Yoga has long been used to help people look within and strengthen mind, body and spirit. Now, the practice is increasingly being used in addiction recovery to help clients reconnect with themselves. 

In fact, in 2002, trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive yoga was introduced within the industry to help build resilience by connecting students to inner resources, to help them work through discomforts commonly shared and to help them learn how to separate their feelings from their actions.

The practice is also used in substance abuse treatment programs to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and provide a healthy outlet to cope with life and potential drug cravings. Below are some ways yoga can help in early and later stages of recovery:

Relieves mind-body trauma. Yoga encourages mental and physical relaxation. This helps calm and focus the mind while loosening tense muscles in the body. Traditional yoga can help restore the mind-body balance while trauma-informed yoga helps relieve trauma from the mind and release it from the body.  

Calms nervous system. Practicing yoga helps regulate the nervous system. The action of flowing in and out of asanas (poses) with breath control activates the parasympathetic nervous system and has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. The practices learned in yoga, such as breath work, relaxation and thoughtful movement, can become effective resources called upon when urges, cravings or anxiety arise.

Reduces physical and mental stress. Imbalance creates internal stress on our physical body. A common occurrence with drug or alcohol abuse is metabolic acidosis where too much acid builds up in the body due to a disruption in metabolism. In addition to the already impacted liver, this can cause strain on the kidneys and lungs as they work to rid the excess and return the body back to a state of homeostasis. 

While most elements of yoga including focus, breath, mindfulness and maintaining poses help calm the mind, specific positions are also designed to help cleanse internal organs aiding in detoxification. Cleansing internal organs helps the body move out of fight or flight, reducing stress and increasing overall well-being. 

Improves sleep patterns. In addition to reducing stress, being mindful during yoga by controlling the breath can increase melatonin levels.  Controlled breathing creates awareness and regulation, which in turn helps relaxation in the body. These acts will in time improve sleep patterns and restore overall health and wellness.

Practicing yoga can also help reduce anxiety, depression and chronic pain. It is highly recommended that those in recovery practice mindful activities in early and later stages of sobriety. Getting into a pattern of regular practice can be challenging in the beginning, but the rewards for overall mind, body and soul restoration are endless. 

Darby Foster is a certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC- III), a certified first responder counselor (CFRC) and personally understands the recovery journey. She is executive director of Palo Verde Wellness Center in Palm Springs and can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit

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