Yoga for stress and depression

Prof. Dr. Holger Cramer and his team at the Robert Bosch Center for Integrative Medicine and Health are researching the effectiveness of yoga. In several studies, they were able to gain insights into the extent to which yoga helps with stress and depression.

Cornelia Varwig | June 2024
Pexels/Yan Krukov

Two large meta-analyses show how yoga compares to other health interventions. 


Subjectively perceived stress is often underestimated. Yet it is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, accidents and even cancer – and can therefore have life-threatening consequences, says Prof. Dr. Holger Cramer, Scientific Director of the Robert Bosch Center for Integrative Medicine and Health and Professor at the University Hospital of Tübingen. This makes it even more important to gain insights into how stress can be reduced.

To this end, Holger Cramer and his team have conducted the first ever meta-analysis on stress and yoga, for which the researchers evaluated 13 randomized, controlled studies with over 1000 participants. The key result: there is good evidence that yoga has a stress-reducing effect. However, compared to other methods such as mindfulness exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, yoga exercises appear to be more suitable for short-term improvement, while the other methods work better in the long term.

In a second meta-analysis, the researchers investigated whether yoga is also effective for depressive disorders. To do so, they evaluated the data from 24 randomized, controlled studies with around 1,400 participants. On the one hand, they found that the severity of depression was reduced in those affected compared to passive control groups. On the other hand, yoga is superior to other interventions such as hypnosis or psychoeducation when it comes to getting out of a depressive episode. However, Holger Cramer makes it clear: "Yoga does not replace guideline-based treatment of depression with psychotherapy or medication. However, it can be useful as an accompaniment or to bridge the waiting time until therapy."

Yoga has a kind of protective function

The psychologist also wanted to know more about the mechanisms of action of yoga. As an adjunct professor at the Australian Southern Cross University in Lismore, he conducted an extensive epidemiological study with colleagues there using data from a long-term study with women. The aim was to find out whether yoga offers a kind of protection against developing depression in the first place in the event of negative life events. The researchers assumed that the stress-reducing effect of yoga plays a role here. However, the study showed that yoga helps directly and not because it improves stress management. "One possible explanation is that the meditative part of yoga ensures that concentration is directed to the present moment, so that negative circles of thought are broken," says Cramer.

In an ongoing study with the University Hospital of Tübingen, Immanuel Hospital Berlin and Charité, Cramer is currently investigating whether yoga is useful for post-COVID syndrome, the most common symptom of which is chronic fatigue. Dr. Marcela Winkler, Head of the Department of Naturopathy and Integrative Medicine at Robert Bosch Hospital, is providing medical support for the study.

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