By Janet Settle MD
In this post, I report on recent evidence for the use of yoga for the treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety.
The term yoga includes a broad and ever growing collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices strictly or loosely based on ancient Indian philosophy. The heterogeneity of these practices make interpretation of health benefits difficult.
In a meta-analysis (6 RCTs, 375 women), a 12-week yoga program significantly reduced depression scores in pregnant women (Gong, 2015). Symptoms were reduced in both depressed and non-depressed women. “Physical-exercise-based yoga” (non-significant improvement) and was inferior to “integrated yoga” (significant improvement), which included pranayama, meditation or deep relaxation. Some control subjects received beneficial social support or massage instead of yoga, so yoga may be even more effective than reported.
A 2016 systematic review of 13 studies (Sheffield, 2016) found that “yoga interventions are generally effective in reducing depression and anxiety in pregnant women.”
Yoga, is well-tolerated and improves a wide variety of pregnancy outcomes. The literature supports its use in perinatal depression. Significant benefits are documented for yoga that includes pranayama, meditation or deep relaxation once again confirming the benefits of mind-body practices for mental health symptoms.
Recommending some form of mind-body practice or other autonomic balancing activity or treatment is appropriate for most of my clients. I try to help people select something from a list of choices that fits their interests or abilities. Choices include biofeedback type practices like Heart Rate Variability training, physical practices like yoga or tai chi, meditative practices, time in nature, or body work options like osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT).
Gong H, Ni C, Shen X, Wu T, Jiang C. Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2015;15:14. doi:10.1186/s12888-015-0393-1.
Sheffield KM, Woods-Giscombe CL. Efficacy, Feasibility, and Acceptability of Perinatal Yoga on Women’s Mental Health and Well-Being: A Systematic Literature Review. J Holist Nurs. 2016;34(1):64-79. doi:10.1177/089801011