DOI: 10.1055/s-0043-111013
© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

A Systematic Review of Mechanisms of Change in Body-Oriented Yoga in Major Depressive Disorders

K. Meister1, G. Juckel1
  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Preventive Medicine Ruhr University Bochum, LWL University Hospital, Bochum, Germany
Further Information

Publication History

received 30 November 2016
revised 10 April 2017

accepted 06 May 2017

Publication Date:
01 June 2017 (eFirst)


Introduction Despite empirical evidence for the efficacy of body-oriented yoga as add-on treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), the specific mechanisms by which yoga leads to therapeutic changes remain unclear. By means of a systematic review, we evaluate how the field is progressing in its empirical investigation of mechanisms of change in yoga for MDD.

Methods To identify relevant studies, a systematic search was conducted.

Results The search produced 441 articles, of which 5 were included, that empirically examined 2 psychological mechanisms (mindfulness, rumination) and 3 biological mechanisms (vagal control, heart rate variability [HRV], brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF], cortisol). 2 studies found that decreased rumination and 1 study that increased mindfulness was associated with the effect of yoga on treatment outcome. In addition, preliminary studies suggest that alterations in cortisol, BDNF, and HRV may play a role in how yoga exerts its clinical effect.

Discussion The results suggest that body-oriented yoga could work through some of the theoretically predicted mechanisms. However, there is a need for more rigorous designs that can assess greater levels of causal specificity.