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How Exactly Does Yoga Help in the Recovery Process?

By September 12, 2023 No Comments

Addiction treatment often involves a combination of medications and behavioral interventions, such as individual and group counseling. While these can be effective for improving coping skills, helping patients get through withdrawal, and overcoming underlying issues contributing to addiction, it’s also important to develop healthy habits to assist with relapse prevention and ongoing recovery. Adjunctive interventions like yoga can play a crucial role in promoting lasting recovery. Learn the details below.

The Use of Yoga in Addiction Treatment

There are multiple different types of yoga, but in general, this practice uses a variety of methods, including breathing techniques, specific postures, meditation, and strengthening exercises. These techniques can help people to become more mindful of the present moment, which can have a relaxing effect on the body.

Yoga also allows practitioners the opportunity to stretch, relax the nervous system, and loosen stiff muscles. The techniques used in yoga can relax the brain in a way that improves attention and reduces emotional reactivity. 

For these reasons, yoga can be incorporated into addiction treatment as a way to improve health and wellness, reduce stress, and lower the risk of relapse. Patients in recovery may benefit from adding yoga into their routine in order to develop healthier ways of coping, without turning to substance misuse. 

Research with Yoga as a Part of Recovery 

Given the fact that yoga can be beneficial for reducing stress and promoting relaxation, researchers have taken an interest in this practice and how it affects addiction recovery. Recently, researchers have carried out studies to determine if yoga is relevant in the addiction treatment world, and results have been promising. 

One recent research report, published in a 2021 edition of The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, reviewed the results of 8 different studies that evaluated the effects of yoga on adults with addictions. The results of the studies included in the review revealed that yoga is beneficial as a component of addiction recovery, especially when combined with other interventions, such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction. 

Other research has explored the benefits of yoga in patients with co-occurring disorders. One recent study evaluated the effects of Hatha yoga on a group of patients with both borderline personality disorder and a substance use disorder. Patients in the treatment group participated in a trauma-informed yoga program, in addition to therapy, whereas patients in the control group just participated in the usual therapy for borderline personality disorder. 

Study results showed that when compared to those in the control group, those participating in yoga experienced more significant reductions in stress and anxiety levels. This finding suggests not only that yoga can be adapted to meet the needs of patients with trauma, but also that it confers additional benefits above and beyond clinical therapy. 

The Bottom Line: Yoga Has a Place in Addiction Recovery 

While yoga is not a magic cure-all, or the solution for every patient who seeks addiction treatment, it certainly has a place in the recovery landscape. Addiction treatment services that include yoga can come with the following benefits:

    • Promoting holistic wellness: When a patient has been living with symptoms of addiction, their whole body is negatively affected. The practice of yoga provides the opportunity to facilitate both mental and physical wellness, so that the entire body can heal from the negative impact of substance misuse. 
    • Healing the brain: Yoga and meditative practices have a healing and relaxing effect on the brain. They have been shown to improve connectivity in certain brain regions, which can enhance concentration and reduce emotional reactivity. These factors can play a critical role in helping someone to cope with stress and anxiety without turning to substances.


  • Relapse prevention: Yoga can be included in a relapse prevention plan as a healthy coping mechanism. Not only is it an outlet for stress; it can also train people in recovery to become more mindfully aware of bodily sensations, so they can learn to identify and manage triggers. 


    • Increased confidence: Yoga can offer you an opportunity to challenge yourself. As you learn new poses and grow stronger, your confidence will also increase. This can be beneficial during the recovery process, when you must overcome negative thinking patterns associated with addiction, and come to see yourself as someone who is worthy of recovery. 


  • Improved mood and mental health functioning: As indicated in the research, yoga can improve mood by reducing stress and anxiety levels. This also makes it an effective add-on treatment for addressing mental health issues like personality disorders, anxiety disorders, or depression. When addiction is co-occurring with a mental health disorder, yoga can reduce relapse risk by improving mental health functioning.


  • Connection to substance-free hobbies: Boredom can become a trigger for relapse if you haven’t connected yourself to substance-free hobbies. Regular yoga practice can fill your time with activities that are not related to substance abuse, and you may even develop new social connections in the process. 

If you feel you’d benefit from an addiction treatment program that includes yoga and mindfulness approaches, it can be helpful to explore rehab programs that have holistic programming options. If your chosen program does not offer yoga on-site, your case manager or care coordinator may be able to refer you to a yoga group or class within the community. 

Holistic Treatment in Southern California 

If you’re seeking-California based mental health and addiction recovery services, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health is here to help. We have office locations in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, as well as programming for both adolescents and adults. We believe in creating individualized treatment plans that are tailored to each patient’s unique needs, so we offer a variety of different therapeutic modalities, including mindfulness-based approaches. 

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin combines his years of experience in behavioral health with a mission to innovate treatment methods and processes for mental health and substance abuse. Sam not only brings to the table his successful career owning and managing successful treatment facilities around the country but his dedication to creating an environment for healing. Sam obtained his Masters in Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University.