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Improving Mental Health: Yoga Interventions as Potential Depression and Anxiety Relievers



Yoga-based therapies were successful in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a meta-analysis of studies looking at the impact of qigong, tai chi, and yoga-based interventions on these symptoms. Qigong and tai chi showed little effect on symptoms of depression. The study’s authors noted that there was a significant chance of bias in the examined research.

A significant portion of the population suffers from affective disorders like sadness and anxiety. Anxiety disorders impact between 4% to 25% of people globally, whereas depression is thought to affect 20% of individuals. Chronic symptoms are common in many illnesses, which can result in disability and significant financial expenditures.

Sometimes the efficacy of therapies for affective disorders is not as high as expected, which prompts medical practitioners to look for ways to improve what they already have. In this regard, exercise has shown to be a potential avenue. Exercise may be used as a stand-alone treatment or as an adjuvant therapy to reduce the symptoms of affective disorders, according to a number of studies. Numerous empirical research have examined how mind-body techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong affect various diseases; these studies have frequently shown improvements in mental health as a result of the interventions.

Qigong is a mind-body exercise from China that uses breathing exercises, meditation, and coordinated movements to strengthen and balance the body’s “qi,” or life force, for better physical and mental health. Chinese martial arts are the source of tai chi. It’s a slow-moving, meditative exercise with flowing, beautiful motions that enhance flexibility, balance, and relaxation while strengthening the bond between the mind and body. Yoga is an age-old Indian discipline that promotes oneness of the body, mind, and spirit by combining physical postures, breath control, meditation, and ethical precepts to improve mental and physical health.

study findings assessing how these three forms of practice-based therapies affected the symptoms of anxiety and depression. They also sought to determine any variables that would affect how effective they were.

To find papers reporting the findings of randomized clinical trials, the researchers searched databases of scholarly journals. These studies looked into how well qigong, tai chi, and yoga could help persons with clinical diagnoses of sadness and anxiety symptoms.

Out of a larger collection of 305 papers that met the search parameters but fell short of all the requirements to be included in the meta-analysis, the results of the search were chosen. The study authors hired independent reviewers to assess the existence of information spin in the paper summaries, the degree of certainty in the evidence, the likelihood of bias, and the suitability of procedural explanations.

These studies included 1,420 participants in total. With intervention durations ranging from three to twelve weeks, two clinical trials explicitly assessed yoga-based therapies for the symptoms of anxiety disorders, contrasting the benefits of yoga with medication therapy or naturopathy (lifestyle modification or preventive). The remaining research focused on depression: two evaluated the benefits of qigong, four examined tai chi, and sixteen investigated yoga. The effects of these exercises on depression were compared in these studies to standard treatment, waitlists, education, medication therapy, aerobic exercise, and psychotherapy.

The reviewers concluded that there was a substantial risk of bias in each of these investigations. All study summaries, with the exception of one, showed some information spin, which could point to some degree of study results being misrepresented. The most common type of spin was selectively reporting positive results while leaving out negative ones, and it involves omitting the negative effects of interventions. Notably, no study offered a comprehensive description of all the interventions that were used. The reviewers gave all outcomes a low level of evidential certainty.

The results of the meta-analysis showed that yoga-based therapies were superior to control measures in lowering anxiety symptoms in the two trials that looked at people with anxiety disorders. However, yoga-based therapies did not reduce anxiety more than controls in studies involving people with depressive illnesses.

No effect was identified in the preliminary analysis of yoga-based therapies’ effects on depressive symptoms in depressed individuals. The researchers did observe that there was a great deal of heterogeneity in the yoga-based therapies used. The remaining trials demonstrated that yoga-based therapies were superior to controls in lowering symptoms of depression after three of the studies were excluded. Tai chi or qigong interventions had no effect on depressed symptoms, according to statistical analyses.

“We observed that yoga-based interventions may reduce anxiety symptoms in anxiety disorders. Furthermore, we also found that yoga-based interventions may decrease depression symptoms in depressive disorders. However, we cannot make definitive clinical recommendations due to the very low certainty of the evidence, several methodological concerns and the heterogeneity of qigong, tai chi and yoga styles among studies. Therefore, a specific yoga style cannot be recommended with the current evidence,” the study authors concluded.

The study significantly advances our understanding of how exercise affects mental health by organizing existing research. However, as the study’s authors have already pointed out, there was very little methodological quality in the studies included in this meta-analysis and the publications in which their findings were published. Therefore, care should be taken when interpreting these findings.

The authors of the paper, “Yoga-based interventions may reduce depression symptoms in depressive disorders and anxiety symptoms in anxiety disorders: a systematic review with meta-analysis and meta-regression,” are Alberto Marcos Heredia-Rizo, Javier Martínez-Calderon, Cristina Garcia-Muñoz, Maria Jesus Muñoz-Fernandez, and María Jesús Casuso-Holgado.


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