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Role Of Yoga Therapy In Addiction And Mental Health

Yoga therapy is a form of therapy that uses posture poses, breathing exercises, meditation, and guided imagery to improve mental and physical health. It encourages the integration of mind, body, and spirit and targets the individual’s specific physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. 

Yoga therapy addresses addiction by targeting mental health issues. A 2016 study by Nasrin Falsafi found that ninety college students diagnosed with anxiety or depression experienced a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms after eight weeks of mindfulness or yoga practice. 

The benefits of yoga therapy include stress reduction, improved strength, and balance, which are vital for coping with withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapse. This holistic approach not only addresses the physical aspects of addiction but also focuses on emotional and psychological healing.

Some of the techniques used in yoga therapy are breathing exercises, asana practices, and guided imagery. Integrating these yoga therapy components supports a comprehensive addiction treatment plan, addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of recovery.

What Is Yoga Therapy?

what is yoga therapy

Yoga therapy is a specialized form of therapy that uses the practices of yoga to support individuals struggling with addiction. By integrating tailored yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques, yoga therapy helps those in recovery to manage stress, reduce cravings, and enhance emotional regulation.

According to Walia, N. et al.’s 2021 study, ‘Yoga for Substance Use: A Systematic Review,’ yoga as an extra treatment for substance use disorder helps lower rising healthcare costs due to its relatively low cost and easy accessibility.

Khalsa S. B., 2020, “Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,” also emphasizes that yoga improves mental clarity and emotional stability, crucial elements in addiction recovery.

Yoga therapists often work together with addiction rehabilitation centers to integrate therapeutic yoga sessions into an overall treatment plan. Due to its personalized regimens, yoga therapy stands out from traditional yoga.  It creates specific regimens of poses, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques to suit the individual’s health needs. 

What Are The Techniques Used In Yoga Therapy?

According to the Yoga Institute, yoga therapy techniques include components of Ashtanga yoga, Asana practice, breathing techniques, varied mudras, meditation practice, textual study of philosophy, spiritual or psychological counseling, chanting Mantras, guided imagery, bhajans and prayers, relaxation and promotion of lifestyle changes.

  • Ashtanga Yoga: This intense practice helps individuals in recovery develop discipline and routine, which are crucial for maintaining sobriety. The physical challenge also helps redirect focus and energy away from cravings.
  • Asana Practice: Tailored physical postures help alleviate physical tension and stress that can trigger relapse. Regular practice improves overall physical health, which is often compromised in addiction. According to a study by Bock et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” regular asana practice can significantly enhance physical and mental health, which is beneficial for those in addiction recovery.
  • Breathing Techniques (Pranayama): These help manage emotional states and reduce anxiety and stress, which are common triggers for substance use. Learning to control breathing enhances emotional regulation skills. According to Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” pranayama has been shown to manage anxiety and improve overall emotional stability effectively.
  • Varied Mudras: By promoting energy flow and mental clarity, mudras can help individuals in recovery maintain focus on their sobriety goals and enhance their emotional stability.
  • Meditation Practice: Meditation fosters mindfulness, helping individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them. This awareness is crucial for recognizing and managing triggers.
  • Textual Study of Philosophy: Studying yogic philosophy can provide individuals in recovery with a deeper understanding of themselves and the nature of their addiction, offering spiritual insights that can be vital for personal growth and recovery.
  • Spiritual or Psychological Counseling: This provides a space to explore personal issues that may contribute to addictive behaviors and offers strategies for emotional and spiritual healing.
  • Chanting Mantras: Chanting helps calm the mind and reduce the mental chatter that can lead to anxiety and relapse. It also reinforces positive affirmations and spiritual strength.
  • Guided Imagery: This relaxation technique can help individuals in recovery visualize a life free from addiction, reinforcing positive outcomes and motivational goals.
  • Bhajans and Prayers: These spiritual practices help reinforce a community and shared experiences, providing support and spiritual consolation, which are often needed in recovery.
  • Relaxation: Techniques such as yoga nidra promote deep relaxation, which can significantly lower stress levels, improve sleep patterns, and better manage emotions—key factors in preventing relapse. According to Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” relaxation techniques in yoga have been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep significantly.
  • Promotion of Lifestyle Changes: Guidance on healthier lifestyle choices supports recovery by improving physical health, reducing dependence on substances, and promoting behaviors that align with sobriety.

