Yoga for Recovering Addicts

Sep 13, 2007

Whether it is an addiction to cigarettes or food, alcohol or television, hard drugs or shopping, compulsive behaviors can take over. The cravings might be seemingly harmless ones that lurk beneath the surface of a functioning life, or they might be immediately and obviously devastating. For some, these patterns sever relationships, put jobs at stake, and cause serious or financial risk. For others, these habits might simply impede a sense of physical, mental or spiritual wholeness.

“Through a yoga practice people learn the tool of mindfulness—the ability to be present and non-judgmental of thoughts and sensations,” says Susannah Gust, director of the Ahisma Yoga Center in Baltimore, Maryland. “Through a yoga practice people learn to face an experience head-on and to be comfortable without fleeing. And through a yoga practice people reconnect to the body-mind system and the beauty there-in.”

As yoga styles proliferate, more programs are targeting specific niche groups who can benefit from yoga’s unique blend of body, mind and spirit. One of these groups consists of recovering addicts. In the 1970s, Superhealth, a pioneering alternative health center for the treatment of addictions in Tucson, Arizona, offered heroin addicts recovery services based on kundalini yoga, diet, massage, acupuncture and other alternative therapies. Today, the Hazelden Foundation in rural Minnesota--one of the world’s largest, most respected and best-known private alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers in the world--offers “Yoga in Recovery: Creating Harmony of Body, Mind and Spirit.”
Recovery yoga classes combine hatha yoga with Twelve Step principles to aid healing on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Instructors teach postures using the language of the Twelve Step program and begin and end with the Serenity Prayer. In one program (offered in Plymouth, Minnesota), class members read quotes from the Alcoholics Anonymous textbook between poses.

Instructor training is available for those who want to work with people recovering from addiction. For more information, see

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  • Melisa Uchida

    I can't imagine what my recovery would look like without yoga. Yoga allows me to follow a bright light, rather than live the old samskaras of addiction. Yoga is healing, for people with all types of addictions - to food, drugs, booze, sex, gambling, even shopping and television. When we use things to numb ourselves, detach and it causes problems in our relationships -that's addiction. Yoga helps slow down reactions to triggers, so we are able to choose to not react, or react differently. Susannah's quote sums it all up. Great article!
    Commented Sep 30, 2013
  • Kyczy Hawk

    I am following this path here on the West Coast - this is a hugely beneficial modality for people in all stages of recovery and for their family and friends. As it has been recently discovered the negative impacts to the brain for family members of an addict and the addict her/ himself are very similar - the disassociation from mind body and spirit are also similar. The recovery focused yoga classes benefit both populations alike. Thank you for keeping this subject out there in front of people.
    Commented Jan 13, 2013