Yoga School of Thought and Psychiatry: Therapeutic Potential

By Rao, Naren; Varambally, Shivarama et al. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, January 2013 | Go to article overview
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Yoga School of Thought and Psychiatry: Therapeutic Potential

Rao, Naren, Varambally, Shivarama, Gangadhar, Bangalore, Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Byline: Naren. Rao, Shivarama. Varambally, Bangalore. Gangadhar

Yoga is a traditional life-style practice used for spiritual reasons. However, the physical components like the asanas and pranayaamas have demonstrated physiological and therapeutic effects. There is evidence for Yoga as being a potent antidepressant that matches with drugs. In depressive disorder, yoga 'corrects' an underlying cognitive physiology. In schizophrenia patients, yoga has benefits as an add-on intervention in pharmacologically stabilized subjects. The effects are particularly notable on negative symptoms. Yoga also helps to correct social cognition. Yoga can be introduced early in the treatment of psychosis with some benefits. Elevation of oxytocin may be a mechanism of yoga effects in schizophrenia. Certain components of yoga have demonstrated neurobiological effects similar to those of vagal stimulation, indicating this (indirect or autogenous vagal stimulation) as a possible mechanism of its action. It is time, psychiatrists exploited the benefits if yoga for a comprehensive care in their patients.


Psychiatric disorders are a major source of disability, with depression and schizophrenia ranking among the top 10 disorders that contribute to global burden. Effective interventions to treat these disorders and reduce morbidity as well as disabilities are the need of the hour. Despite the best currently available treatments, a significant proportion of patients continue to be symptomatic and fail to achieve remission. Moreover, side effects of medications, long duration and cost of treatment are significant concerns to patients and their family. In view of the above limitations and stigma associated with psychiatric consultations/treatments, a good proportion of patients seek alternative/complementary treatments. Depression is among the common disorders for which patients seek alternative/complementary treatment. [sup][1]

Yoga is an ancient holistic system which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. Although there are several definitions for yoga, most schools of yoga incorporate elements of Asanas (physical movements) including relaxation, Pranayama (breathing practices), and dhyana (meditation). Most modern yoga schools are influenced by Patanjali Yoga Sutras and focus on unification of body, mind and spirit to promote health and well-being. However, different schools of yoga focus on different elements; while Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) focuses almost exclusively on pranayama, Iyengar's yoga focuses on asanas and Vinyasa yoga focus on breath-linked movement.

Yoga is practiced by a considerable proportion of the population, not only in India but in other countries as well; a survey on the prevalence and practice of yoga in the United States estimate that around 7.5% of population practice yoga to promote physical and mental health. [sup][2] Moreover, yoga is gaining recognition worldwide as a treatment for different physical and psychiatric disorders. Considering the growth and interest in yoga, it is essential to explore the utility of yoga as a potential alternative or complementary treatment for psychiatrical disorders. Scientific evidence for yoga as a treatment for major mental illness is emerging, and studies conducted have methodological concerns. In this review, we focus on yoga as a treatment for the major psychiatric disorders depression and schizophrenia. We review studies examining yoga as a treatment for depression and schizophrenia, possible mechanisms of action of yoga in these disorders and limitations of current literature.

Yoga as a Treatment for Depression

Yoga has been reported to improve self-reported perceptions of stress and well-being in the general public, and consequently, makes an intuitive appeal for treatment of depression in which the role of stress is well documented. Different yoga packages for patients with depression have been developed and examined.

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