Heated Yoga May Reduce Symptoms of Depression


A recent clinical trial led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) suggests that heated yoga might provide symptom relief for those suffering from moderate-to-severe depression. The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, indicate that Bikram yoga, practiced in a room heated to 105 F, could be a potential therapy for depression. 

The eight-week trial involved 80 participants divided into two groups. The first group engaged in 90-minute Bikram yoga sessions, while the second was placed on a waitlist. After the trial period, the waitlisted participants also completed the yoga intervention. Of these, 33 from the yoga group and 32 from the waitlist group were included in the final analysis.

Participants from the yoga group were advised to attend at least two sessions weekly. However, the average attendance amounted to 10.3 classes throughout the eight-week period.

Significant outcomes were observed after the trial, such as:

  • Participants who practiced yoga reported a notable decline in depressive symptoms compared to their waitlisted counterparts. This was assessed through the clinician-rated Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-CR) scale.
  • Nearly 60 percent of participants from the yoga group experienced a reduction in symptoms by 50 percent or more, while only 6.3 percent from the waitlist group reported the same.
  • Of the participants in the yoga group, 44 percent achieved IDS-CR scores so low that they were deemed to have their depression in remission. 

Researchers found that even those who attended just half of the recommended sessions experienced reduced depressive symptoms, indicating that a single heated yoga session per week could offer benefits. In addition, participants in the study expressed a positive outlook toward the heated yoga sessions, with no severe adverse effects reported.

The lead author of the study, Maren Nyer, PhD, Director of Yoga Studies at the Depression Clinical and Research Program at MGH and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was optimistic about the findings. "Yoga and heat-based interventions could potentially change the course for treatment for patients with depression by providing a non-medication-based approach with additional physical benefits as a bonus,” said Nyer.

However, the authors noted that more research is needed to determine the true impact of heated yoga on depression symptoms. “Future research is needed to compare heated to nonheated yoga for depression to explore whether heat has benefits over and above that of yoga for the treatment of depression, especially given the promising evidence for whole body hyperthermia as a treatment for major depressive disorder,” said senior author David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, Director of the Depression Clinical and Research Program at MGH.