medicine.

This research summary was produced by Julie Sutherland, yoga teacher and therapist in WA, and Rachael West, Yoga or Pain teacher and trainer. It is provided for information and shouldn’t be regarded as medical advice. Please read the full paper in the link above if you are going to quote it as fact.

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