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Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that has grown in popularity in the Western world. Yoga means “yoke” in Sanskrit, referring to a union between the individual’s body, mind, and spirit. According to The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Posture, and Meditation, there are eight aspects to yoga known as the eight limbs of yoga:

  • The ethical principles practitioners are expected to follow are known as Yamas.
  • The spiritual practices are known as Niyamas.
  • Breathing practices are known as Pranayamas.
  • The physical postures that everyone is most aware of when they think of yoga are known as Asanas.
  • A form of meditative absorption where individuals withdraw their senses is known as Pratyahara.
  • Meditation directed at intense one point concentration is known as Dharana.
  • Flowing meditation is known as Dhyana.
  • The state of meditation where the individual transcends their own experience itself is known as Patanjali.

Most of the individuals who get involved in yoga as a part of the substance use disorder treatment program concentrate on the physical postures and aspects of yoga meditation. However, interested individuals certainly can follow the entire yoga lifestyle and attempt to relate it to their daily life. This article will discuss some of the benefits of yoga (mostly related to the practice of the postures, breathing, and meditation) with regard to recovery in a substance use disorder recovery program.

How Does Yoga Fit into a Substance Use Disorder Treatment Program?


When individuals enter recovery for substance use disorder, they have a number of different options for treatment, including inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, medically assisted treatment, individual therapy, group therapy, support group involvement, and complementary therapies. The core elements of a successful recovery program include some type of withdrawal management program, some type of counseling and therapy to deal with the issues that drove the individual to substance use in the first place, a relapse prevention program, participation in social support groups, and a long-term aftercare program.

Yoga is not a core component of a substance use disorder treatment program but is considered to be a complementary and integrative therapy that can assist in the treatment of substance use disorders. Yoga is not designed to be a primary mode of treatment. Certainly, many individuals may find that yoga is soothing and assists them in all aspects of their lives. These people may continue to practice yoga even after discontinuing therapy for their substance abuse or substance use disorder; however, the practice of yoga is not a main treatment focus. It is designed to assist with the main types of therapies used in the treatment of substance use disorders.

Even though it is not a main treatment, individuals who are in substance use disorder treatment and all people in recovery can reap many positive benefits if they are able to include the practice of yoga postures, breathing, and meditation in their treatment regime.

Individuals who wish to use yoga as part of their recovery program can do so via a yoga class or a personal instructor. They can also purchase books describing yoga techniques of meditation, breathing, and posture, and practice on their own. Individuals in recovery should consider having a physical examination to make sure that they are able to participate in the practice of yoga before attempting to do so; however, for the most part, yoga is relatively safe. Individuals at any level of physical fitness can find breathing techniques, meditation techniques, and postures that they can practice.

Does Yoga Really Help?


There is a small body of research that indicates that the practice of yoga is beneficial in substance use disorder recovery programs. For instance, one of the aspects of yoga meditation, and the concentration developed in practicing breathing and postures, is the aspect of mindfulness or the ability to focus on the moment and ignore distractions. The development of mindfulness is most often attributed to the practice of yoga meditation; however, it can be fostered through the use of breathing, postures, and meditation techniques.

Young couple practicing yoga in the lotus position on the ocean beach during sunset. Cross-process p

Developing a mindful approach to recovery can help individuals to avoid relapse as they do not ruminate over issues that are detrimental to recovery, and they are much better prepared to deal with issues like cravings. Other research has suggested that the practice of yoga may reduce the symptoms of certain types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety disorders. There is also research to indicate that using any form of exercise can be useful in the treatment of substance use disorders.

Part of the issue with the research studies directly trying to ascertain the specific benefits of yoga in recovery from substance use disorders is that most of these studies are poorly controlled and the methodology of the studies has some serious flaws. Most of the sources investigating the use of these types of complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies suggest that better research studies be undertaken to determine the specific benefits and contributions of these techniques. Nonetheless, the aforementioned benefits of yoga, such as increased concentration, stress reduction, and physical fitness, indicate that including yoga in a substance use disorder recovery program can result in positive benefits for anyone in recovery.