Against depression, sadness, anxiety and lack of motivation we now have a new powerful ally, or rather two, which if combined show a precious synergy, yoga practice and exposure to heat. What has been stated is confirmed in two recent scientific studies published shortly after each other by the same research group made up of scientists and experts from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston (Nyer et al, J Altern Complement Med, 2019 - Nyer et al, JCP, 2023).
Yoga and heat against depression, what we know
The research is based on two assumptions, demonstrated by previous scientific studies. The first fact is that yoga practice counteracts and reduces depression. The second fact is that it has been observed that exposure to heat in order to increase body temperature is also a valid treatment against depression and anxiety. However, no study had explored the effects on mood of combining these two interventions. There is a yoga practice, called Bikram yoga, which has become popular since the 70s and which consists of practicing yoga positions in a room heated between 35 and 42° C, with 40% humidity, replicating the climate of India. Bikram yoga therefore combines both yoga and heat and has been used in the research we are talking about today, with extraordinary results.
Yoga and heat together can send depression into remission, the study
American scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston have studied the effects of Bikram yoga on mood. The volunteers were chosen among healthy adults with a moderate or even severe form of depression. Study participants were invited to participate in 90-minute Bikram yoga sessions once or twice a week for 8 weeks. What emerged at the end of the study was that Bikram yoga significantly reduced the symptoms of depression, but also sadness, anxiety, lack of motivation and improved quality of life, cognitive and physical function. Notably, it was also possible to measure the improvement. About 60 percent of yoga class participants reported a 50 percent or greater reduction in symptoms, compared to 6 percent of control volunteers who did not participate in any intervention. Finally, in 44% of participants in yoga sessions, depression was even considered to be in remission. The benefits were observed even with just one yoga session per week.
This is just the beginning and further work will have to be done, especially to understand the individual contributions of yoga and heat and the difference between yoga sessions in heated or normal rooms. In the meantime, however, we know that this synergy is a candidate to become a very promising treatment against depression and anxiety. Bikram yoga must be practiced in specialized centers by specially trained teachers. However, these centers are growing almost everywhere. In any case, even normal yoga has been shown to improve mood and combat depression and anxiety and this can be practiced anywhere, even at home!