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 www.openingheartjourneys.com/courses.html.