1. Yoga Teaches Mindfulness
Mindfulness is now widely known as a cure-all for depression. It works so well it got incorporated into numerous widely accepted psychotherapies for depression such as acceptance and commitment therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. Psychotherapy aside, there are numerous ways to train yourself to be more mindful, and yoga is one of them. It also provides numerous other benefits.
2. Yoga Promotes Depression-Fighting Neurotransmitters
There are studies that show that yoga increases production of serotonin, dopamine and GABA, all of which are lowered in depression (Cramer, Lauche, Langhorst, & Dobos, 2013). Yoga doesn’t only work on the level of neurotransmitters; it also improves our hormonal health.
3. Yoga Corrects the Distribution of Hormones Related to Depression
Various forms of Pranayama, such as Bhastrika Pranayama, increase levels of oxytocin which decreases depression by increasing an overall feeling of well-being.
Additionally, yoga has scientifically been proven to decrease the stress hormone cortisol which has been directly associated with depression. A 2013 study (Thirthalli et al., 2013) has shown that yoga decreases serum cortisol levels in depressed individuals, whether they take medication or not. Incidentally, the same study has shown that antidepressants don’t have any influence on cortisol levels. Additionally, the same study has shown that lower levels of cortisol is correlated with decreased rates of depression. The longer you do yoga the less depressed you are.
The interesting thing is that it’s not entirely clear how decreased cortisol levels might alleviate depression. One explanation is that a lower level of cortisol increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain, which brings me to my next point.
4. Yoga Helps Your Brain Grow
Studies have shown that yoga increases the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) that promote the growth and differentiation of new synapses. It’s also vital for the survival of existing neurons. The increase in BDNF, which happens in yoga, is scientifically proven to decrease depression.
5. Yoga Increases Our Ability to Handle Stress
All of those things combined increases our resistance to the stresses and challenges of life. When we're less overwhelmed, we're also less likely to become depressed.
Check out Rick Coe's yoga practice: Yoga Therapy for Depression.