How Does Yoga Therapy Affect One’s Mental Health?

effects of yoga therapy on mental health

Yoga therapy has a significant positive impact on mental health through various processes. The following are some critical ways in which yoga therapy benefits mental health:

1. Enhanced Mindfulness And Awareness

Yoga therapy promotes mindfulness, which involves being present and fully engaged with the current moment. Mindfulness helps individuals with mental health disorders recognize negative patterns of thought and behavior challenges and offers them a chance to transform themselves.

According to Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” relaxation techniques in yoga have been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep significantly.

Mindfulness is particularly effective in managing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

2. Regulation Of Stress Hormones

Yoga therapy practices, particularly breathing exercises and meditation, help regulate the stress hormone cortisol. Lower cortisol levels reduce stress and anxiety and lead to overall mental health improvement and mood stability. According to Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” yoga practices significantly reduce cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress.

3. Improvement In Brain Function

Regular yoga practice has been shown to increase the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, a neurotransmitter that regulates nerve activity. This therapy is vital because low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and mood disorders. Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” notes that regular yoga practice increases GABA levels, which helps in managing anxiety and mood disorders.

4. Emotional Balance

Yoga encourages emotional resilience and helps individuals with mental health disorders process emotions more effectively. Yoga therapy focuses on breathing and maintaining a presence in challenging postures. These individuals learn to stay calm and balanced in stressful situations, which translates to improved emotional responses outside the yoga session. According to Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2014, “Yoga and Mental Health,” yoga significantly improves emotional balance and resilience.

5. Increased Self-Esteem And Body Image

As individuals practice yoga, they develop a greater acceptance of their body and a more positive self-image. This acceptance is incredibly beneficial for those struggling with self-esteem issues, which are often linked to various mental health disorders. According to Khalsa S. B., 2020, “Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,” yoga practice enhances self-esteem and body image, which is crucial for mental health recovery.

6. Community And Social Support

Participating in yoga therapy sessions creates a sense of community among individuals. This social aspect provides emotional support crucial for mental health recovery and resilience. According to Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” the community aspect of yoga therapy is vital for providing social support and fostering resilience.

7. Physical Health Benefits

The physical benefits of yoga include improved strength, flexibility, and balance. These benefits also contribute to better mental health. As Khalsa S. B. et al. wrote in the book ‘Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,’ yoga increases proprioception and improves balance. Physical activity is known to boost endorphins and help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

What Are The Benefits Of Yoga Therapy In Addiction Recovery?

benefits of yoga therapy for addiction treatment

Yoga therapy benefits people with addiction by reducing stress, enhancing mindfulness, regulating their emotions, detoxifying their health, and providing community support, spiritual growth, and a healthy routine.

  • Stress Reduction: Addiction often coexists with high levels of stress, and yoga lowers this stress through physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Reducing stress helps decrease the likelihood of addiction relapse and assists in managing triggers more effectively. Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” highlights that yoga practices are effective in reducing stress, which is crucial for preventing relapse.
  • Enhanced Mindfulness: Yoga promotes Mindfulness, which improves self-awareness. It also helps individuals recognize cravings and triggers for substance use. This awareness is crucial in the process of recovery. It enables addicted individuals to respond consciously to these triggers rather than react impulsively. According to Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2014, “Yoga and Mental Health,” mindfulness is a key factor in managing cravings and preventing relapse.
  • Emotional Regulation: Many individuals turn to substances as a way to cope with negative emotions. Yoga therapy helps improve emotional regulation by teaching healthier ways to cope with sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration. It does this through techniques such as focused breathing and meditation.
  • Physical Health and Detoxification: Regular yoga practice enhances overall physical health, increases energy levels, and helps in the detoxification process. The physical exercise involved in yoga also releases endorphins, provides natural pain relief, and improves mood. Khalsa S. B., 2020, “Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,” states that yoga helps in detoxifying the body and improving physical health, which supports addiction recovery.
  • Community and Support: Participating in yoga classes creates an opportunity for addicted people in recovery to connect with others. It gives a sense of community and reduces feelings of isolation. Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” highlights that community support in yoga therapy helps reduce isolation and fosters a sense of belonging. This social aspect is often necessary for sustained addiction recovery.
  • Spiritual Growth: Yoga provides a spiritual framework that many find beneficial in the addiction recovery process. The principles of yoga encourage practices such as honesty, non-harm, and self-discipline, which are essential if one is trying to overcome addiction.
  • Routine and Structure: Incorporating yoga into daily life helps addicted individuals develop a structured routine. This routine is vital for maintaining balance and stability during recovery. According to Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2014, “Yoga and Mental Health,” developing a routine through yoga helps maintain sobriety and supports long-term recovery.

