More than 20.4 million people in the United States practice yoga on a regular basis as of 2012, up from about 15.8 million in 2008.[1] Stress relief and overall health were cited among the top five reasons for yoga practice, and for people in recovery from drug and alcohol dependence, both of these are top priorities.

Yoga is commonly cited as an excellent resource for newly recovered addicts in treatment and for those who have been living in recovery from substance abuse and dependence for years. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), the benefits of regular yoga practice on the ability to remain sober include:

  • Increased positive body awareness
  • The opportunity to connect with the breath and the body
  • The opportunity to be still, mindful, and in the moment
  • Increased self-compassion
  • Increased ability to manage stress
  • Detoxification of the body[2]

Additionally, for people who are new to recovery, yoga can provide structure and challenge to fill an empty day, and for those who have years of sobriety under their belt and a full schedule, a yoga session can offer the respite necessary to continually rejuvenate and rededicate to a life defined by balance and wellness. In fact, there are even a number of yoga apps (e.g., Yoga Studio, Hatha Yoga: Your Portable Yoga Studio, Daily Yoga, and others) available for download to smartphones and tablets that offer busy practitioners the opportunity to practice whenever and wherever they choose. [3] In every stage of recovery, a yoga practice can enhance the practitioner’s ability to avoid relapse and continually grow stronger in sobriety.

yoga and recovery

Enhancing the Mind-Body Connection

Yoga is unique in that it provides muscular fitness benefits while improving mindfulness and focus through breath control, physical poses and postures, and meditation.[4] According to a report published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, there are four principles that inform the healing nature of yoga as a regular practice.[5] These include:

  • The human body is holistic in nature. The human body is holistic in nature and as such, no one aspect of the body can be separated from another. That is, if one body system or function is impacted, then all systems are impacted.
  • The needs of each individual are unique. Everyone is different with different needs that can be addressed through yogic practice; thus, every person’s practice and experience with yoga should be tailored to meet those unique needs.
  • Yoga is empowering to the individual. Through yoga practice, practitioners are empowered to become autonomous in recovery by becoming their own healer. Healing is initiated from within as opposed to an outside source; thus, practitioners are continually engaged as their own agent for positive growth and change.
  • State of mind plays a critical role in yogic healing. The state of mind of practitioners deeply impact their experience; thus, if the practitioner is positive and mindful during practice, healing may be more rapid, but if the practitioner is negative and disengaged, healing will be slower.

Through regular yoga practice, people in recovery practice accountability in yet another forum of their lives, and for those who are dedicated, the benefits are evidenced both during the yoga session and through long-term positive change.

Decreased Inflammation Response

decrease mental health symptoms

Improved Mood

Regular practice of yoga has been shown to decrease the experience of a range of mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression. Some studies have shown that yoga practitioners experienced an increase in levels of serotonin, a “feel good” chemical, as well as a decrease in levels of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down cortisol and neurotransmitters.[8]

Though there are a number of pharmacological treatment options for anxiety and depression that have proven to be effective, many patients opt to depend less on these medications and more on the benefits provided by yoga practice and other holistic treatment interventions. Because it is common for those who struggle with substance abuse and addiction to simultaneously struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder, the mood management benefits of yoga practice in decreasing depression and anxiety further increase the practitioner’s ability to thrive in recovery and avoid relapse. [9], [10], [11]

Increased Quality of Life

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of yoga to people in active recovery is the improved quality of life experienced by practitioners. Yoga brings increased physical health, mental health, and spiritual wellness, coupled with decreased anxiety, stress, depression, and pain. In addition, it brings a decreased inflammation response, as well as an increased ability to relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep. There are few downsides as long as poses are performed safely. In fact, the more one practices yoga, the more benefits the practitioner can experience. When utilized in addition to traditional therapies, alternative treatments, and detox when needed, a yoga practice can improve the ability to stay sober and avoid relapse for the long-term.

group yoga


[1] New Study Finds More Than 20 Million Yogis in U.S. (Dec 2012). Yoga Journal. Accessed July 29 2015.

[2] Addiction Recovery: How Yoga Can Help (NCADD) Accessed July 29 2015.

[3] Yoga and Meditation Apps for Your Smartphone or Tablet (Jun 2013) (Yoga and Meditation Apps for Your Smartphone or Tablet) Accessed July 29 2015. Yoga: Intuition, Preventative Medicine, and Treatment (Sep 1998).

[4] Yoga: Intuition, Preventative Medicine, and Treatment (Sep 1998). Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing. Accessed July 29 2015.

[5] The Yoga of Healing: Exploring Yoga’s Holistic Model for Health and Well-being (Jan 2005) International Journal of Yoga Therapy/Yoga Therapy Today. Accessed July 29 2015.

[6] Scientific Basis for Yoga Benefits (Jan 2010). PsychCentral News. Accessed July 29 2015.

[7] Yoga’s Impact on Inflammation, Mood, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial) (Jan 2014). Journal of Clinical Oncology. Accessed July 29 2015.

[8] Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression: Effects of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome (Dec 2007). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Accessed July 29 2015.

Th by practitioners. sed Complementary Alternative Medicine: eCam). Accessed July 29 2015.TheMD. luding anxiety and depression

[9] Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses: Why do drug use disorders often co-occur with other mental illnesses? (Sep 2010). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed July 29 2015.

[10] Yoga for depression: The research evidence. (Sep 2005). Journal of Affective Disorders. Accessed July 29 2015.

[11] Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. (May 2009). Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Accessed July 29 2015.