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Practicing Yoga During Drug Treatment: Is It Helpful?

Addiction is a complex disease impacting over 20 million Americans in 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Addiction treatment comes in many different forms. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes that treatment methods need to cater to each person specifically, often using a variety of methods that attend to both mental and physical health.


Yoga is an adjunctive and holistic approach that can be beneficial during drug addiction treatment when combined with therapeutic and supportive methods.

Yoga is a form of body manipulation and breathing exercises that can range from low-impact to strenuous. It can be practiced by anyone anywhere.

In this respect, yoga is a low-risk addition to a drug treatment program that often has great mental health and physical benefits.


The University of Waterloo explains that one of the most common forms of yoga practiced in the Western world is Hatha yoga. This form of yoga, combined with mindfulness meditation techniques, can improve energy levels and enhance brain functions. 

Hatha yoga involves placing the body into specific therapeutic poses and uses controlled breathing methods. Mindfulness is being more aware of your body and how things impact it, while meditation is a quiet reflection. 

Individuals in the study who practiced both Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation saw improvements in cognitive functions related to focus, attention, goal-directed behaviors, and emotional regulation involved with habitual actions. 


The journal Ancient Science explains that yoga and meditation can influence brain chemistry, which can reduce stress and anxiety levels. When a person is stressed, the fight-or-flight reaction releases the stress hormone cortisol. This natural stress response increases blood pressure, respiration, body temperature, and heart rate. It can be modulated by the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) that is naturally produced by the brain.

Yoga and mindfulness meditation may increase levels of GABA and lower cortisol levels in the brain, acting as a natural stress and anxiety reliever. 

They may also naturally increase levels of dopamine, which serves to regulate emotions and increase feelings of pleasure. Drug abuse also affects brain chemistry and levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Stress, depression, and anxiety are all increased during detox and withdrawal, as brain chemistry is imbalanced. Yoga and mindfulness meditation may help to manage brain chemistry in a natural way.

These techniques are to be used in tandem with pharmacological and therapeutic measures as well through a comprehensive treatment program.

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Yoga involves physical body manipulation and poses that can increase flexibility, physical strength, and stamina while also improving mental health and pain sensitivity, Harvard Health reports. Yoga can also be useful to naturally manage symptoms of depression, pain, stress, and anxiety, which are often side effects of drug withdrawal and addiction. 

Yoga can teach a person battling addiction on how to manage difficult and uncomfortable feelings. This can help them develop healthy coping mechanisms that may minimize episodes of relapse. 

Instead of providing an escape the way drugs and alcohol do, yoga can instill a sense of calm and inner peace uniting the mind, spirit, and body.


Mindfulness meditation is the practice of learning how to better understand the way you think and act, and how it influences your actions.

Quiet reflection and the practice of mindfulness put a person more in tune with their bodies and minds, and how they are intrinsically connected. 

As published by Psychology Today, mindfulness meditation can alter brain pathways and neural connections related to substance abuse, helping to train the brain in a new and healthier way.

Negative behaviors can be better understood and reformed through awareness brought on by mindfulness.

People sitting with their legs crossed on yoga mats


Physical fitness can be beneficial during drug addiction treatment. When a person exercises, natural endorphins are released that can produce a kind of natural, pleasurable feeling.

Exercise can have therapeutic and positive effects during addiction treatment and recovery, the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry reports. Physical fitness can improve mental clarity, body function, and self-esteem as well as improve appetite and sleep functions, which are often negatively impacted by drug abuse and addiction.


Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and exercise can all help to improve stress and anxiety levels overall, and specifically, those related to drug abuse, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction.

  • Natural changes to brain chemistry help to regulate moods and emotions.
  • Practices are noninvasive and low-risk. They can be done almost anywhere at any time for relief.
  • Yoga and mindfulness meditation techniques can be learned from a professional and then practiced at will as a healthy coping mechanism.
  • Self-confidence, self-image, and self-esteem can all be improved by positive body changes made through physical fitness and exercise.
  • Yoga and fitness programs can improve physical health and benefit the treatment of co-occurring mental health and medical conditions.
  • Brain and reward pathways that are altered by drug abuse and addiction can be positively restructured through yoga, exercise, and mindfulness meditation.
  • Mindfulness can create a level of self-awareness that can help a person to recognize negative thought and behavior patterns and learn more effective ways of managing them.
  • Mindfulness meditation and yoga are tools that can be used to cope and minimize instances of relapse by providing a healthy outlet for negative energy and stress.
  • Physical exertion can promote blood flow, improve quality of sleep, and increase appetite, which is often suppressed by drug use and withdrawal.

Mindfulness techniques, controlled breathing, and yoga poses can all be natural ways to promote recovery and instill healthy lifestyle changes.


(September 2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved March 2019 from

(January 2018). Principles of Effective Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved March 2019 from

(September 2017). Yoga, Meditation Improve Brain Function and Energy Levels, Study Shows. University of Waterloo. Retrieved March 2019 from

(April 2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that Affect Behavior and Anxiety- a Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient Science. Retrieved March 2019 from

(May 2018). Yoga for Anxiety and Depression. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved March 2019 from

(October 2012). Yoga for Addiction Recovery. Yoga Journal. Retrieved March 2019 from

(April 2010). Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 2019 from

(January 2012). Exercise as a Potential Treatment for Drug Abuse: Evidence from Preclinical Studies. Frontiers in Psychiatry. Retrieved March 2019 from




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