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OBJECTIVES: To understand depressed individuals' experiences in a 10-week hatha yoga program. DESIGN: In a randomized controlled trial, participants were assigned to either 10 weeks of hatha yoga classes or a health education control group. This report includes responses from participants in yoga classes. At the start of classes, average depression symptom severity level was moderate. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: After 10 weeks of yoga classes, we asked participants (n=50) to provide written responses to open-ended questions about what they liked about classes, what they did not like or did not find helpful, and what they learned. We analyzed qualitative data using thematic analysis. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Elements of yoga classes that may increase acceptability for depressed individuals include having instructors who promote a non-competitive and non-judgmental atmosphere, who are knowledgeable and able to provide individualized attention, and who are kind and warm. Including depression-related themes in classes, teaching mindfulness, teaching breathing exercises, and providing guidance for translating class into home practice may help to make yoga effective for targeting depression. Participants' comments reinforced the importance of aspects of mindfulness, such as attention to the present moment and acceptance of one's self and one's experience, as potential mechanisms of action. Other potential mechanisms include use of breathing practices in everyday life and the biological mechanisms that underlie the positive impact of yogic breathing. The most serious concern highlighted by a few participants was the concern that the yoga classes were too difficult given their physical abilities.
BACKGROUND: Although hatha yoga has frequently been recommended for patients with bipolar disorder (BD) and there is preliminary evidence that it alleviates depression, there are no published data on the benefits-and potential risks-of yoga for patients with BD. Thus, the goal of this study was to assess the risks and benefits of yoga in individuals with BD. METHODS: We recruited self-identified yoga practitioners with BD (N=109) to complete an Internet survey that included measures of demographic and clinical information and open-ended questions about yoga practice and the impact of yoga. RESULTS: 86 respondents provided sufficient information for analysis, 70 of whom met positive screening criteria for a lifetime history of mania or hypomania. The most common styles of yoga preferred were hatha and vinyasa. When asked what impact yoga had on their life, participants responded most commonly with positive emotional effects, particularly reduced anxiety, positive cognitive effects (e.g., acceptance, focus, or "a break from my thoughts"), or positive physical effects (e.g., weight loss, increased energy). Some respondents considered yoga to be significantly life changing. The most common negative effect of yoga was physical injury or pain. Five respondents gave examples of specific instances or a yoga practice that they believed increased agitation or manic symptoms; five respondents gave examples of times that yoga increased depression or lethargy. CONCLUSIONS: Many individuals who self-identify as having BD believe that yoga has benefits for mental health. However, yoga is not without potential risks. It is possible that yoga could serve as a useful adjunctive treatment for BD.