Resources for researchers

Testing an online yoga intervention for people with mood disorders

The role of yoga and other mindfulness practices in treating depression and other mental health conditions has been studied for decades, and evidence is increasing that yoga may be helpful for some people with mood disorders. But symptoms of depression, such as a profound lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and difficulty taking action, can make it difficult to get to classes.

Using online videos to provide people with yoga instruction in their homes offers a promising alternative. To test the user-friendliness of an online yoga session for people with mood disorders, researchers from MGH’s MoodNetwork and Brown University enrolled participants in a 30-minute hatha yoga class via online video to share their feedback about the experience. No familiarity with yoga was required--the session was designed for people at all levels of yoga experience, from beginner to experienced practitioner.

Preliminary data from the study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice in January 2018 support “the utility of online yoga tailored specifically for people with mood disorders as a possible adjunctive intervention.” Participants reported a statistically significant decrease in negative affect after completing the class, and nearly 70% indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to participate in an online yoga program again. “I really enjoyed the breathing exercises; they helped to tune out the chattering inside my head for a while,” one participant noted.

In addition to the techical collaboration described below, HCC worked with the investigator team to implement a recruitment strategy that integrated social media, print materials, and paid advertising (

Consent, intervention, pre- and post-assessments

MoodNetwork participants who opted to participate in the yoga study completed a consent form and were able to print or save a copy of the informed consent for their records.

People who joined the study completed several clinical assessments for depression, mania, and yoga experience. They were able to leave the website if they wanted, and their responses were saved for their return. After watching a 30-minute video of a hatha yoga session, follow-up clinical assessments collected feedback about their experience with, and response to, the video.

Technical collaboration

The MoodNework website was built in Drupal by an MGH vendor and is housed on MGH servers. HCC collaborated with the study’s web software developer to build the yoga study “microsite” within the main site. The microsite housed the clinical assessments and the video. HCC developed a programming template to streamline the creation of each assessment’s questionnaire. All user responses were stored in a secure database.

One of the collaboration challenges was maintaining consistency between two sets of developer code. HCC devised a system in which the yoga study code was written in two separate development environments. Both developers were in regular communication about which features they each were developing, and when their respective environments needed to be updated to display the newest changes. Once features were reviewed and finalized, each developer pushed his code to the production environment.

Data challenges

The yoga study was the first sub-study to use clinical assessments that already existed within the MoodNetwork website and that were already actively collecting data from MoodNetwork members. Results of each assessment taken by a participant needed to be associated with or “tagged to” the specific study in which it was administered. To accommodate this, the database tables for user responses to assessments were refactored to include a study ID field that made it possible to match the users’ assessment data to the specific study in which it was used.

In addition, some assessments were administered in the yoga study more than once (pre- and post intervention). Each set of results had to remain independent despite its association with the same study. Consequently, the corresponding database tables for these assessments were optimized to include a pre/post ID field, allowing results of the same assessment to be differentiated according to time of administration.

Creative collaboration

By augmenting the technical capacity of the MoodNetwork research team with our Drupal expertise, HCC was able to get the yoga study up and running quickly and fully integrated into the overarching study’s technical platforms.