When it comes to addiction rehabilitation, the more tools a person has for recovery, the better. Adding activities like yoga to the recovery toolbox helps improve the chances for a successful life of sobriety. Yoga is an effective treatment intervention that a person can utilize by themselves, without having to go to a therapist or get a prescription. Using yoga as a recovery tool not only helps with addiction recovery but is also excellent for your health.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice that stems from Indian philosophies. The word ‘yoga’ stems from Sanskrit, meaning “to unite.” It was originally a spiritual discipline meant to create a union between the mind, body, energy, and emotions. Although it has spiritual origins, yoga is used today as a form of exercise to foster good physical and mental health.1

Types of Yoga

As yoga evolved, different philosophies or schools of thought formed. Although the core goals remain the same, the practice of yoga poses varies from school to school. The following are some of the most well-known types of yoga.1

  • Vinyasa Yoga: Strings various yoga postures together seamlessly, transitioning from one pose to another smoothly.
  • Hatha Yoga: Hatha ( meaning “force”) yoga emphasizes breathing technique, which works well to help calm anxiety.
  • Iyengar Yoga: Emphasis is on the exactness and details of the poses. Precision and alignment are key.
  • Kundalini Yoga: Incorporates chanting, repetitive poses, or singing to activate spiritual energy.
  • Hot Yoga: Performed in a hot and humid environment, inducing sweating.
  • Restorative Yoga: Very little movement involved, using calming, restful poses for passive stretching.

How Yoga Poses Help the Brain

The history of yoga goes back 2,000 years, and this practice has extended into the present with its popularity spreading to Western culture and medicine. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states that yoga is practiced by more than 13 million people. About 58% of adults do yoga to maintain their physical and mental health.2

Yoga poses integrate the mind and body, and current research on the activity proves this belief to be true. A 2019 literature review published in the journal Brain Plasticity found that yoga positively impacts our brain in a variety of ways. Yoga benefits the following parts of the brain:2

  • Brain networks, particularly the default mode network (DMN)
  • Cingulate cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Amygdala
  • Prefrontal cortex

Research also shows evidence that yoga delays age-related and neurodegenerative decline in the brain. Many brain regions associated with age-related cognitive issues benefit from the practice of yoga poses.

Research on the Benefits of Yoga

Although yoga significantly improves brain function, yoga benefits the body in many other ways. Most types of yoga are categorized as light-intensity activities according to the American College of Sport Medicine. Because yoga does not impact the muscles, bones, and heart the way many exercises do, it is an exercise healthy for all ages.2

The yoga poses and breathing patterns build muscle strength and improve flexibility, which reduces injury and boosts endurance. Yoga also stabilizes blood pressure and lowers lipid levels by promoting increased blood flow.3 Research performed on 50 individuals found that yoga helped to reduce psychosomatic disorders and stress. Daily yoga practice also improved well-being in four domains: physical, psychological, social, and environmental.4

Mental Health

Perhaps the area in which yoga has the most benefits is with an individual’s mental health. The regular practice of yoga poses decreases the stress hormone, cortisol.5 Although lowering cortisol levels benefits the body by decreasing blood pressure, fat development, and inflammation, a reduction in cortisol also manages stress levels. Even one session of doing yoga poses can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.6

The American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledges yoga as an excellent tool to improve mental health.7 Individuals who struggle with anxiety, addiction, PTSD, or attention deficits can all see symptom improvements with yoga.

Yogic Treatment in Substance Abuse

At first glance, the link between yoga and addiction recovery might be difficult to spot. However, because regular drug use changes brain chemistry— and yoga also alters brain function — the link might be much closer than one may think. The practice of yoga poses and the elements involved (meditation and mindfulness) can reduce chronic pain and foster a healthy response to cravings, helping an individual through recovery.8

Benefits of Yoga in Addiction Recovery

Yoga gets to the root of emotions, enabling an individual to overcome feelings of anxiety or trauma that underline addiction. Allowing the mind to concentrate and focus on one subject strengthens an individual’s ability to remain sober.

Executing yoga poses provides a natural high and “feel-good” emotions that many people look for. Many rehabilitation centers understand the many benefits of yoga and add yoga as part of their treatment interventions. Even people who have never done yoga can benefit from participating in yoga for beginners classes.8

Less Stress

The brain controls bodily functions, and yoga poses activate the areas of the brain that trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This system regulates stress hormones in the body, giving individuals in recovery a healthy outlet to deal with stress.

Improve Internal Awareness

Practicing yoga poses helps people in recovery to become familiar with, and even learn to accept, sensations within their own body. Substance abuse can dull one’s ability to sense what the body feels or needs. Conversely, most types of yoga allow an individual to be attuned to their body and understand how they feel, both physically and emotionally.

Recover from Trauma

Many people who struggle with substance abuse have histories of trauma. Yoga enables individuals with trauma to manage the stress from negative memories. For people who were abused, some types of yoga allow them to reclaim their bodies, thereby letting them feel comfortable in their skin.

Additional Advantages of Practicing Yoga

Most people who perform yoga stretches regularly find that the activity transforms their body. Muscles become toned and lengthen. Fat starts to melt little by little. The Indio starts to feel more limber and agile. These changes in a person’s physique can feel empowering and boost self-confidence. Additionally, many people who practice yoga stretches see an overall enhancement in their quality of life.

Although yogic exercises are fine to do alone and in private, most people choose to practice yoga in a group setting, such as in yoga classes. Whether it is yoga for beginner’s classes or advanced classes, there is something for everyone. Meeting with others regularly and performing a unified practice can foster feelings of community and support. Recovery can be a lonely road at times, and yoga classes offer a place of community.

Yoga and Recovery

Recovering from addiction is never easy or simple, so having all the tools necessary at one’s disposal allows that person to have the best chances for success. Yoga promotes good physical health, but its benefits go beyond the body. Yoga changes the brain for the better, giving people another tool to use on their journey to become their best selves.


  1. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6971819/
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-benefits-beyond-the-mat
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341026497_The_Study_of_Yoga_Effects_on_Health
  5. https://res.mdpi.com/d_attachment/ijerph/ijerph-17-06090/article_deploy/ijerph-17-06090.pdf
  6. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1359105317694487
  7. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/11/yoga
  8. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-44952-001

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