Yoga – a practical part of the rehabilitation mix

With celebrity practitioners such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Heidi Klum and Michelle Williams leading the charge, the popularity of yoga seems to be gaining pace. Yet yoga is much more than a series of physical poses designed to create lean, toned, sculpted bodies. In the midst of the all the ‘A’ list yoga related headlines it would be easy to lose sight of the real potential of yoga as a powerful tool to stimulate our spiritual and mental senses and rebalance our out of sync bodies. This side of yoga is the one increasingly being tapped into by recovering addicts and those who design rehabilitation programs to support them. Now viewed by many addiction specialists as an integral part of the recovery process, yoga is for many treatment participants a major element in getting clean and staying that way. Here we unpick how yoga can be used to support recovery from substance abuse and find out why it is such a game changer.

yoga used in rehabilitation

Yoga – a multifaceted discipline

Individuals going through the recovery process often need to address physical, emotional and spiritual issues linked to their addiction. While other types of physical exercise will help in terms of dealing with the body’s needs post-addiction, yoga can do this and so much more. Even its name ‘yoga’ means ‘to yoke’ which represents the uniting of spiritual, physical and mental practice. The combined discipline of yoga incorporates eight ‘limbs’ which include not only physical poses but also breathing, posture, ethical standards, concentration, meditation, sensory transcendence and self discipline.

Yoga can therefore offer a workout which addresses the addiction on a physical level as well as the underlying mental and spiritual aspects of the problem. Using breathing and meditation techniques, participants become more aware of and in tune with their bodies. This in turn helps them develop a greater respect for their physical wellbeing. Undertaking regular yoga sessions can help calm the mind, improve concentration and promote patience, all of which can prove valuable in sticking to a substance addiction recovery program.

Yoga – the specifics

Many recovering addicts face common challenges which yoga can help deal with. These include:

1. Sense of detachment– Addicts often feel disconnected from their own bodies and become detached from their physical being. This detachment, which once enabled their drug taking by allowing them to disrespect their bodies with harmful substances, can still persist during recovery. In this scenario yoga can help the addict reconnect using yogic poses which require the practitioner to focus on their body. Specific positions such as child’s pose, grounding and squatting reinforce a sense of safety and security. Other movements such as inversion require the patient to go upside down and thereby help them to see the world from a different angle.

2. Physical pain– Substance abuse involves just that – abuse – and the physical manifestation of that abuse can remain a part of the addict’s life well into sobriety. Practicing yoga can help release this pain and address issues such as posture which may be prolonging the physical discomfort. Particular approaches to yoga can also be used to free addicts from underlying trapped trauma. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is one such style of treatment which can help explore issues which may be buried and address these through yogic techniques.

3. Bodily imbalances– Many people in recovery find that their sympathetic nervous system has been knocked out of balance. The struggle to overcome the grip of addiction is a challenge and the nervous system is part of the fight back process. This can leave it out of kilter with heart rate and stress hormones negatively affected. Using pranayama, which is the yoga limb which focuses on breathing, it is possible to tap into and rebalance the nervous system.

Maximising yoga’s potential

Harnessing the power of yoga in the context of recovery from drug addiction must be carefully done. Many mainstream yoga classes focus primarily on the physical fitness aspects of yoga with insufficient emphasis placed on the mental and spiritual elements. Recovering addicts need all these aspects to be collectively addressed. Finding a class which stays true to the ancient roots of yoga and meets these needs is essential. Identifying suitable practitioners through specialist treatment programs is a good starting place.

Another option is to access online resources which specifically deal with addiction recovery. Online conferences such as those hosted by yoga teacher and recovering addict Tommy Rosen are worth checking out. Used carefully yoga can be an effective foundation for living life free from addiction and guarding against long term mental health conditions such as depression. Iconic Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once wisely said,
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”

Use yoga to look inside and awaken mind, body and soul to a drug free life.


Author’s Bio

It’s been a long road to the point Mel Chester finds herself at now. She’d originally battled opioid addiction during her mid twenties, after an accident left her in pain and immobile. Whilst in recovery, she tried many other therapies and found Yoga to be one that helped her immensely. After a career in the health care industry, working with other addicts, she took a short career break to become a mom – and now is in the position of being able to work from home, spend time with her family and write for a living

Mel Chester

Freelance writer