Yoga is known to help people fight #depression. In addition to anecdotal evidence (which is huge: if you immerse in a yoga community for only a few years you get to hear hundreds of success stories attesting to that), last decade has been fruitful in scientific studies supporting the fact (ref). This is cheerful news, especially considering how gloomy and short the days have been this #December. Indeed, seasonal lack of sun triggers depressive symptoms in many of us (they call is #SeasonalAffectiveDisorder), pushing some to accept that antidepressant script. It is a little scary that every tenth American is on antidepressants (reviewed here: Lancet 2021), and the number is growing.
There’s been numerous studies over the last decade to support yoga’s effect alleviating depression symptoms (reviewed in 2017 and 2013). Skeptics, however, frown – while the data is solid, it's usually hard to say which yoga to use to repeat the results and use effectively in clinic. Some studies looked at Iyengar based methods, some incorporated flow based poses with a few breathing techniques… If you’re a practitioner you know how much fluidity is in the practice and how much the effect can depend on the sequence and the teacher: what works for one practitioner does not do it for another at all!
There are only a couple styles of yoga that present in a set sequence, like ashtanga and #Bikram (Hot 26). Among these two, Hot 26 is the only one that is accessible to literally every body: you can practice it with injured knees, problematic backs, frozen shoulders, broken wrists, anorexic or obese. More than that, Hot 26 is the only one that formally instructs two very powerful breathing (#pranayama) techniques: Every. Single. Class.
Dr. Maren Nyer, associate director at the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital recently finished a clinical trial on Bikram Yoga and depression. The trial recruited 80 participants with mild to moderate depression. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to practice Hot 26 twice per week for eight weeks (the other half was in the waitlist control group). 28 participants completed the intervention: they attended on average 1.8 classes per week. After eight weeks, significant reduction in depressive symptoms was shown. Of all participants, 52.2% responded to treatment, and 56.5% attained full #remission (i.e., all depression symptoms gone).
Let me explain why these numbers are considered GREAT. First of all, average #antidepressant allows for about 30.3% remission. That is, if you’re lucky to respond to the so called "first line of treatment" medication – the one that is prescribed when you're first diagnosed. Now, the doctor will allow up to couple months to make the assessment whether it’s working or not – that’s just an average lag time of antidepressants response.
While antidepressants may take a couple of months to “kick in”, #Hot26 practice was shown to reduce depression symptoms after just two weeks of class. Among people who attended only once per week, half were in full remission on Week 8 of the trial. Among the people who attended twice weekly or more, 78% showed no symptoms of depression on Week 8. This data shows that Bikram yoga elicits practically immediate response in majority of people.
One of the most devastating and trickiest part of depression treatment to-date is #TreatmentResistantDepression. This means that conventional medicine doesn’t work – neither in a few months, not ever. When pharmacology and psychotherapy don’t work, electroconvulsive therapy (#ECT) is prescribed. ECT is a procedure that requires general anesthesia so small electric currents can be passed through a patient’s brain. Effective for at least a period of time in many cases, ECT is also not bullet proof, and in some cases doesn’t reduce #DepressionSymptoms.
Interestingly, among the 28 participants in Nyer’s trial, one patient was just like that: treatment resistant, for whom the last resort – ECT therapy – did not work. This 28 year old woman attended 12 Hot 26 classes in eight weeks, and demonstrated full remission at the end of the trial: complete reduction of depression symptoms in clinical assessments.
The conclusion? You gotta try! Especially this season, when the sun exposure is short to none, Hot 26 may become just the booster for your brain to produce enough happy hormones to push the blues away. Give yourself a month of regular practice – and watch it work.
Sign up for our Carry Me Through challenge at the studio to keep a bit of fire under your asana to keep showing up. It's fun - and you can WIN A MONTH of YOGA at @AthaYogaClt! All it takes is showing up – the practice does the rest.
Why this works? *for the nerds*
Thermal therapy works by stimulating temperature sensing nerve endings in the dermis of the skin. Guess what’s the magic number? 41*C or 105.8 F! This is precisely the temp that we practice Hot 26 at! Important point is that with infrared heat we directly stimulate the dermis of the skin with appropriate temperature, eliciting corresponding nerve response. Combined with specific physical shapes performed in a particular order, breathing techniques, and precise timing the peripheral and central nervous systems get re-equilibrated. However, this is a topic for the next blog – if you want it! Please comment below if that’s of interest – will be happy to indulge!
~ See you on the mat! #hotatatha
With all my love,