A Guide To Mindfulness and Yoga For Addiction Treatment

Deciding to get treatment for substance abuse is a big step. It can be difficult to overcome addiction without the proper tools. Some of these tools may include mindfulness and yoga. 

Research shows the clinical promise of mindfulness and yoga in addiction treatment. 

Many treatment models suggest that the skills, insights, and self-awareness learned through practicing mindfulness and yoga target psychological, neural, and behavioral processes implicated in active addiction and recovery. 

This guide will walk you through the science behind mindfulness and yoga and how they can be great compliments to a holistic addiction treatment program. And show you ways to practice them at home. 

The Addiction Cycle: What You Need To Know

Recovering from addiction is complicated. The cycle of addiction involves a gradual progression from occasional substance use to uncontrollable urges to take drugs or alcohol. 

Perhaps what you once considered ‘social drinking’ has now become something you do alone, or you no longer restrict yourself to using substances on the weekends. 

In many cases, this increased use of substances is an attempt to self-medicate and avoid difficult emotions and feelings. 

Once started, the addiction cycle can be challenging to break. However, by leveraging tools like mindfulness and yoga, it is possible to break out of the habit and regain control over your life. 

Mindfulness: More Than Just A Buzzword

The term mindfulness has become a buzzword over the last decade, with many people boasting about its potential benefits. 

While mindfulness may not be a solution for everyone, studies have shown that it is an excellent complement to addiction treatment. 

Rooted in Buddism meditations, mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

This boils down to a moment-to-moment awareness of mental, emotional, and physical layers that make up a person. Mindfulness also promotes non-judgmental awareness. 

This means that instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future, individuals sense what is happening within themselves and their surroundings in the present moment and process it then.   

Mindfulness And Addiction

Mindfulness has been proven to aid in addiction recovery by:

  • Reducing stress
  • Improving attention and awareness
  • Reducing substance cravings 
  • Improving mood 
  • Adopting a non-judgmental attitude 

A short, daily mindfulness practice can help individuals learn there is no need to react immediately to intense feelings or sensations. 

Instead, individuals can be mindful of their current mood, thoughts, and experiences and handle them positively rather than reaching for drugs or alcohol. 

The Science Behind The Mind And Body Connection

When someone abuses drugs consistently for six months or more, they can start to lose the innate neural connections that enable them to feel physical sensations throughout their bodies. 

Slowly, addiction can numb physical sensations. Studies have shown that prolonged alcohol and opioid abuse can influence how the body interprets pain sensations over time, making it difficult to feel physical pain.  

Mind-body practices such as yoga and mindfulness can help rebuild these connections, which can be the foundation of someone’s recovery from substance abuse and aid in living a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. 

Yoga For Stress Reduction

Recent studies have shown that performing mindfulness exercises like meditation consistently can reshape brain chemistry. Helping individuals improve their mental health.

There is evidence that yoga can aid in the reduction of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. 

It is believed that an imbalance of these hormones can cause individuals to experience negative moods like anxiety or depression. People who struggle with addiction are also more likely to experience these mental health disorders. 

However, when someone regularly practices yoga, they can keep excess stress hormones level and potentially avoid anxiety or depression. 

When someone has a high level of stress hormones built up in the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord), these hormones can become toxic and cause further issues to other systems in the body, such as the digestive system. 

How Mindfulness Helps With Substance Abuse

Yoga and mindfulness are especially beneficial during the detox phase of recovery, as both can help naturally alleviate withdrawal symptoms.  

The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine released a study of 25 patients who had eight weeks of mindfulness training. 

Those who participated in the study were shown to have better immune system function than the 16 participants who had not experienced the mindfulness training. 

This is important because taking excess alcohol and substances can weaken the immune system over time, making it difficult to fight infection. 

With mindfulness meditation, individuals can help reverse these negative effects during their detox and throughout their recovery. 

The Benefits Of Practicing Yoga

While mindfulness and yoga are still considered alternative forms of therapy, they can be very useful in addiction recovery and everyday life. 

The known benefits of practicing yoga include: 

  • Enhanced muscle strength and flexibility
  • Improved respiratory (lung) and cardiovascular (heart) function 
  • Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression 
  • Relief from chronic pain 
  • Improved sleeping patterns 

Overall, yoga practice can help improve someone’s physical wellbeing, which in turn helps improve their mental, and in some cases, spiritual wellbeing as well. 

Using Yoga In Addiction Recovery

Yoga has been increasingly used in addiction recovery programs in recent years. Yoga can help individuals in recovery by: 

  • Helping reduce cravings 
  • Combating withdrawal symptoms 
  • Providing a healthy outlet for potential triggers in daily life

How To Incorporate Mindfulness And Yoga Into Addiction Treatment

Whether you are participating in an addiction program virtually or in an outpatient or inpatient setting, it is possible to incorporate mindfulness and yoga. 

The following are simple ways to incorporate mindfulness and yoga into your daily routine, all from the comfort of your home!

