Yoga, Anxiety and Depression

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Love your disease: it’s keeping you healthy

Dr John Harrison wrote a book in 1984 called Love your Disease: It’s Keeping you Healthy. This intriguing title refers to his thesis that disease is brought about by the unconscious in response to trauma in order to protect the ego from overwhelming emotions until such time as the patient is ready to deal with them. When the discomfort of the disease is equal to or exceeds the discomfort of the trauma, we may be ready to face the root cause, address it, heal ourselves and move on.

It may be the case that anxiety and depression are born of such a mechanism. Depression often arises out of a sense of being trapped in a circumstance in which we are deeply unhappy yet feel unable to change. It may be a career, a workplace or a relationship. Anxiety can also arise from a realisation, perhaps on an unconscious level, that we need to drastically alter our life; we may feel this need for change on the edge of our awareness as an approaching storm.

The fear of setting out to make profound changes to our life can be overwhelming. Terrifying to the point of rendering us unable to choose. It may take all our existing resources, and some new ones as well, to empower us to move into the next phase.

The good news is that something may almost magically appear in our life at this point which meets our needs and supports the process of change in a sustaining way.

My path

For me, Yoga was an important component of finding my way out of the fog. I came to yoga apparently by accident. I had joined a local gym for general fitness reasons and tried out their Body Balance programme, which was not true yoga but had enough yoga content to make me seek out more authentic practice, initially via HowCast and YouTube, and then through local yoga teachers. Just after this I became debilitated by generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression to the point where I was unable to work. I became agoraphobic. The Body Balance Class was the only place I could go outside of the house and feel safe and find some relief from the ongoing panic that filled my waking mind. So I committed to going two or three times a week, and this was an important component of my healing process.

Is there scientific evidence for the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment for anxiety and depression?

The studies I have found are rightly cautious (due to the need for scientific rigour) but all agree that research shows yoga to be a promising treatment for both anxiety and depression. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that the more severe the anxiety disorder, the more effective yoga can be in addressing it. The actual mechanism of how yoga assists is not scientifically verified, more studies of this aspect being needed.

However the anecdotal evidence I hear from my students is along the lines of “yoga is keeping me sane” and “I slept so well after the other night’s class”. Recently a student who had been having nightly panic attacks was waiting for one after a yin Yoga class- but it didn’t come, much to their surprise.


I am not recommending that yoga should be the sole strategy for dealing with anxiety and depression. Recovery should include consultation with a trusted GP, possibly medication and other professionals such as a psychologist, counsellor and/or a psychiatrist. Medications could also play a part.

But I would personally vouch for a regular yoga practice as an invaluable component of the healing journey. I believe this to be especially true in a yoga class setting where you have the benefit of personal guidance in your practice and a social situation which helps to reduce the sense of isolation often endured in concert with anxiety and depression.

Bring your black dog to the mat and begin to tame him!



No introduction needed. Crisis support and suicide prevention. Available around the clock.


This is a free, personalised online programme offering assessment and treatment for depression and anxiety. It is based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which is the current gold standard for treatment. I have used it and personally recommend it highly. It is run through Macquarie University in Sydney but is completely accessible Australia-wide.

Beyond Blue

This fantastic resource offers a 24 hour telephone helpline, an online chat line between 3 pm and midnight, an email support line, forums for discussion and support and information.


Headspace is a mental health service for young people 12- 25 years. There are physical centres you can attend as well as online and phone services staffed by trained professionals which have extended hours.

Black Dog Institute

Black Dog Institute has a range of information as well as a helpful directory of GPs with a special interest in mental health.


Love Your Disease: It’s Keeping You Healthy

Dr. John Harrison, M.D.

Analysis of study of effects of yoga on anxiety. Conclusion is that yoga is helpful, we don’t know why, and the higher the level of anxiety initially, the more yoga helps. Best used in conjunction with CBT.

Yoga may show promise as a treatment for GAD

yoga-based interventions may prove to be an attractive option for the treatment of depressive disorders

2 thoughts on “Yoga, Anxiety and Depression”

    • It will. It works. We don’t know why, but it has been seen to work for 5000 years now. Ask the cats, they remember!


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