Yoga's Effects on Heart Rate Variability in Women with Depression

In this new randomised controlled trial, the effects of yoga on HRV and depressive symptoms in women was explored.

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Heart rate variability is a hot topic in yoga research (and attachment research amongst many others actually - see the work of Stephen Poges (polyvagal theory) if you are interested!). We are very glad. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate/heart rhythms. It serves as a critical method for gauging human health and resiliency. HeartMath describe it as a powerful, objective and noninvasive tool to explore the dynamic interactions between physiological, mental, emotional and behavioral processes. Indeed, numerous studies show that HRV is a key indicator of physiological resiliency and behavioural flexibility, and can reflect an ability to adapt effectively to stress and environmental demands.

In this new randomised controlled trial, the effects of yoga on HRV and depressive symptoms in women was explored. 26 women categorised as sedentary scoring highly on a depression scale were randomised to either the yoga or the control group. The yoga group completed a 12-week yoga program, which took place twice a week for 60 min per session and consisted of breathing exercises, yoga pose practice, and supine meditation/relaxation. The control group was instructed not to engage in any yoga practice and to maintain their usual level of physical activity during the course of the study. Participants' HRV, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress were assessed at baseline and post-test.

We are very pleased to share with you that the yoga group had a significant increase in high-frequency HRV and decreases in low-frequency HRV and low frequency/high frequency ratio after the intervention. The yoga group also reported significantly reduced depressive symptoms and perceived stress. No change was found in the control group.

Researchers concluded that this12-week yoga program was effective in increasing parasympathetic tone and reducing depressive symptoms and perceived stress in women with elevated depressive symptoms. They feel that regular yoga practice may be recommended for women to cope with their depressive symptoms and stress and to improve their HRV :) :)

Heather Mason

Founder of the Minded Institute, The Minded Institute

Heather Mason is a leader in the field of mind-body therapy and the founder of Yoga Therapy for the Mind. She develops innovative methods for mental health treatment drawing on her robust educational background including an MA in Psychotherapy, an MA in Buddhist Studies, studies in Neuroscience and a current MSc in Medical Physiology.. She is also a 500 RYT, a yoga therapist and an MBCT facilitator. Heather offers various professional trainings for yoga teachers, healthcare professionals and therapists, lectures around the world, and delivers training to medical students. She also develops protocols for different client populations by translating cutting edge research from the psycho-biology and neuro-biology of stress into yoga practices, breathwork, mindfulness interventions and therapeutic holding. Further she is involved in research on the efficacy of these practices, holds the annual UK yoga therapy conference and is blazing the trail for the integration of yoga therapy into the NHS