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Can Yoga Decrease Depression and Anxiety?

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Jill FitzGerald MSW, LICSW- Family Counseling Associates of Andover



Let’s face it, finding the time and energy to do something solely for ourselves is a rarity. Wearing the multiple hats of mom, wife, psychotherapist, and amateur house renovator, I too understand the seemingly impossible task associated with securing an hour of time to “relax.” Trying to find this time can be the opposite of relaxing. The funny thing is, when I actually make it through those double doors with my faded yoga mat, however many snotty noses I have to wipe along the way, I wear each of these hats with more patience and self-awareness. Yoga has a way of holding us accountable of what we bring to the table, allowing us to see this in a non-judgmental way, and encouraging us to accept what is and let go of what is beyond our control.

For years, researchers have been examining the link between yoga practice and an improvement in both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Studies have shown that yoga is aligned with many other stress relief and relaxation techniques, which have proven to be effective treatments in managing these diagnoses. These same studies indicate that regular practice can improve an individual’s ability to self-soothe, increase an individual’s control over their reaction to stress, and decrease the body’s physiological response to stress (insert mental image of being at Market Basket on a Saturday at 10am with a 2 year old, a malfunctioning wheel on your rusty cart, and no grocery list- cue shallow breathing, heart racing, and immediate need to flee the scene). Yoga teaches us be in the moment, accept the thoughts and feelings we experience, and allow them to pass without taking hold.

There are many different styles of yoga, all of which offer this benefit. Some are focused on restoration, while others are rigorous and challenging. Regardless of the physical demands, each yoga class encourages and allows for us to be present in the moment and accepting of what that particular moment has to offer. Through engaging in yoga poses, breath work, and mindfullness, we teach ourselves to manage the difficult thoughts and feelings that we all experience. We allow ourselves to practice the skill of accepting these thoughts and feelings without letting them control our mood, our perspective, or our actions. Citing an article from Harvard Medical School, “For many people dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.” If Harvard thinks it is beneficial, it must be, right?

So now you are probably thinking, yes, I can manage that level of Zen-like existence for an hour, but how does this translate to the other 167 hours of my week? The answer…practice. Combining yoga classes and sessions with a therapist trained in using mindfullness as an intervention for anxiety and depression can support your success in utilizing these techniques as a part of your ongoing recovery.

Please feel free to contact me at jill@www.fca-andover.com for more information on how incorporate yoga practice and regular therapy sessions into your plan for overall wellness and recovery.



  • Khalsa SB. “Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Bibliometric Analysis of Published Research Studies,”Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (July 2004): Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269–85.
  • Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.
  • Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.
  • www.health.harvard.edu