Yoga for Recovery

San Diego Addiction Treatment Center

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Those committed to their recovery have indeed been through a lot, and searching for the most effective addiction treatments can cause yet more overwhelm. One senses something must change but needs to know what new habits to adopt in place of their addiction. While no one solution could be rightly touted as the best, there’s nothing more holistic than yoga poses for recovery and therapy.

Healthy Life Recovery in San Diego, California, offers yoga as a holistic treatment method for addiction recovery and dual diagnosis recovery. Yoga is utilized in conjunction with evidence-based therapies to help individuals find recovery.

What is Yoga for Recovery?

Many are drawn to yoga for overall physical well-being. Many are also discovering yoga in its most intimate form as an aid in the recovery process. Yoga means “union” and connotes far more than stretching and toning the body.

Being a combined practice for mental, emotional, and physical well-being, it’s shocking how helpful yoga is for addiction recovery. Yoga has been proven to help people suffering from major psychiatric conditions, including:


Yoga for Recovery
Yoga for Recovery



Yoga for Recovery

Chronic Pain

Yoga for Recovery
Yoga for recovery uses a multi-system approach, where each part of the body informs the other. In an almost poetic way, most adepts discover the same interconnection exists between their mind, emotions, and bodily sensations.

As it relates to continually greater health, this multifaceted view of the self requires much of the participant, but the whole of it is accomplished right there on the mat. These experiences are more easily taken with us off the mat as one’s practice gradually translates to greater ease in everyday life.

Does Yoga Therapy Help?

A regular yoga practice can help those with substance abuse and mental health disorders find greater ease. Difficult sensations become an object of the exercise, which reveal themselves to be temporary — if only we allow them to be so. The western scientific world has caught up to these insights, and there is now hard data to prove yoga’s utility.

A neuroscience journal analysis of yoga for addiction concluded that a core challenge is that a broad domain of symptoms is involved. After researching over 300 research articles, it advised a similarly wide variety of interventions to target each domain, such as yoga. The study also cautioned that certainty over long-term efficacy requires rigorous study of its effects.

Naturally, the best way to determine yoga’s effectiveness for the individual is to study its impact on the mat. Reading and research won’t do it alone; only one’s experience during yoga classes and practice will.

What Are the Benefits of Yoga Therapy?

Deep Satisfaction and Calm

Yoga activates the vagus nerve, which induces calm in the body and mind. This is known as the parasympathetic response, which the vagus nerve regulates through its direct connection to almost every bodily organ. When the body is under chronic stress, finding and maintaining these states becomes hard, with the “fight or flight” system stuck on.

Yet the body craves rest. Often, what’s in the way to receiving that rest is an urge to chase away discomfort with unsustainable habits or substances. Ironically, these same urges belie the body’s equally powerful capacity to regulate itself.

Activating the Body’s Own Natural “Drugs”

The result is a drastic reduction in stress and anxiety. Practicing yoga can help with mindfulness and also increase blood flow. Yoga is also thought to release endorphins, the same feel-good chemicals involved in the high sought by various drugs. 

These may include drugs such as:

Pain Relievers

Yoga for Recovery


Yoga for Recovery
Yoga for Recovery



Yoga for Recovery
The same endorphin rush that makes drugs dangerous is, in moderation, required for mental health. Practicing yoga is one way to balance endorphin levels to a natural, happy medium. Making the activity a part of a regular routine is excellent for a mind-body connection.

More vigorous forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga, can also increase natural dopamine levels as a runner feels after a race. These motivation-and-reward pathways in the brain are often badly damaged after severe addiction or trauma. Yet exercise and breathing practices can restore them back to a robust state.

Yoga for recovery is an incredible way of activating the body’s own inner pharmacy, albeit naturally and sustainably. While many addicts went searching for — and found — deep states of euphoria or pleasure outside themselves, the way back is also pleasurable. By maintaining your path back to health and happiness with yoga, it may become every bit as alluring as drugs once were.

What Are the Benefits of Yoga Therapy?

