Stacia is a Registered Hatha Yoga Instructor (RYT 200 hour) through Yoga Alliance.
She trained through Camelrock Yoga Center in Fallbrook, California in 2003 and
has maintained her certification through annual continuing education. Stacia has
taught yoga at fitness centers, Yoga Schools and through corporations since
2003. She incorporates her yoga experience in her therapy with people who struggle
with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Stacia specializes in teaching yoga for
stress management and fitness to absolute beginners who never thought they would
be capable of practicing yoga. She makes it approachable, fun, and practical for all clients.

Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
Studies suggest that this practice modulates the stress response.

By Harvard Health Publications

Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly popular in recent decades. One national survey estimated, for example, that about 7.5% of U.S. adults had tried yoga at least once, and that nearly 4% practiced yoga in the previous year.

Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas; controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas; and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Many of the studies evaluating yoga's therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly
designed. However, a 2004 analysis found that, in recent decades, an increasing number
have been randomized controlled trials—the most rigorous standard for proving efficacy.

Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this
respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation,
exercise, or even socializing with friends.

Taming the stress response

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response
systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal—for example, reducing the
heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence
that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's
ability to respond to stress more flexibly.

A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress
response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary
results from a study of varied participants' responses to pain. They note that people
who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain.
Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia
(a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized
by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure,
the participants with fibromyalgia—as expected—perceived pain at lower pressure
levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had
the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In
contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest
pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of
techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and,
therefore, pain responses.


Improved mood and functioning

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence
suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques.

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as
"emotionally distressed" took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months.
Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to
begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional
distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation
above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived
Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and
depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies
Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived
stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved
by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints
of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga
group than in the control group.

One uncontrolled, descriptive 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for
inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients
with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels
of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured
by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered
on their own before and after the class. Patients who chose to participate in additional
classes experienced similar short-term positive effects.

Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and
quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer
survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

Benefits of controlled breathing

A type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga shows promise in
providing relief for depression. The program, called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY),
involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming
to rapid and stimulating, and is taught by the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation.

One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to
bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in
45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of
those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and
67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission.

Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60
alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at
a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly
assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control.
After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped
75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group.
Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the
SKY group, but not in the control group. The authors suggest that SKY might
be a beneficial treatment for depression in the early stages of recovery from

Potential help for PTSD

Since evidence suggests that yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal,
researchers are exploring whether or not yoga can be a helpful practice for patients with
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in
disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were
heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course
included breathing techniques (see above), yoga asanas, education about stress reduction,
and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the
Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an
80-point scale.

Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS
scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate).
These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting
of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.

About 20% of war veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, according to
one estimate. Experts treating this population suggest that yoga can be a useful addition to
the treatment program.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are offering a
yogic method of deep relaxation to veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr. Kristie Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, says the military hopes that yoga-based
treatments will be more acceptable to the soldiers and less stigmatizing than traditional
psychotherapy. The center now uses yoga and yogic relaxation in post-deployment PTSD
awareness courses, and plans to conduct a controlled trial of their effectiveness in the future.

Web extra

For more advice about reducing anxiety, visit our online Stress Resource Center at

Cautions and encouragement

Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be
appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems
may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option.

But for many patients 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.

Brown RP, et al. "Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and
Depression: Part I — Neurophysiologic Model," Journal of Alternative and Complementary
(Feb. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 189–201.

Brown RP, et al. "Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and
Depression: Part II — Clinical Applications and Guidelines," Journal of Alternative and
Complementary Medicine
(Aug. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 711–17.

Janakiramaiah N, et al. "Antidepressant Efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in
Melancholia: A Randomized Comparison with Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and
Imipramine," Journal of Affective Disorders (Jan.–March 2000): Vol. 57, No. 1–3, pp. 255–59.

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
(Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.

Saper RB, et al. "Prevalence and Patterns of Adult Yoga Use in the United States:
Results of a National Survey," Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine
(March–April 2004): Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 44–49.


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