How Does Yoga Support Addiction Recovery?

Yoga is an ancient system of physical and mental techniques that link and integrate the mind, body, and breath. Originally from India, yoga is a philosophy and is not associated with any religion (though some forms of Hinduism promote yoga as theirs). In the US, 36 million people have tried yoga, and 20 million practice yoga sometimes to frequently.

In yoga practice, we synchronize breath and movement, while paying attention and noticing our reactions. The combination of movement, mental focus and present-moment attention (mindfulness), and breathing is the key to yoga’s health-giving effects. Participants can learn to self-regulate the nervous system, release stress hormones, regulate adrenaline, and develop new ways to cope with negative thoughts and painful emotions, depression, anxiety, and reactivity.

A popular expression is “the opposite of addiction is connection.” And it’s true that addiction often results in losing connection to how your own mind and body feel. We may misuse substances as a way to numb and disconnect from painful aspects of life, especially traumas that we may have experienced. So, how does yoga help in addiction recovery? Yoga supports addiction recovery by working directly with the mind/body connection and reducing harmful stress. There are FIVE key benefits of yoga for recovery:

Yoga (re)builds a healthy body

  • Stretches connective tissues AND strengthens muscles
  • Supports bone and esp. spinal health
  • Improves balance
  • Enhances circulation for organ health & a strong immune system
  • Experiences of feeling good in our body invites acceptance and self-care into our lives

Yoga helps to relieve and release stress

  • “The issues are in the tissues”
  • Breath and movement together release excess cortisol (stress hormone)
  • Yoga assists with depression & anxiety

Yoga helps to restore balance to our nervous system

  • Nervous system has two major modes: fight/flight/freeze or rest & digest
  • Stress from life events, toxic relationships, or danger can trap us in fight/flight/freeze response
  • Yoga rebalances the nervous system through safe activation and release
  • A third nervous system state is “tend & befriend,” and yoga also helps to restore social connectivity

Yoga allows us to experience calmness

  • Yoga connects us to feelings and sensations in the body, with less focus on thinking/thoughts
  • Yoga brings us “into the now” – Present moment awareness – without self-judgment
  • In the present moment, we are not controlled by our personal histories and dramas
  • Peaceful atmosphere, music and/or voice (prosody) enhance experience of calmness

Yoga increases our ability to give up harmful habits

  • Yoga helps us slow down and withstand urges & cravings
  • Increases our ability to experience painful thoughts & feelings without freaking out
  • Decreases our seeking for quick relief from emotional pain through substances
  • Leads to sense of natural well-being and wise choice-making

@Dori Digenti 2019. All rights reserved