Where Can People With Substance Use Disorders Receive Yoga Therapy?

People with substance use disorders receive yoga therapy in rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, wellness programs, yoga studios, online platforms, hospitals, and private practice. According to Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” yoga therapy is widely accessible and can be integrated into various treatment programs to support addiction recovery.

  1. Rehabilitation Centers: Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers add yoga therapy to their treatment programs. These centers offer structured yoga sessions to support detoxification, manage withdrawal symptoms, and address addiction underlying emotional issues.
  2. Outpatient Clinics: Outpatient treatment facilities tend to offer yoga therapy as a supplementary treatment. They allow individuals to attend scheduled yoga classes while maintaining their regular daily routines.
  3. Community Centers and Wellness Programs: Local community centers, wellness programs, and some gyms offer yoga classes that are open to everyone. While these classes are not always special for individuals with substance use disorders, they still provide significant benefits.
  4. Specialized Yoga Studios: Some yoga studios offer classes specifically designed for individuals in recovery from addiction. These studios partner with mental health professionals to provide a holistic approach to recovery that involves both yoga and counseling.
  5. Online Platforms: With the rise of digital health services, many online platforms now offer yoga therapy sessions that are accessible from home. 
  6. Hospitals and Integrated Health Clinics: Some hospitals and integrated health clinics include yoga therapy as part of their complementary and alternative medicine offerings. These programs are often part of a broader approach to health and wellness.
  7. Private Practice: Licensed yoga therapists also operate in private practice. They offer personalized sessions tailored to the specific needs of addicted individuals. This one-on-one approach addresses particular challenges and goals in the recovery process.

What Aspects Of Yoga Contribute To Its Effectiveness In Treating Mental Health And Addiction?

The meditation part of yoga improves mental health and aids addiction recovery by enhancing mindfulness, reducing stress, increasing body awareness, and fostering a community feeling. Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2014, “Yoga and Mental Health,” shows that mindfulness through meditation is particularly effective in managing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and supporting addiction recovery.

Do Mental Health Professionals Recognize Yoga Therapy?

Yes, many mental health professionals recognize yoga therapy as a beneficial addition to traditional mental health treatments. According to Walia N. et al., 2021, “Yoga for Substance Use: A Systematic Review,” yoga therapy is increasingly recognized for its role in managing mental health and supporting addiction recovery. This recognition is due to its ability to help manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

How does the role of yoga therapy in addiction recovery enhance the cognitive restructuring techniques used in Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)?

Yoga therapy enhances the cognitive restructuring techniques used in Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) by promoting mindfulness and body awareness, which are essential for cognitive and emotional regulation. The physical and meditative aspects of yoga help individuals develop greater self-awareness and emotional control, making it easier to challenge and change negative thought patterns targeted in CPT.

How Often Should Someone Practice Yoga To See Benefits In Addiction Recovery Or Mental Health Improvement?

Regular practice, typically 2-3 times per week, is recommended to see significant benefits in stress reduction, emotional regulation, and overall mental well-being.

Can Yoga Therapy Replace Conventional Treatments For Mental Health And Addiction?

Yoga therapy can not replace conventional treatments such as medication and psychotherapy, but if used effectively, it enhances overall treatment outcomes. Streeter et al., 2013, “Yoga for Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges,” states that yoga therapy is best used as a complementary treatment that supports and enhances traditional mental health and addiction therapies.

Ryan Wakim MD
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Dr. Wakim is a board-certified psychiatrist with a passion for and expertise in addiction, mood disorders, trauma-related disorders and the subspecialty of interventional psychiatry. He obtained his medical degree from West Virginia University where he also completed his residency training, finishing as chief resident. Dr. Wakim co-founded and served as the CEO of Transformations leading to a successful merger with Shore Capital in May 2021. He is purpose driven towards improving the standard of and removing stigma related to behavioral healthcare. Dr. Wakim enjoys golf, traveling and time spent with his two dogs, Lulu and Rayna.

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