The “self-medication hypothesis,” frequently attributed to a Harvard professor of psychiatry, posits that “inadequate ego mechanisms” compel one to seek extrinsic sources of self-regulation. Another theory goes as far as alleging that the brain becomes “hijacked” by drug use.

Whatever theory is right, as explained by Social Work Today, yoga is an excellent “adjunct therapy” to extrinsic sources of self-regulation, which other forms of therapy can easily become. By contrast, yoga is innately intrinsic. It gently, yet vitally, brings one to “attend to direct experiences to be free from suffering caused by vrittis of the mind.”

The Sanskrit vritti can be translated to “whirlpool.” In ancient practice, the earliest yogic shamans passionately and bravely explored these “mental cycles.” They used the body like a vehicle for developing states of mind more commonly known only extrinsically through psychoactive substances.

These original yogis and yogini discovered how to access such movingly powerful states of being through an intrinsic bodily capacity, which they considered to be deeply restorative. They compared these intensely healing phenomena to a mysterious eternal well-spring found within every human being. Yoga therapy presents the theory that losing our natural connection to this wellspring is at the root of addiction.

 Converging Realities

According to both western science and eastern mystics, internal mental cycles are believed to be where the root of addiction and craving lies. Rather than avoid them, yoga appreciates the entirety of the self that experiences craving. As a result, profound states of well-being and psychological nourishment experienced during yoga become more powerfully motivating than the external substance ever could be.

In the most down-to-earth way, yoga’s keystone benefit is in gradually replacing cravings with a deepening commitment to one’s physical and psychological well-being. Even when it’s challenging, former cravings lessen as the body, mind, and soul feel nourished in ways that become even more satisfying than the drug experiences of yesterday.

Of course, there is only one way to find out — and that way is through motion and presence.

Yoga for Recovery

Does Pilates Have a Healthy Effect on Recovery?

Pilates can similarly activate these healing bodily responses. Healthy Life Recovery relies heavily on an active recovery process facilitated by San Diego’s limitless recreation amenities. We use a range of activities, from surfing and skateboarding to yoga, Pilates, and golf. Weight lifting and cardio are also excellent, and our active programs also build social connections.

As clients build habits that produce similar euphoric states once known only through addiction, their desire to use lessens. Because recovery is a process, we’ve built yoga and exercise into our methods of “riding the wave” of temptation, known as “urge surfing.” To ride these powerful internal dynamics, we make physical exercise — and especially mindful activity, like yoga — a core part of Healthy Life Recovery’s culture.

Yoga Therapy in San Diego, California

At Healthy Life Recovery, we don’t take lightly the need for a full-spectrum approach. The entire self is what suffered through addiction, and it’s the same self that must be restored. An integrated approach is not just important; it is the crux of recovery.

While modern research on yoga is impressive, what’s most inspiring is how yoga has endured for thousands of years. Having reached us here and now, what matters most is how yoga can adapt to the specific needs of the individual yogi. Its benefits cannot be read about or conceptualized — it is something the body itself must feel and express.

In concert with standard and other alternative healing methods, our clients have achieved fantastic success using yoga for recovery. As part of an overall recovery coaching protocol, we encourage those curious about how useful yoga is for recovery to try it out for themselves! After even the toughest journey through addiction, recovery through yoga is well within reach.

Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medicine in 2000. He completed his residency in psychiatry in 2008 at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York. Dr. Thankachen is currently working with Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists in an outpatient practice, as well as working at multiple in-patient psychiatric and medical units bringing his patients the most advanced healthcare treatment in psychiatry. Dr. Thankachen sees patients with an array of disorders, including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, anxiety, and dementia-related problems.

More About Dr. Sanjai Thankachen

Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Edited for Clinical Accuracy By:

Sean Leonard, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Sean Leonard is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He received his master’s degree in adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner from Walden University and a second postmaster specialty in psychiatry mental health nurse practitioner from Rocky Mountain University. Sean has experience working in various diverse settings, including an outpatient clinic, inpatient detox and rehab, psychiatric emergency, and dual diagnosis programs. His specialty areas include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD.

More About Sean Leonard

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