Work stress? Try Yoga in the office today!

The Facts

According to the Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (2015), 72% of people who have daily stress and anxiety say it interferes with their lives at least moderately. Within workplaces, anxiety impacts work performances, relationships with coworkers and peers, and quality of work. The work-related causes of anxiety were due to deadlines (55%), interpersonal relationships (53 %), staff management (50%) and dealing with issues/problems that arise (49%).

Similarly, depression impacts 1.4 million people in the Canadian workforce and only 6.5% of those or about 187,500 get appropriate treatment (Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, 2015). Depression impacts decision-making, decreases productivity, concentration, enthusiasm for work, dependability and increases errors in work, tardiness, sick days (CMHA, 2015).

These statistics indicate that depression and anxiety are real and prominent issues within workplaces that need to be addressed.

Yoga, a simple physical activity, has been found to have tremendous impacts on mental and physical health. Research has found it to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression. Could this be part of the solution for workplaces?

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga, originating in India, is a mind-body medicine (Swatmarama, 1987), which is now commonly practiced around the world. Yoga is a form of meditation that creates a balance between mind, body, and spirit. This balance allows the yogi (one who practices yoga) to relax the mind and focus on the now to achieve a state of relaxation. The key components of yoga are breathing, exercise, and meditation (Swatmarama, 1987). There are different types of yoga that range in intensity levels.

The Evidence

Pilkington, et al. (2005) examined five randomized control studies with different forms of yoga intervention and a range in the severity of depression conditions. The results indicated the potential beneficial effects of yoga interventions on depressive disorders.

Chufh-Gupta, et al. (2013) conducted a systematic review for yoga therapy and its impact reducing anxiety. The review found evidence that suggests yoga is a viable therapeutic option for reducing state anxiety in certain situations.

How does yoga therapy work?

Yoga therapy can impact the stress response our bodies produce in response to anxiety and depression. Reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation/mindfulness, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends (Harvard Health Publications, 2009).

Yoga has been found reduce the flight-or-fight response our bodies experience when we encounter anxiety and depression. When we experience anxiety and/or depression, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) experiences hyper arousal and this activates a series of events leading to what we know as the flight or fight response. Yoga therapy helps take the body out of the stress provoked fight-or-flight mode through activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which counteracts the SNS  (Williams-Orlando, 2013).

There have not been many studies investigating the effects of yoga on brain chemistry; however, practicing the physical postures of yoga has been shown to increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the brain that can have anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects (Streeter, et al., 2010a; Streeter, et al., 2010b)

The slow breathing patterns stimulate the vagus nerve, which increase the levels of prolactin, norepinephrine and serotonin. This is significant because chronic stress is associated with decreased levels of these neurotransmitters. Thereby, increasing these can lead to lower levels of stress (Brown, et al, 2005).

Physical benefits

Yoga also has many physical benefits including increases in flexibility, slower and deeper respiration, increase oxygen consumption, reduce blood pressure and heart rate, increase muscle tone and blood flow, and enhance strength and flexibility (Harinath, 2004).

Incorporating yoga therapy in the workplace

There are several ways workplaces can adopt this type of therapy in their organizations.

1)      Bring in a therapist or yoga instructor into the workplace to hold yoga therapy sessions during stressful times at work: Occupational Therapists (OTs) are trained in understanding the connections between the mind-body and its implications in terms of function and engagement in occupations. OTs work with individuals experiencing a variety of conditions and aim to improve their ability to engage in their occupations. OTs, along with other healthcare professionals, can use yoga therapy as an intervention to improve health and wellbeing.

2)      Management can promote yoga classes to employees before and after work. A fitness reimbursement program can help to financially support employees engagement in classes outside of work hours.

3)      Encourage employees to have “me” time scheduled in their busy agendas, where they incorporate time to relax and focus on themselves. Try some yoga poses at your desk, at lunch, or on a break throughout the day – even for a few minutes!

Do you find yoga helps you to stay mentally healthy? How do you incorporate yoga into your workplaces and daily routines?



ADAA (2015). Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey. Retrieved July 11, 2015,

Brown, R.P., Gerbarg, P.L., Sudarshan, K. (2005). Yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(1),189–201.

CMHA. (2015). Depression in the workplace. Retrieved July 11, 2015, from

Chufh-Gupta, et al (2013) A systematic review of yoga for state anxiety: Considerations for occupational therapy.CJOT, 80(3), 150-170.

Harinath, K., Malhotra, A. S., Pal, K, Prasad, R., Kumar, R., Kain, T. C., et al. (2004). Effects of hatha yoga and omkar meditation on cardiorespiratory performance, psychologic profile, and melatonin secretion. J Altern Complement Med., 10, 261–268. 

Harvard Health Publications. (2009). Yoga for anxiety and depression. Retrieved from 

Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba. (2009). Mental illness and addiction in Canada. Retrieved from

Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.

Streeter, C. C, et al. (2010a). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 16(11), 1145–1152.  

Streeter, C.C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., Perlmutter, R., Prescot, A., Renshaw, P.F., Ciraulo, D. A., Jensen, J. E. (2010b). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. J Altern Complement Med., 16(11), 1145-52.

Subramanya, P., & Telles, S. (2009). Effect of two yoga-based relaxation techniques on memory scores and state anxiety. BioPsy- choSocial Medicine, 3, 8. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-3-8 

Swatmarama, S. (1987). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Madras, India: OM Lotus.

William-Orlando, C. (2013). Yoga therapy for anxiety: a case report. Adv Mind Body Med., 27(4), 18-21.