Yoga and meditation are holistic, mindfulness-based interventions that can support recovery from addiction¹ ². Beyond recovery from addiction, yoga and meditation provide multiple positive benefits for physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness¹.
Moreover, yoga and meditation’s effects on the brain provide a path toward sustained recovery, specifically by re-wiring neural pathways that elicit long-term behavior change². Incorporating alternative modalities with conventional treatment methods makes it possible to tackle addiction more holistic approach¹.
Yoga, Meditation, and Connection
People who struggle with addiction often experience a lack of connection to self and community. Drugs and alcohol can offer temporary relief from debilitating or confusing emotions, but substance use only deepens the root disconnect in the long term.
Mindfulness-based practices can help clients develop a personal spiritual connection and sense of meaning. Yoga and meditation can achieve these experiences naturally by establishing a connection to mind, body, and soul, thereby facilitating personal growth and empowerment. This effect can be a profound pivot for people feeling powerless or out of control.
The Science Behind Mindfulness-Based Interventions
Research shows that yoga and meditation strengthen our ability to control our responses, reducing impulsive behavior that often results in poor decision-making.
As approaches like yoga and meditation become more prevalent in western medicine, further understanding of the scientific effects on the brain could support integrated models for recovery².
Benefits of Yoga
Derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” meaning “to unite,” yoga is traditionally defined as the union of the individual self with the supreme self. According to the classical definition by Patanjali, an ascetic of Ancient India, yoga means transcendence of the obstacles of the mind³. Yoga includes the combination of asanas (postures) and breathwork, the result of which can be highly meditative.
Benefits of yoga include¹ ²:
- Improved resilience and focus
- Development of coping skills and strategies for stress
- Increased self-awareness
- Healthy energy levels
- Emotional healing
Take a yoga break with All Points North Therapist and Yoga Instructor Laura Tucker, MS, LPC.
Yoga in Addiction Treatment
Yoga promotes healthy coping, deeper introspection, and strengthens inner resolve for processing difficult emotions, cravings, and urges to act out in addictive patterns⁴. The yoga philosophy offers a holistic approach to addiction treatment that can complement western standards of care.
For example, one tenet of yoga is known as pratyahara, or self-inquiry, a practice that can help one discover the power within to overcome addictive cravings¹. Recovery can challenge individuals to reflect on different aspects of their lives, and mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation provide an outlet for self-discovery.
Yogic asanas involve a combination of physical exercise and relaxation that can be beneficial in addiction treatment⁴. Asanas build strength, flexibility, and resilience while reducing anxiety and depression symptoms, promoting a more balanced and relaxed psychological state⁴. Yoga practices have even been studied in patients undergoing methadone maintenance treatment, with patients showing positive outcomes in overcoming opioid addiction⁵.
Meditation in Addiction Treatment
Meditation stimulates the same reward system in the brain as drugs and alcohol without adverse health impacts. Addiction is dependent on external stimuli, while meditation switches the focus internally, promoting a deeper mind-body connection².
Meditation is used as a tool in healthcare to promote internal psychological healing⁶. There are various types of meditation one can practice; exploring a few different options offers clients the opportunity to find a fit that works best for their specific needs.
Different types of meditation include⁸:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Focused meditation
- Movement meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Guided meditation
Sahaj Samadhi meditation is a transcendental mantra-based meditation that promotes energy and creativity. In Sanskrit, “Sahaj” means effortless. This particular type of meditation trains the mind to cultivate intuition and develop deep stillness, allowing the body to relax.
Meditation can generate energy, clarity, joy, and deep inner peace. The toll of addiction can often cause anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health issues. Meditation can help ease these conditions, instilling a renewed lease on life.
Mindfulness-Based Interventions in a Clinical Setting
Yoga and meditation have become more popular clinical interventions in recent years. Mindfulness meditation is associated with multiple measures of well-being, including reductions in depressive symptoms and perceptions of stress and pain as well as improved immune function⁶ ⁷.
Moreover, mindfulness enhances our ability to regulate cognitive and emotional behavior: those who practice mindfulness exhibit greater cognitive flexibility and emotion regulation than those who do not practice mediation⁸. These outcomes are essential for neuroplasticity and long-term recovery from addiction⁹.
Impacts on Neuroplasticity
Repeated drug use may influence the transmission of signals between neurons in the brain⁹, leading to more habitual and compulsive drug use. As a result, it can be difficult to stop substance use despite its harmful effects.
We can increase neuroplasticity by learning new skills and behaviors and then repeating these behaviors until they become habit⁹. When we learn to practice yoga and meditation assist, we can stimulate the dopamine reward centers in the brain without substances.
Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Treatment
At All Points North, we utilize a multi-pronged treatment approach to heal the mind, body, and spirit. We combine mindfulness-based interventions like yoga and meditation with cutting-edge technology and evidence-based therapies. The result is an optimal healing environment with higher client improvement outcomes and a greater likelihood for sustained recovery.
If you’re interested in learning more about how mindfulness-based interventions can benefit yourself, your clients, or your loved ones, you can contact us via or at 855-510-4585. Healing is possible when clients have the conditions they need to thrive in treatment.
- Khanna, S., & Greeson, J. (2013). A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21, 244–252. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2013.01.008
- Rosenthal, A., Levin, M.E., Garland, E.L. et al. Mindfulness in Treatment Approaches for Addiction — Underlying Mechanisms and Future Directions. Curr Addict Rep 8, 282–297 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-021-00372-w
- Govindaraj, Ramajayam. “The History of Yoga.” White Swan Foundation, 19 June 2015, https://www.whiteswanfoundation.org/mental-health-matters/wellbeing/history-of-yoga.
- Nešpor, K. (2005). Physical exercise and yoga in prevention and treatment of addictive diseases. Cas Lek Cesk, 144(1), 53–55. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15789782
- Shaffer, H. J., LaSalvia, T. A., & Stein, J. P. (1997). Comparing Hatha yoga with dynamic group psychotherapy for enhancing methadone maintenance treatment: A randomized clinical trial. Alternative Therapies in Health Medicine, 4(3), 57–66. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9210777
- Sealy, P. A. (2012). Autoethnography: Reflective journaling and meditation to cope with life-threatening breast cancer. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 16(1), 38–41. doi:10.1188/12.CJON.38-41
- Ramel, W., Goldin, P. R., Carmona, P. E., & McQuaid, J. R. (2004). The effects of mindfulness meditation on cognitive processes and affect in patients with past depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28, 433–455. doi:10.1023/B:COTR.000
- Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, J. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 109–119. doi:10.3758/CABN.7.2.109
- Lewis M. Brain Change in Addiction as Learning, Not Disease. N Engl J Med. 2018 Oct 18;379(16):1551-1560. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1602872. PMID: 30332573.
Reviewed by Emmeline Massey MSW, LSW