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Yoga for Addiction

A guide to the benefits of yoga for addiction recovery and yoga poses for beginners.

Article Contents

Treatment for addiction includes many different therapies. Medications, behavioral counseling, and 12 step programs are just a few of the techniques used to overcome substance addictions. To improve mental wellbeing and physical fitness, recovery programs often include yoga as a part of their treatment regimens. This article will discuss the benefits of yoga and how it is used to treat addiction.

What is Yoga?

Traditional yoga is a spiritual practice that aims to bring harmony to both the mind and the body. The word ‘yoga’ comes from Sanskrit and means “to unite,” as in to unite the mind and the body. The overall goal of traditional yoga is to overcome physical, mental, and spiritual suffering, thereby leading to a state of freedom.1

A Brief History of Yoga

Yoga originated in ancient India, and it is believed to have been practiced before any major religions existed. Yoga eventually became one of the core spiritual philosophies of the Hindu religion. The practice of Yoga is also common in the Buddhist and Jain religions.

In more recent times, yoga as a method of relaxation and physical fitness has been brought to western countries. Yoga poses are now commonly used all over the world to help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and build physical endurance and flexibility.

Specifics of Yoga Practice

During a yoga session, sequences of yoga poses are performed in a way that allows the body to flow from one pose to another. Breathing is coordinated with the flow and must be done at specific times during the movements. Performing yoga poses requires a level of focus that forces a person to clear the mind and concentrate only on what the body is doing. Levels of yoga practice range from simple beginner poses to advanced sequences. There are many different types of yoga. A few yoga styles that might be used in addiction treatment include:

How Yoga Poses Help the Brain

As previously stated, the practice of yoga promotes a connection between the mind and the body by forcing the mind to focus on what the body is doing. Yoga empties the mind of all the stressful thoughts and helps the mind and body become aware of each other, facilitating self-awareness and improving self-esteem.

The result is an overall improvement in mood. Yoga has been shown to reduce the outward behaviors and inner neuroendocrine factors that cause stress.3 It also improves the conditions underlying depression and anxiety. Yoga offers people a healthy way to manage stress and improve mood.

Yoga Treatment for Substance Abuse

Because of the positive effects that yoga has on the brain and body, research shows yoga to be effective in the treatment of substance abuse. A 2011 study found that yoga significantly reduced depression and state anxiety in men attending a therapeutic community center as a part of addiction treatment.4 Less recent studies have found the following from yoga practices:

Benefits of Yoga for Addiction Recovery

Yoga has many benefits for people recovering from addiction. A few of these benefits include:

Addicts often use substances to deal with uncomfortable sensations in their bodies. Some recovery programs use simple yoga poses to help patients tolerate these uncomfortable sensations in a healthy way. Recovery programs may also use meditation so patients learn to calm the mind and body with quiet breathing.

Yoga poses for Beginners

Advanced yoga practice can be quite strenuous, so if a person does not have experience with yoga, it is best to start with some easy poses. Following are a few examples of easy beginning yoga poses:1

Mountain Pose

Stand straight with feet together and arms by your sides. While inhaling, press your shoulder blades together and turn your palms to the front. Exhale and breathe while standing tall like a mountain.

Child’s Pose

Kneel on the floor. Bend forward and reach forward with both hands until your arms are fully extended, your back is stretching forward and your face is almost touching the floor. Hold the pose and breathe.

Seated Forward Fold

Sit with your legs extended straight in front of you. Gently lower your upper body over your lower body. If possible, grasp your feet or ankles and allow your head and neck to relax. Hold the pose and breathe.

Butterfly Pose

Sit tall. Bring your feet in toward your groin, placing the soles of your feet together. Allow your knees to drop down toward the floor. Clasp your feet and use your forearms to push your knees further down as you exhale. Breathe.

The practice of yoga as a part of addiction recovery can help a person gain physical and mental wellbeing as they develop positive habits to stay away from substance abuse. If you know someone battling addiction, please encourage them to seek help from a recovery program as soon as possible.


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