The Benefits of Yoga in Addiction Recovery

Overcoming addiction is never an easy process, but yoga can help those struggling with addiction get sober and stay sober. Yoga combines both exercise and mindfulness, which is the practice of experiencing the present moment without judgment. Moderate to high intensity physical exercise, such as yoga, has been shown to improve addiction recovery. Yoga reduces anxiety, stress, and depression – symptoms that can trigger a relapse – and targets all symptoms of addiction, including cravings, impulsivity, negative mood, and increased reactions to stress.

Photo Credit: jeviniya, Pixabay

Photo Credit: jeviniya, Pixabay

Compared to Other Programs

Yoga is especially helpful for those recovering from addictions to nicotine, alcohol, and opiates. When observing recovering addicts at six months and a year post treatment, those in mindfulness programs for substance abuse were shown to have fewer days of substance use or drinking and to be less likely to relapse than those in 12-step programs and psychoeducation. Furthermore, yoga was equally as successful as group psychotherapy in reducing drug use.

Addicts sometimes use drugs to fill a void or hole in their lives. The 12-step program tells addicts to fill that void with a spiritual way of life instead. For some people, yoga can be a spiritual outlet. Feeling a connectedness to something greater than oneself can generate a “high” feeling but in a healthy manner.

Yoga’s Teachings

Practicing yoga reduces stress and anxiety, which are known triggers for addictions. Yoga teaches the person the ability to self-reflect, to observe, and to be aware of a difficult situation, but to not necessarily react or escape from it. The individual is in control of his or her emotions and can make room for them and cope with them instead of suppressing them or escaping from them.

Addicts lose control of their bodies. It’s as if the addicts are no longer connected to who they are physically, nor do they feel what their bodies are telling them – that they’re suffering. Yoga helps the person develop a positive relationship with physical sensation, but in a relaxing way.

Improvements in Mood

Relapse sometimes occurs when a recovering addict experiences negative moods and wishes to escape those feelings. Different forms of yoga have been shown to particularly helpful in improving mood in people in addiction recovery. A study found that after two weeks of participating in a specialized set of breathing exercises called Sudarshana Kriya Yoga (SKY) every other day during detox for alcohol dependence, patients had a drastic reduction of depressive symptoms and stress hormones.

Addiction often comes with a stigma. Society usually places that stigma, but some addicts self-label themselves. “Mindfulness encourages a nonjudgmental, kind attitude toward oneself and others…” says Huffington Post. Undue self-criticism or blame is unlearned. The person instead learns self-acceptance, to live in the present, to let go of the burdens of the past, and to be unaffected by the perceptions of others.

If a person in recovery is a dog owner, he or she should consider taking a doggie yoga (or doga) class. The pair will get bonding time while doing some gentle poses, meditation, and a massage. In general, dogs provide us with physical and mental health benefits, from reducing our risk of heart disease to helping improve our mood, so they make great yoga partners. Yoga is about being in the moment and developing a sense of oneness, which dogs are all about – they’re in the moment and focus on unity with owners. Dogs are also natural healers.

Physical Improvements

Addictions can sometimes form when a person suffers from chronic pain and becomes dependent upon his or her pain medications. In order to end the addiction, this person would need to find pain management options outside of opiates. Studies have shown that yoga results in physical changes in the body that promote healing from chronic pain, so yoga can be used in place of opiates.

As previously stated, yoga helps an individual become more aware of his or her body. Chronic pain sufferers often feel as though everything in their bodies is in pain. Yoga quiets the mind and body so that the person is able to experience a reduction or localization of pain.

While reaching sobriety may require more than solely practicing yoga, yoga can be used in combination with other treatments options on the road to recovery. Yoga can also be continued once a person becomes sober in order to avoid relapse. As an added benefit, yoga helps improve overall health and mental well being as well.

-Paige Johnson