"Some individuals with bipolar disorder believe that yoga has had a significant positive impact on their life," said Dr Lisa A Uebelacker of Butler Hospital and Brown University.
The study also found that yoga is ‘not without risks’ for some people and may worsen their symptoms related to bipolar disorder.
The researchers recruited 109 individuals who identified themselves as having bipolar disorder and as being yoga practitioners.
Participants were asked to complete an online survey concerning their yoga practice and its impact on their mood disorder symptoms.
Of 86 individuals with usable responses, 70 had positive results on a screening questionnaire for manic (or less-severe hypomanic) symptoms.
Participants reported practicing yoga for an average of six years; they attended a yoga class twice a week and practiced yoga at home three times per week, on average.
Two-thirds of respondents said they practiced yoga for exercise/to improve flexibility and to reduce stress and anxiety.
Most participants believed that yoga had benefits for their mental health. Two-thirds said that yoga positively affected their depressive, manic, or hypomanic symptoms at least some of the time.
They also reported positive emotional effects of yoga, such as reduced anxiety and worry; positive cognitive effects, especially in terms of increased mindfulness; and positive physical effects, such as weight loss, increased energy, and improved sleep.
Fifteen respondents said that yoga had been ‘significantly life-changing.’
However, about one-fourth of respondents reported some type of negative effects related to yoga. The most common negative effects were physical pain or injury.
In addition, nine percent of respondents reported that yoga had negatively affected their bipolar disorder symptoms at some time.
Some gave examples of yoga practices that they believed increased agitation or manic symptoms, such as rapid/energetic breathing or heated yoga.
Others said that yoga had at times led to increased depression or lethargy; for example, after very slow and meditative practice.
"Our results suggest that hath yoga may be a powerful positive practice for some people with bipolar disorder but that it is not without risks and, like many treatments for bipolar disorder, should be used with care," researchers concluded.
The study appears in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.

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