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Is Yoga Therapy Effective in Addiction Recovery?

The rise of yoga therapy in addiction recovery has some people scratching their heads. Can doing some stretches really help a person stay off substances? If so, how?

Not so long ago, yoga was seen by many as nothing more than a punchline. It was characterized as a meaningless hobby for bored rich folk. That perception has changed substantially in the twenty-first century.

Yoga practice at an addiction treatment center

People from diverse backgrounds could appreciate yoga as a calming practice beneficial to both the body and the mind. Yoga classes are therefore popular both in gyms and spas, used for physical strength and agility, as well as relaxation.

With the mindfulness movement in the mental health field, yoga began to regularly feature as an aspect of treatment. Today, many rehabs around the world include yoga therapy in their programs, featuring it as a major benefit.

This has caught the attention of skeptics. They see yoga as having no place in the treatment of health conditions, having emerged thousands of years ago and formed part of certain cultural and religious practices.

However, there are good reasons that so many rehabs offer yoga classes and encourage attendees to participate. Here’s what you need to know about why yoga therapy is effective in addiction recovery.

How Effective is Yoga Therapy for Addicts in Recovery?

Before getting into how yoga therapy works, let’s take a look at whether scientific research supports it.

Multiple studies have shown significant benefits for people with mental health issues. These include the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression. This applies to people with addiction as well. But the research does not end there.

Studies have consistently shown evidence that yoga reduces cravings and leads to higher rates of abstinence from substance use. This is especially true when used in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), with one randomized control trial showing improvements in 80% of participants, compared to just 48% in the control group.

So, what exactly is yoga therapy and why is it effective in addiction treatment?

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga is an ancient practice that takes the participant through various physical poses, requiring stretching and breath control. In bringing the focus to the body, it engenders a meditative state of mind, promoting mental, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. The term “yoga,” which means “union,” reflects how the practice harmonizes the body, mind, and spirit.

What Types of Yoga are Used in Therapy?

Several types of yoga are commonly employed in therapeutic settings:

  • Hatha Yoga: Focuses on physical postures and breath control.
  • Vinyasa Yoga: Involves a dynamic flow of postures synchronized with breath.
  • Kundalini Yoga: Combines postures, breath, and chanting to awaken energy.
  • Ashtanga Yoga: A rigorous practice with a set sequence of postures.

With this understanding, let’s take a look at how yoga therapy is used in addiction treatment.

Why is Yoga Therapy Used to Treat Addiction?

It’s not difficult to make the link between the benefits of yoga mentioned above and general wellbeing. However, why is it particularly useful when treating addiction?

There are a number of reasons for this, including the following.

Improved Physical Health

Yoga helps the body heal by engaging it in ways that require the person to push through their unhealthy comfort zones. While this may feel unpleasant at first, the improved use of the body’s physical capabilities begins to bring back strength and balance.

People who are addicted to substances often have physical health issues or are now predisposed to them. They have spent an extended time using substances that, in excess, damage the body.

Furthermore, their dependence on substances leads to neglect of their body’s other needs. This includes not eating properly, poor sleep habits, a lack of hygiene, and avoidance of medical help when ill.

The strength and balance provided by yoga practice enable the body to better recover, kick starting healing and speeding up physical processes that have become sluggish or underdeveloped.

Improved Mental Processes

Yoga requires extended focus on poses that are not initially intuitive. This focus is itself a kind of meditation, which one becomes more proficient at with each session. In and of itself, this helps clear the mind, lower stress, and improve mental clarity.

People addicted to substances have made it difficult for their minds to work optimally. Over time, they begin to feel clouded even when not using the substance. Mental processing slows down. Plus, when the person uses their mind, they use irrational thinking to justify their continued substance use, a process that can become habitual.

Yoga helps the person begin to see things more clearly after an extended period of fogginess and warped thinking, improving focus and lowering the sense of being overwhelmed and stressed.

Increased Emotional Regulation

Yoga helps with strong emotions, but not in the way that is intuitive to most people. Instead of trying to think your way out of the feeling or avoid it entirely, yoga places the focus elsewhere while letting the emotion play out. You feel it fully, but without the thoughts attached to it, it is not as overwhelming or catastrophic.

Emotional regulation is particularly difficult for people suffering with addiction. They have become used to using substances to numb difficult feelings or to replace them with highs. When recovering, learning emotional regulation skills is crucial.

Yoga is the perfect therapy for this, because it offers a route that eschews overthinking and doesn’t require you to understand the underlying mechanisms to work.


We mentioned that “yoga” means “union.” It harmonizes the body, mind, and emotions. For a person addicted to substances, this is crucial.

When sober, people who are addicted do not feel at ease or able to focus on anything but the substance. When using the substance, they experience the world in a warped or disconnected way. They become detached from their body, mind, and emotions, and there is certainly no harmony between the three.

By bringing these aspects of the self-back into union, yoga therapy helps the person return to themselves, living with the fullness they experienced before they suffered from addiction.


Yoga therapy may not seem intuitive to many people, but it is actually perfect for treating addiction. By helping the person heal and harmonize on a physical, mental, and emotional level, it brings back a sense of balance that has been missing for too long.

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