Yoga as a stand-alone therapy or a complement to drugs “may benefit anxiety conditions” and “may be superior to medication for a subgroup” of adult anxiety patients, according to a review of evidence-based literature (Asian Journal of Psychiatry).


Yoga for Anxiety: An Overview of Clinical Studies

Yoga for Anxiety: An Overview of Clinical Studies

Anxiety Disorders FYI

About 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health. Despite advances in the pharmacological and psychological treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, a significant percentage of patients resist treatment for numerous reasons, including the

  • Cost of treatment
  • Side effects of medication
  • Lack of response to medication

Alternative therapies, such as yoga, offer patients a drug-free, self-treatment option to alleviate their condition.

8 Clinical Studies, Yoga for Anxiety

The data for this comprehensive overview of how yoga for anxiety affects the symptoms of these disorders comes from evidence-based literature published through 2005.

The overview included

  • Two randomly controlled trials
  • Two open trials
  • Three non-randomized studies
  • One case series

Results from 8 Clinical Studies

The review shows yoga as a stand-alone therapy or as a complement to medication “may benefit anxiety conditions” and “may be superior to medication for a subgroup” of adult anxiety patients:

  • A 4-week, randomized controlled trial (Vahia et al., 1973) with 27 participants found “the combination of Patanjali-based yoga and placebo was significantly superior to the control combination of sham yoga, relaxation with postures and breathing resembling yoga techniques, and placebo in reducing psychoneurotic symptoms.”
  • A 6-week non-randomized study (Vahia et al., 1973) with 21 participants found “Patanjali-based yoga significantly superior to pharmacotherapy (of amitriptyline or chlordiazepoxide) in alleviating psychoneurotic or psychosomatic symptoms.”
  • A 12-week open trial (Girodo, 1974) with 13 participants found “yoga meditation monotherapy . . . (produced) significant improvement in anxiety neurosis in five patients . . . with a brief history of anxiety.”
  • A 12-week non-randomized trial (Sahasi et al., 1989) with 91 participants (38 in the yoga group and 53 in the medication group) found “yoga monotherapy significantly superior to diazepam treatment in reducing anxiety neurosis symptoms.”
  • A 12-week non-randomized study (Sharma et al., 1991) with 71 participants (41 in the yoga group and 30 in the placebo group) found “yoga produced clinically greater improvement in anxiety neurosis than a placebo capsule.”
  • An 8-week open trial (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992) with 22 participants found “a stress reduction and relaxation program with postural elements of Hatha yoga significantly improved anxiety and co-morbid depressive symptoms in patients with” general anxiety disorder, when prescribed as a stand-alone therapy or as a complement to medication.
  • In a series of 3 case studies (Miller,  2005) found “yoga combined with short-term psychodynamic therapy, as the sole intervention, resulted in modest to significant improvement in symptoms in patients with general anxiety disorder.”

Despite the aforementioned positive results, these earlier studies suffer from at least two shortcomings:

  • First, the reports frequently didn’t provide specific information on the type of meditation, yogic breathing exercises (pranayama). or yoga asanas prescribed.
  • Second, the criteria for the clinical diagnosis of anxiety disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have changed since 2005.

References for Yoga for Anxiety: An Overview of Clinical Studies

1. Da Silva, T. L., Ravindran, L. N., & Ravindran, A. V. (2009). Yoga In The Treatment Of Mood And Anxiety Disorders: A Review. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 2(1), 6-16

2. National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders

Photo by: Julia Freeman-Woolpert