How Yoga May Help Those Experiencing Depression

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Treatment methods used for depression can vary depending on the individual and their unique situation. Psychotherapy and medication are two of the most common, but healthcare providers may also suggest certain lifestyle changes that could help as well. One of these is yoga, an ancient meditative practice from India that research suggests may help increase mental well-being. In this article, we’ll discuss the potential benefits of yoga for depression symptoms, along with tips for getting started. 

Discover lifestyle changes that could help with depression

What is depression?

Depression is a common but serious mental health condition. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 8% of US adults and as many as 20% of adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

Common symptoms include:

  • A lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Significant changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

 If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 by dialing 988.

Depression is considered to be treatable, typically through psychotherapy—sometimes in combination with medication. That’s why it’s usually recommended that those experiencing symptoms of depression or another mental health condition seek professional support. That said, it’s important to note that many people face barriers to receiving care, from stigma to cost to systemic issues. This is especially true for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC),  those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized groups. We’ll discuss more effective treatment options at the end of this article.

Lifestyle changes that may help with depression

Again, seeking the support of a healthcare professional is recommended if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. In addition to psychotherapy and/or medication, they might also recommend certain lifestyle changes that could help reduce symptoms. For example:

  • Physical exercise. A 2020 study suggests that regular exercise can have “a beneficial effect on depressive symptoms.” 
  • A nutritious diet. An article from Harvard Health Publishing indicates that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil may be associated with a decreased risk of depression, with a diet high in red meat, sugar, and high-fat dairy products associated with an increased risk.
  • A mindfulness practice. A 2019 study suggests that regular mindfulness practice correlates with lower levels of depression.

Although these are some of the most frequently cited lifestyle changes that may help decrease symptoms of depression, they’re not the only ones. Yoga is another example that many people turn to.

What is yoga and how can it help?

According to the United Nations, which recognizes the International Day of Yoga every year on June 21, yoga is an ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. There are many different types, but it generally combines gentle stretching with mindfulness and deep breathing. One part of respecting the cultural history of yoga and avoiding cultural appropriation of the practice is to recognize and honor its original intention: not as a form of exercise, but as a way to unite the body and mind and bring a sense of connectedness and peace, among other purposes. 

Yoga has gained popularity worldwide in the last several decades, in large part because researchers continue to unearth its potential health benefits, which may include but are not limited to:

  • Physical pain relief from conditions like arthritis
  • Improved heart health
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Improved strength, flexibility, and balance

Because of its emphasis on mindfulness and the mind-body connection, yoga may also have mental health benefits for many. For instance, a 2022 study suggests that participants with depression and/or anxiety who attended a yoga class twice a week reported improved mood. This may be because it can help improve one’s awareness and control over their body, promote a sense of calm, and increase mental focus.

Yoga tips for mental health

While many people choose to attend paid, free, or donation-based yoga classes in their area, there are also plenty of books and videos available that can help you practice on your own, too. It is generally recommended that you take a few classes if you’re new to this practice so you can learn proper form and techniques to help you keep your body safe. That said, the following are some general tips that may help you use the ancient cultural practice of yoga to help improve your mental health.

1. Learn about different forms

There are many different styles of yoga. Researching the various types to see which one appeals to you most may be a good first step. For example, Hatha yoga tends to be gentler and more slow-paced. Iyengar yoga often entails more focus, since it involves strict attention paid to posture and alignment in each pose. Vinyasa, on the other hand, focuses on moving from pose to pose more quickly in order to increase body heat. Trying a few different styles to see what best aligns with you may be helpful.

2. Remember to keep breathing

Proper breathwork is a core component of yoga. Not only does it help you sink deeper into the poses, but it can also increase your energy and focus. Pranayama, the practice of controlling one’s breath, is often overlooked or forgotten by those who are new to the practice and focus mainly on body movements. However, it’s generally a significant source of mental and physical benefits, so it’s worth paying attention to. It may also help you avoid injury. 

3. Take it at your own pace

According to a public statement on the cultural significance of yoga released by the Indian government and the United Nations, yoga can be practiced by “the young and old without discriminating against gender, class, or religion.” In other words, yoga is meant to be a connective, uniting, effective practice and not a competitive or stressful one. 

So although you may at first feel pressure to “keep up” with the instructor or others in your yoga class, it can be helpful to remember that your yoga practice is for you. Pushing yourself beyond your physical or mental limits may increase your stress, rob you of the potential calming benefits, and potentially even lead to injury. The goal is generally to practice yoga in a way that works best for you personally. You can be gentle with yourself, and don’t be afraid to take pauses or modify poses as needed.

4. Stay consistent

There’s no set time frame in which you’ll start to experience the benefits of a regular yoga practice, because each person and each practice is different. That said, it’s unlikely that you’ll notice major changes after just a session or two. As with many things in life, it’s usually recommended that you practice yoga regularly over time in order to start seeing the benefits. Making an effort to work it into your schedule—even if you start with just 10 minutes a day, twice a week—can help you set yourself up for a consistent, beneficial practice over the longer term.

5. Integrate your practice into your daily life

One of the reasons so many people practice yoga is because they experience the benefits of it both on and off the mat. This is most likely to happen when you make a conscious effort to integrate what you learn in yoga into your everyday life. Taking regular time to practice meditation can be one way of doing this. Aiming to live with a greater sense of mindfulness, awareness of your body, and feelings of connectedness with the world around you can be other simple ways to “live your practice” and continue to enjoy benefits as well.

Seeking therapy for depression

Some form of talk therapy is typically the first-line treatment for depression, sometimes in combination with medication and often in combination with suggested lifestyle changes. However, as mentioned above, therapy is not equally available to everyone. Those who face barriers to this may be interested in trying online therapy. You can attend sessions from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have an internet connection if you lack providers in your area or are unable to regularly commute to appointments. Online session costs are also usually more affordable than in-person sessions. No insurance is required, and costs are typically similar to most insurance co-pays. 

Discover lifestyle changes that could help with depression

With a platform like BetterHelp in particular, you can get matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that online therapy can result in a significant decrease in symptoms of depression and in a more convenient and affordable format. 


Yoga is an ancient cultural and spiritual practice that has become popular worldwide as a result of its potential health benefits. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental illness like depression, meeting with a qualified mental health care provider is usually recommended. They may suggest a number of different treatment options based on your particular situation, from psychotherapy and/or medication to lifestyle changes like eating a nutritious diet and practicing yoga.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
You don't have to face depression aloneGet started