How Yoga Therapy Assists in Recovery

In November of 2012, the English comedian Russell Brand announced that he had plans to open up his own Los Angeles yoga studio, so he could help people learn how to use this ancient form of exercise in order to keep their addictions under control. It might sound like another publicity stunt from a man known for doing anything to get the attention of the press, but this time, Russell Brand might be on to something. Yoga might be just the sort of practice people need to try in order to control their addictions and maintain sobriety for the rest of their lives. Perhaps more people really should give it a try.

An Ancient Practice

There are more than 100 different types of yoga, the American Osteopathic Association reports, and each yoga type has different terms, exercises and underlying beliefs. Some forms of yoga, for example, require participants to perform their work while standing in a very hot room. Other forms of yoga require people to stand outside during their classes. It can take a little trial and error for people to find the right yoga class that suits their personality and physical ability. There are some aspects of yoga that remain the same, however, no matter what type of course a person might take.

Yoga is built around a series of postures or poses that stretch muscles and hone balance. The poses might be simple, requiring people to hold up their arms or stretch their backs. The poses might also be quite complex, requiring people to twist their arms up to their necks or lift their legs into bended shapes. People who are well versed in yoga can seem almost boneless as they lift their feet to their ears and stretch their noses to the sky. In yoga classes, people move from one pose to another, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.

Moving from pose to pose might seem challenging enough, but yoga also involves balanced and measured breathing. Clients are encouraged to use modulated, slow breathing as they move through their poses, and they’re also asked to keep track of the sensations their bodies are feeling. The idea is to be mindful and aware in the body. Instead of letting the mind wander, the attention should be firmly focused on the movements the body is completing.

Yoga and the Body

Many yoga positions require a significant amount of balance. Standing on one foot while holding the arms aloft and keeping the eyes closed is almost impossible for people with balance issues, for example, but working through yoga classes might help people to develop the skills they’ll need to handle this task with ease. Yoga is often suggested for older people, as improving balance and strength could help these people to avoid catastrophic falls that could land them in the hospital.


Yoga has also been found helpful in the fight against heart disease. In a study in the journal Clinical Cardiology, researchers found that people who took yoga classes had reductions in heart rate and blood pressure, and they also had lower body-mass-index scores. By moving their body through the poses on a regular basis, these people were able to lose weight and help keep their hearts just a bit healthier. They didn’t need to run marathons or swim for miles. Instead, they could take enjoyable classes and see many of the same benefits.

People who enter addiction treatment programs may be in poor physical health due to:
  • Infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Underlying disease
  • Drug-related physical damage

Yoga is a low-impact form of exercise that can be modified based on a person’s health and skill level. As a result, it might be considered an ideal form of exercise for people who are very ill due to decades of drug or alcohol abuse. The exercise has a low impact, and it can help people to improve their physical health. People who feel better on a physical level might be less inclined to return to addiction, as they’ll have the strength and confidence to resist temptation. By including yoga in a traditional drug and alcohol rehab program, therapists may help their clients to feel better on a physical level, and resist temptation on a mental level.

Yoga and the Mind

Much of the benefit of yoga on the mind comes from the meditative aspect of the practice. During a yoga session, clients are encouraged to pay attention to their bodies, thinking about where their bodies are in space and how their bodies are feeling at that moment. This kind of mindful meditation is considered a key part of the healing process from addiction, as many people who have addictions feel disconnected from their bodies. When they feel pain, they numb it with drugs. Mindfulness techniques allow them to experience that pain without numbing it. The pain can be dealt with and solved instead.

Yoga courses also include some Eastern teaching methods. Some practitioners ask their clients to think of their classmates as one body and one organism, breathing together and moving as one. Other practitioners ask clients to share tea at the beginning of the course, bringing them together as a family. This sense of connectedness can permeate the course, providing the participants with a feeling of connectedness and unity. It’s an old idea, with its roots deep inside Eastern thought, but it can be helpful in reducing the sense of isolation many people feel as they attempt to recover from addiction.

Working through yoga can also help some people to feel more confident. In a blog entry, one yoga practitioner writes, “It takes a lot of time and determination to stand on your head, hold the weight of your body on your hands, or even just to consistently unroll your mat to practice. But once you’ve experienced it, you really start to believe you can do anything! You also start to see a beauty in yourself that you never knew was there. For me, this translated into a boost of confidence that I really needed.” For people who hide feelings of insecurity behind a mask of drugs or alcohol, yoga could provide a path back to robust mental health.

Yoga and Addictions

Yoga is sometimes included in addiction treatment programs as a complement to other alternative methods, including:

  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Visualization

When researchers attempt to determine how helpful yoga might be in the fight against addiction, these researchers can bump up against the fact that people are obtaining a wide variety of interventions at the same time, and it’s hard to attribute a benefit to just one type of intervention, when people are getting three or four different types of treatment in one day. This is what happened with a study in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse. Researchers found benefits in the quality of recovery index, but the participants received a whole host of treatments, not just yoga.

Even though the benefits might be anecdotal and not proven by scientific study, there’s no question that some people can and do benefit from participating in yoga as part of their addiction recovery programs. While they’re taking these courses, they’re feeling stronger and more balanced, and they’re learning how to soothe their overactive minds without resorting to drugs of abuse. These are important lessons in recovery, and yoga can make them easier to obtain.

People who begin taking yoga courses in a rehab program might also be tapping into a resource they can use when their addiction treatment programs are through. Yoga classes are often held in gyms, spas and recreational centers in the community, so people can continue to take classes and improve their skills at home, connecting with people in the community and continuing to advance in the sport. It can be an ideal way for people to keep learning, keep improving and keep fighting back against their urges to use drugs or alcohol.

If you’d like to learn more about how yoga is incorporated into an addiction treatment program, please call our counselors at Alta Mira. We hold yoga classes for our clients, making sure to hold classes for almost all yoga skill levels, and we encourage all our clients to attend. We’d be happy to tell you how our clients have responded and help you to decide if yoga is right for you. Please call today.