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Research Spotlight

Treatment for Symptoms of Perinatal Depression Can Include Yoga

Yoga can be a component of treatment for women suffering perinatal depression, a VCU researcher says.

Patricia Kinser, an assistant professor for the VCU School of Nursing’s Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, led a presentation titled, “When Mommy Gets Depressed: A Discovery Dialogue about Complementary Approaches for Perinatal Depression.” It was part of a Discovery Dialogue seminar program held by the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR) at VCU.

Studies of depression over the lifespan of men and women have found that women in their reproductive years (24-30) are at the highest risk for developing depression. Statistics such as this led Kinser to dedicate the focus of her research on depression. She works with a special emphasis on perinatal women experiencing major depressive disorder and the effects of intervention techniques such as yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

“Sometimes clinicians asking the right kind of questions serves as an important intervention,” said Kinser. “However, screening alone is not enough. We’ve seen results that indicate that when pregnant women treat depressive symptoms early on during their pregnancy, they may minimize time of exposure to symptoms by developing fetus.”

Complementary health approaches include:

  • Mind-body practices
    • Physical activity
    • Yoga
    • Guided imagery
    • Massage
    • Acupuncture
    • Mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Other
    • Omega-3s (such as DHA and EPA from fish or fish-oil supplements, and ALA from nuts, flaxseed and leafy vegetables)
    • Bright-light therapy

Kinser has put yoga into practice as a complimentary approach for perinatal depression because it is relatively easily available in the United States, it has minimal side effects and it focuses on wellness rather than illness. Additionally, Kinser’s research uncovered that study participants who practiced yoga not only experienced mental health improvements, but sustained them as well.

“The use of yoga as a treatment for depression is important because it can be adapted to one’s mood,” Kinser said. “If depression is keeping you from getting out of bed, we can suggest yoga exercises you can complete in bed. If your mind is racing and you need to move a lot to refocus your thoughts, there are options for more active yoga practices as well.”

Kinser is currently studying psychobehavioral and biomarker outcomes in the integration of yoga into prenatal care programs in Richmond, Va. She hopes to see an increase in the practice of yoga as a means of early intervention and/or prevention of the development of postpartum depression.

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