The path to addiction recovery never truly ends. That is, perhaps, one of the most significant reasons why relapse rates are so high for those suffering from substance use disorder (SUD). It is also why those who are experiencing addiction need and deserve every weapon in their arsenal to help them fight, and win, the daily battle against dependency.
If you are in recovery, you may well find one of your most powerful weapons in an unexpected source: Yoga. In fact, the evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of this ancient practice for addiction recovery is both vast and growing. So how, exactly, can yoga help those in recovery?
Stress Management and Anxiety
Research has shown that yoga can significantly reduce anxiety and facilitate stress management for those in recovery. Indeed, the studies indicate that the stress-reducing effects of yoga are obtained even for SUD patients experiencing highly-stressful life events. In studies of yoga used as adjunctive therapy for addiction recovery in patients living with HIV and undergoing community reentry following incarceration, both Wimberly and Engstrom (2018) and Wimberly (2019) found that subjects engaging in yoga therapy reported significantly lower levels of stress than the control groups (1, 2).
In addition, Wimberly et al. (2018) found that yoga-engaged HIV patients in reentry exhibited substantially higher abstinence rates at one month and three months post-intervention than the control group (3). In other words, the evidence suggests that even those facing extraordinary stressors are better able to manage their stress and maintain their sobriety when they participate in yoga as a complementary therapy. These findings align with a host of other studies that support the use of mindfulness techniques, of which yoga is a prime example, in supporting addiction recovery (4, 5).
Indeed, in their study of smoking cessation efforts in patients experiencing tobacco dependency, Lotfalian et al. (2020) found that yogic breathing alone, without accompanying yoga exercise, was sufficient to reduce both stress and cravings in the study group.
Pain Control, Health, and Quality of Life
In addition to the benefits of yoga for stress management, the reduction of cravings, and the mitigation of relapse risk, the data also show that yoga yields significant physical health benefits which can improve overall quality of life and, in turn, support addiction recovery. For example, Zhu et al. (2020) found that mind-body exercise, such as yoga, substantially lowered blood pressure, increased flexibility and aerobic endurance, and promoted remarkable improvements in physical health overall (6).
Similarly, researchers have found that yoga can substantially reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for those experiencing chronic pain (7, 8, 11). These findings are especially important for those experiencing an opioid dependency, as Varshney et al. (2021) have shown (9). Indeed, in their study of the implementation of yoga therapy as a complement to standard treatments for patients experiencing opioid use disorder (OUD), Bhargav et al. (2021) found the protocol to be safe and effective in reducing cravings and mitigating the symptoms of opioid withdrawal (10).
Cognition and Impulsivity
In addition to the physical and emotional benefits of yoga, studies increasingly indicate that the practice can facilitate important changes in overall cognitive functioning. For example, in their study of the cognitive performance of patients in residential treatment for substance use disorder, Gaihre and Rajesh (2018) found that add-on yoga therapy was associated with significant improvements in cognitive functioning (12).
Among the most important benefits of cognitive enhancement in those experiencing dependency, perhaps, is the effect on impulsivity. Indeed, studies such as those performed by Petker et al. (2021) have found that patients in recovery who engage in yoga therapy experience a substantial decrease in impulsivity, which seems to correlate strongly with a reduced risk of relapse (13).
Self-Care, Self-Efficacy, and Sense of Community
As important as the physical and cognitive benefits of yoga may be for those in recovery, it may well be that the psychosocial rewards are even greater. The research suggests that participation in yoga can improve practitioners’ perceived self-efficacy, foster a sense of engagement in and belonging to a support community, and even promote or enhance self-care practices (13, 14, 15).
In addition, studies suggest that yoga as a complement to conventional addiction treatment protocols may have particular benefits for those who have experienced trauma (16, 17). Indeed, given all that has been discovered about the benefits of yoga across so many domains relating to overall quality of life, from enhanced stress management to improved physical health, to the cultivation of a sense of belonging, support, care, self-love, and personal empowerment, it is perhaps little wonder that yoga may be especially useful for the most vulnerable populations.
How Bayshore Can Help
At Bayshore, we take a holistic, client-focused approach to addiction recovery. Our multidisciplinary team of specialists is uniquely qualified to help you cultivate a new life that nurtures your mind, body, and spirit alike. Thus, in addition to offering medical and psychiatric support, we also specialize in integrative and complementary approaches to facilitate healing, health, and wholeness. This includes on-site training in yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques. Contact us today to discuss how Bayshore can help you or someone you love!