How Yoga Helps Addicts Recover
How Yoga Helps Addicts Recover

There are no one-sized-fits-all methods to recovery. It is not an exact science. What works for some, may not work at all for others. Addiction, in a sense, is a search for understanding, meaning, and spirituality. It is a constant yearning for something more. Destructive in nature and rarely achieving anything profound in the long run, addiction provides those who are lost, with a soothing, albeit momentary, sense of purpose. Addicts find that when they get sober, the longing for that connection doesn’t fade.

Finding the path to spiritual sobriety is an individual experience – the only requirements being a desire, an open mind and a willingness to change. Some need the rigidity found in the widely accepted, traditional Western Medicine backed Twelve-Step based approaches such Alcoholics Anonymous (and its siblings, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.) Twelve-Step programs promote abstinence, spirituality, fellowship, and repetition. The idea is that, as long as an addict is willing to abstain from mind-altering substances, puts faith in a Higher Power, returns to meetings every day and leans on others in the community when they are failing at the first three – they will remain best equipped for success in their program. These programs are an excellent starting point for people who wish to stop using immediately and who want a built-in support system to aid in their ability to maintain sobriety.

Many struggling with addiction wonder, “does this mean I will not recover if I don’t have a Higher Power?” The answer is, “no.” Recovery is entirely possible by merely utilizing alternative methods. The Eastern Medicine backed approach views addiction as an extraordinary human event that can be undone by reprogramming the mind and the body. Eastern recovery focuses on finding the underlying cause of addiction and supporting the practice of finding new, healthy behaviors to replace the less healthy ones. An easy way to attain this through the practice of yoga.

Yoga couples physical and mental exercise techniques together and then directly applying both to the stimulation of the prefrontal cortex of the brain – where addiction does most degenerative harm. By attempting to re-sync the body and soul, there is a large reduction in future onset of both anxiety and depression — the most prominent contributors to triggering addiction and relapse.

The best things about yoga are its lack of formality for getting started, it’s inherent anonymity – there is no requirement for introducing oneself as an addict to a room full of strangers and it’s minimal price tag, being nothing more open mind and a yoga mat.

Yoga directly supports several fundamental ideas of recovery, namely


Learning to let go to release emotional pain, allows for a person struggling with addiction to examine the underlying cause of suffering. Often, after deep introspection, the addict learns that the pain they were experiencing was nothing more than a result of maladjusted thoughts and immense amounts of negative self-talk.


By design, addiction is a practice of isolation. Whether borne from the shattered trust or immense shame, destroyed relationships are one of the hallmarks of addiction. Yoga allows recovering addicts to regain a sense of community by being around others who share a common, healthy interest.

A Gateway to Spirituality

Yoga has the ability provide on-demand, profoundly connected access to spirituality for its practitioners, regardless of time of day, the day of the week or physical location. By mastering its meditative and transcendental tools of merely closing the eyes and focusing on breathing, it is easy to access to its nurturing gifts.

Love & Acceptance

In embracing meditation, freeing the mind and releasing negativity, the ability to give and receive love and acceptance become second nature. Once a person struggling with addiction can relearn to embrace life’s simple things – an overwhelming and rewarding feeling of accomplishment brings them to want to share that feeling with others

Trading Mind-Alerting Substance with Natural Highs

The practice of yoga is a tangible way to replace the void left in the wake of removing mind altering-substances from one’s life. Embracing it allows its devotees to substitute predispositions towards engaging in destructive negative, with mediation.

Meditation (in yoga) is for the mind, the equivalent of what lifting weights are for a bodybuilder. It is a practice in strength training. Flowing, mindful transitions between poses have immediate positive effects on the entire neural network. As the neural network is refortified and introduced to the practice of mediation, the foundation of the mind-body system heals. As a result, self-worth, confidence and humility return.

Arizona State University’s Recovery Rising Program has been at the forefront of emphasizing that recovery needs to be approached not with one method or the other, but with a combination of both, collectively. In a recent article published on, Nathaniel Harris, student coordinator and spokesperson for Recovery Rising stated,

(Yoga is) a pretty natural transition, because really what recovery is, is looking inside and making yourself a better person,” Harris says. “It’s very similar to yoga, looking inside and finding some mindfulness. Yoga is seen as a tool to help ground yourself and grow, and it’s the same thing with recovery.”

Harris also happens to be an instructor for the Yoga of 12-Step Recovery Classes and a dedicated member of NA.

Twelve-Step programs are excellent for addressing prayer, accountability and the social aspects of recovery. They fail, however, to discuss the importance of the mind-body connection – which is an essential component of successful long-term recovery. To truly understand Yoga and other natural therapies, holistic drug rehab centers are available. Yoga is the ultimate form of self-care. By fostering mediation as well as balance, movement, relaxation, strength, the practice leaves its practitioners feeling grounded, balanced, alive and like things will be “OK.” One thing is for sure:

where addiction was once to “checking out,” yoga can now be to “checking in.”

Both methods focus on staying in the moment, learning self-acceptance, practicing rigorous honesty and a willingness look for things that are real and true. The Western perspective of addiction suggests that it is a condition of human suffering (disease) and that it stems from a natural aversion to lack of control and an attachment to “pleasant things.” The Eastern perspective views addiction as a physical and emotional response to unpleasant stimuli and it suggests negative tendencies may be, over time, relearned.

Whether employing the Twelve Steps, a Yogic body-mind approach, or a combination of the two, the goal of achieving spiritual well-being and breaking the cycle of addiction remain the constants.