Yoga and meditation provide similar mental health benefits to antidepressants

Yoga and meditation could be used in the treatment of people with mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by health specialists in America, was first launched to investigate the impact of such activities on physical pain, but it quickly became clear that the positive mental and wellbeing effects were just as prevalent.

The paper looked at people aged 34 to 77 who had suffered from chronic pain for at least one year. Each participant undertook an eight-week instructor-led mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR), recording one weekly 2.5 hour session.

Each session taught the group a variety of relaxation techniques, but most importantly having “an awareness of the self in the present moment in a non-judgmental manner”.

Participants were also asked to undertake extra training at home and revisit the techniques learnt in the classroom.

Throughout the study, the researchers took regular pain, depression, and functional capacity measurements.

It was found, as well as pain reduction benefits, the participants reported significant improvements in mental health, including less severe depressive symptoms and an increased mood. The paper, for example, shows that depression, measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), dropped by 3.7 points on a 27-point scale – similar to the drop recorded after the regular use of antidepressants.

Commenting on the findings, lead investigator Dr Cynthia Marske said: “Chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression.

“Mindfulness-based meditation and yoga can help restore both a patient’s mental and physical health and can be effective alone or in combination with other treatments such as therapy and medication.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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