Yoga Improves Mental Health

According to The Mental Health Foundation, around 4 in 10 people say they have experienced depression.

I am one of them.




I worked in advertising for over twenty years and at the end of it I was diagnosed as clinically depressed. The only thing that was working for me was yoga, so I took a career break and straightened myself out with six months in the yoga schools of India.

While I never found the big-name guru I thought I was looking for, I did come home happy – inspired by the home yoga practice of the so-called ordinary Indians. For them, yoga was not about fancy yoga studios or leaping up and down on a yoga mat, but about a regular, and relatively short, routine of physical postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation.

I discovered this home practice was the secret to their happiness – their ability to meet any situation with calm, courage, creativity and resilience. It was also, luckily for me, a way to switch off that endless torrent of ‘I’m not good enough’ negative thinking, and to wake up to my own creativity and happiness, finding the space to think my ideas through, and the courage to make them happen.

My first book, Yoga School Dropout, was published by Random House a year later and I have been writing, and practicing yoga ever since, every day. Even if I only make it onto my mat for 20 minutes, no matter what kind of day I’ve had, I (almost always!) step off it able to meet the world with renewed enthusiasm.

This direct experience of the power of yoga and meditation got me interested in the science. Initially using Google Scholar, and then PubMed, I began classifying these studies, starting with other conditions close to my heart: from my own depression to my father’s cancer, from my mother’s back pain to a friend’s alcoholism.

Before I knew where I was I’d created a world first – a library of 300 clinical studies on yoga for 30+ health conditions including DepressionAnxietyPTSD, and OCD (all of the studies from renowned institutions) – which I’ve now published for everyone’s free use on YogaClicks.Com.

I found over 20 studies demonstrating how yoga and meditation benefit depression.

Collectively they prove that:

Stretching out muscles helps relieve tension and balance mood.

Building physical strength builds confidence in our ability to deal with life’s challenges. 

Backbends and other dynamic postures that open the heart are particularly useful.

Mindfulness and meditation are effective ways to focus the mind on the present and, as I knew from my own experience, they break the cycle of depressing thoughts concerning a past we can’t change and a future we can’t know.

Yoga teachers Paulina Nowak (left) and Anna Ashby

To quote from the conclusions of three of the clinical studies…

“A 2009 review of yoga in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders concluded: ‘In depressive disorders, yoga may be comparable to medication and the combination superior to medication alone.” Asian Journal of Psychiatry, volume 2, issue 1.

“A 2004 study on Yoga Intervention For Young Adults With Elevated Symptoms Of Depression concluded ‘Subjects who participated in the yoga course demonstrated significant decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and trait anxiety.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, volume 10, issue 2.

“A meta-analysis of yoga for prenatal depression reviewed six randomized control trials, consisting of 375 pregnant women. When compared with comparison groups (e.g., standard prenatal care, standard antenatal exercises, social support, etc.), the level of depression statistically significantly reduced in yoga groups.” Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry Volume 15: Issue 14 2015.

A call to action

It is my hope that you’ll join me, in the follow up to Mental Health Awareness Week, to spread the word about yoga for mental health. The more people who know that yoga is clinically proven to help with mental health, the more people we can help break the cycle of pain and anguish, the more people we can move towards a state of health, happiness and creativity. This is the power of yoga.

To view the library of clinical studies click here.

#MentalHealth #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek