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Heated yoga shows promise as a treatment for depression

Heated yoga sessions could provide significant relief from depressive symptoms, according to the results of a recent clinical trial conducted by researchers from the renowned Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study reveals that even just one session of heated yoga per week might provide therapeutic benefits to individuals struggling with moderate to severe depression.

How the research was conducted 

The trial involved a total of 80 participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with moderate-to-severe depression. They were divided into two groups: one practiced 90-minute sessions of Bikram yoga in a room heated to 105°F, while the second group was waitlisted and only took part in the yoga sessions after their waiting period.

The initial analysis included 33 participants from the yoga group and 32 from the waitlist group. Those in the yoga group were recommended to attend at least two classes each week, but on average, they participated in about 10.3 classes over the two-month period.

Key Findings

At the end of the eight weeks, yoga participants saw a notably greater drop in symptoms of depression compared to those on the waitlist. This was measured using the clinician-rated Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-CR) scale.

Overall, 59.3 percent of individuals in the yoga group experienced a reduction of 50 percent or more in their depressive symptoms. By contrast, only 6.3 percent of waitlist participants reported the same improvement.

Remarkably, 44 percent of the yoga participants achieved such low IDS-CR scores that they were considered to be in remission from their depression, compared to just 6.3 percent in the waitlist group. Even participants who took part in just one yoga session a week reported reduced symptoms.

Non-medication based approach 

Study lead author Dr. Maren Nyer is the Director of Yoga Studies at MGH’s Depression Clinical and Research Program and an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“Yoga and heat-based interventions could potentially change the course for treatment for patients with depression by providing a non-medication–based approach with additional physical benefits as a bonus,” said Dr. Nyer.

“We are currently developing new studies with the goal of determining the specific contributions of each element – heat and yoga – to the clinical effects we have observed in depression.”

However, senior author Dr. David Mischoulon emphasized the need for further studies. He suggests comparing heated and non-heated yoga to determine if the heat itself, especially considering the promising evidence for whole body hyperthermia, offers any added advantages in treating depression.

What is heated yoga?

Heated yoga, commonly referred to as “hot yoga,” is a style of yoga practiced in a room heated to temperatures between 85°F to 105°F (29°C to 40°C), with a humidity of 40 to 60 percent. The heat is believed to help practitioners sweat out toxins, increase flexibility, and improve circulation. 

Bikram Yoga

This is a specific sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises practiced in a room set to 105°F (40°C) with 40% humidity. Classes last for 90 minutes.

Moksha/Modo Yoga

This is a set sequence of postures practiced in a slightly cooler room than Bikram, around 95°F to 100°F (35°C to 37°C). The sequence and temperature can vary slightly depending on the studio.

Hot Vinyasa

Unlike the set sequences of Bikram and Moksha, hot vinyasa classes can vary in their sequence. The room is usually heated, but temperatures can range depending on the studio.


  • Increased flexibility: The heat can make it easier for muscles to stretch.
  • Detoxification: Sweating can help flush toxins from the body.
  • Improved circulation: The heat can enhance blood flow.
  • Mental focus: The challenging environment can help practitioners hone their concentration and mental discipline.

The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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