The Healing Power of Yoga

Today’s guest blogger makes further suggestions about having a healthy mind, body and life through yoga and exercise as important elements in recovery from co-occurring mental health and substance and alcohol abuse.  More and more data proves that it really does make a difference!  Enjoy!


In the absence of violent criminal behavior, effective treatment for addiction comes in two parts—body and mind. More, through a combination of medication and behavioral treatment, addicts are often (though it requires much work) able to overcome addictions and more importantly, addictive behavior.

The history of addiction treatment reflects a prevailing attitude of the addict as immoral—treatments once included imprisonment, imprisonment in asylum, and prayer. Since, it has evolved to include detox, hypnotism, and a variety of other behavioral treatments, important because they address that addiction recovery requires maintenance. It is important to note that most chemical addictions are accompanied by some form of mental health issue, often best treated through practices like yoga.

As a form of treatment, exercise is extremely valuable. First, it provides an outlet for bad feelings. By performing a physical act, a person is able to channel negative energy into something positive. The release of endorphins during exercise promotes positive feelings by (partially) blocking the brain’s ability to recognize feelings of pain. Exercise also reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, and improves sleep—thereby diminishing feelings of anxiety and depression.

Exercises such as yoga are especially important for recovering addicts because they provide a specific way to channel negative emotions and behaviors. For many, yoga provides the spiritual component of a mind, body, spirit triangle,  the final component of a holistic  approach to the addiction disease. Yoga requires will and determination, something addicts seek to gain control over in addiction recovery and can potentially provide a new, healthy desire for repeated behavior—that of yoga.

Yoga asks the participant to focus on one single thing, which can allow the addict to focus only on themselves, their breath, the feelings of their body bending and stretching, the very moment in which they exist, all without judgment. In the absence of such judgment, their addictive behaviors are not triggered and they’re refocusing on positive things. It also provides a venue in which to practice self-restraint, and to identify the direct cause and effect of actions performed on the body. I bend this way, I feel this thing. In yoga, there is a very distinct reality created that has positive effects on the addict.

Finally, yoga builds a positive community for those overcoming chemical addictions and those dealing with a variety of mental health concerns. A good yoga instructor is calm and peaceful, with an interest in providing healing to those around them. Yoga participants are often quick to emulate this behavior and develop friendships within this community—friendships that are inherently more positive than those formed in places where addiction can be fed (a bar, for example).

By broadening our definition of effective addiction treatment, treatment providers seek to provide a mind, body, spirit triangle that suits the needs of various addicts and addictions. And while yoga is just one pathway to recovery, it is a valuable one with great healing potential.


Emma Haylett grew up in a rural town she couldn’t wait to get out of. She now helps coordinate non 12 step recovery programs for addicts and families of addicts.


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