Breathing Practices: Yoga & Depression Practices to Consider

Potential Benefits

  • Like people with anxiety, people who are depressed tend to suffer from a chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system and elevated cortisol levels (Timothy McCall). Thus, breathing practices can help in the same way by reducing stress and invoking the Relaxation Response. (See more in Why Yoga Works: Yoga’s Impact on the Nervous System & Stress.)
  • The benefits of yogic breathing can be both immediate and long term, since practice can make calm breathing a habit.


  • Please note that some students may experience agitation when attempting to manipulate the breath. This is counterproductive and an indication to stop the practice. In such cases, consider practices that encourage Natural Breathing and other tools such as mantra or asana.
  • Most formal pranayama techniques were designed for healthy individuals pursuing advanced goals around energy management. Thus, when working with any conditions, do not utilize formal pranayama techniques. Instead, focus on overcoming restricted breathing patterns and utilizing breath practices to help students eventually become proficient in Yogic Breathing.

Study & Teaching Tools

Practice Considerations

Working with Depression can be Challenging

Working with depression can be more difficult than working with either anxiety or fatigue. For that reason, be cautious about how you apply the breathing remedy when you’re feeling blue. Forcing the breath can quickly exacerbate your lousy mood. – Richard Rosen

  • Focus on the breath without any forcing.
  • Focusing on the breath and breathing deeply into the chest can bring an awareness of the feeling of breath and life in the body (Timothy McCall)
  • After some time of watching breath, gently equalize the length of inhalation and exhalation. (Richard Rosen)
  • If possible, without strain, occasionally and gradually lengthen inhalation and exhalation. (Richard Rosen)
  • Focus on the inhale. (Timothy McCall)