Simple Yoga Series To Practice At Home

There are endless resources for yoga information out there. From beginner to expert, there’s a video for you. 

However, it is crucial to never participate in a yoga pose that makes you feel uncomfortable. Go at your own pace and make sure you are experiencing the sensations of your body, not trying to fit a pose exactly. 

Stay aware of your limitations initially but know that with practice, more flexibility and strength will develop. There is almost always an alternate pose that you can practice to advance your flexibility a little at a time.  

If you have concerns about certain yoga practices, consult your general practitioner before starting. 

Here are some guides for people who are new to yoga: 


How To Practice Mindfulness At Home

One of the advantages of mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere, any time. 

There is no need to adopt a specific belief system or faith or invest a lot of time or energy to take advantage of mindfulness.

The most important thing about practicing mindfulness is to stay curious. 

You must approach being present with your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with a curious and open mind.

Here are some ways to get started: 

1. Be Present

The truth is, it is entirely possible to be somewhere and not actually be there. We do it every day, whether we realize it or not. 

Any activity from watching TV, sitting in a meeting, even during our commute to work, our bodies may be there, but our attention is elsewhere. 

We are likely worried about something that happened to us in the past or anxious about an event that has yet to happen. 

But when we ‘go through the motions’ or fly through life on ‘autopilot,’ it can be tough to realize our full potential. 

Choosing to be mindful is choosing to be fully in the present moment. This increases our awareness and helps us learn to cope with the present and how reality actually is, not just how we perceive it. 

2. Be Still

It is common in western society to follow the belief that being busy is a good thing. Being busy or having a go-go-go mentality is often equated with success and considered healthy. 

So it may surprise you to learn that being still and allowing yourself to simply be is one of the easiest ways to discover your truth and create meaning in your life. 

There are many ways to experience stillness. Anyone can do it. You just have to find the form of stillness you like best. 

Here are some examples of being still: 

  • Gazing at the night sky 
  • Watching the waves of an ocean 
  • Looking out over the mountains 
  • Walking in the woods 

Another way to practice stilling the mind is to immerse yourself in activities that can hold your attention, such as: 

  • Exercise (CrossFit or yoga classes) 
  • Gardening 
  • Woodworking
  • Painting 
  • Playing an instrument
  • Singing 

Find whatever works for you and do it more often. The trickiest thing about mindfulness is remembering to do it. 

Recovering from substance abuse is a journey, not a destination. Practicing being still can help open individuals up to their potential during and after addiction treatment. 

3. Recognize Thoughts For What They Are

It can be easy to confuse thoughts with reality and believe that everything we think is true. 

However, the very fact that we are human makes us prone to false assumptions, misconceptions, and unfounded beliefs. 

When someone practices mindfulness, they empower themselves to let go of these harmful thoughts that work against their wellbeing. 

Negative self-talk is common among people who are recovering from substance abuse. Thoughts like “I’m a failure” or “I’m no good” can drain people of the hope and energy they need to create positive change in their lives.

Recognizing and then challenging these negative thoughts allows an individual to see themselves in a more positive light.

Start by checking in with yourself throughout the day, particularly when you feel stressed out or anxious. Ask yourself if any thoughts triggered you to feel this way, and remind yourself that thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. 

Focus On Something

We all experience stress in our lives. And life can get the better of us sometimes. When things begin to pile up, or you start to feel overwhelmed, pick something to focus on. 

A common theme in mindfulness is focusing on the breath. Doing this brings awareness back to the body and the sensations within. 

Instead of focusing on and becoming upset over external things that are out of your control, bring your focus back to internal things you can control, like your breathing. 

Start by taking small breaks to ‘breathe’ a few times a day. You can do this anywhere—at a stoplight or waiting in line for morning coffee, even quickly before you open an email. 

While taking your breathing break, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth on a two/three count. Breathe in for two seconds, followed by breathing out for three seconds as many times as you feel comfortable. 

Notice the sensations that you feel as air enters and exits your lungs. Let it fill you with a sense of calm and ground you where you are. 

These breaks could last a few seconds to a few minutes. Listen to your breathing until you feel centered and calm again. 

Mindfulness And Yoga At Elevate Addiction Services

As a holistic treatment center, Elevate Addiction Services incorporates mindfulness and yoga in combination with other evidence-based therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals overcome their substance abuse issues. 

We feel that incorporating these practices into our treatment curriculum is one of the many things that sets us apart from other treatment facilities around the country. 

At Elevate, our holistic treatment model is designed to help individuals heal physically, mentally, and spiritually. We know that not everyone will benefit from traditional treatment options such as 12-step programs. 

If you or a loved one has tried to overcome substance abuse but were unsuccessful, consider giving holistic treatment a try. 

Our program offers tools and skills to help you stay on track with your sobriety even after finishing your treatment. 

Contact an addiction specialist today to learn more about how to incorporate mindfulness and yoga into your recovery today. 

This page does not provide medical advice

Written by Elevate Addiction Services | ©2020 Elevate Addiction Services | All Rights Reserved

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, LMFT LAADC

December 22, 2020

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