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Is Yoga Effective for Teen Addiction Treatment?

Woman sitting outside on the grass with legs folded.

Were you aware that yoga can help with your flexibility, allergies, sinuses, digestion, pain relief, self-esteem, and marital relationships? Perhaps you know some people who swear by yoga and proselytize about it whenever they can. Given the Swiss army knife-like purposes of yoga, perhaps it is no surprise that the practice is often used in teen addiction treatment.

What Does Yoga Entail?

First, it is helpful to realize that yoga involves more than twisting your body into unnatural shapes and poses. True yoga is as much about the mind and soul as it is about the body. (That is why yoga without meditation is simply called “stretching.”)

The goal of yoga practitioners is to perform these physical maneuvers while meditating, breathing, and relaxing. It is during this state of union in mind, body, and spirit that people can increase their mindfulness and begin the emotional and mental healing process, which is pivotal in the fight against addiction.

Research Shows Optimistic Results for Yoga

Initial research seems to bolster the hypothesis that yoga can aid in the recovery process. A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse revealed that Indian patients in a 90-day residential substance abuse program that incorporated yoga, meditation, and other mind-body techniques reported improvements in their symptoms and recovery efforts. 

A more comprehensive review of such programs was published in the June 2013 edition of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine. The article cited studies which showed promising results when mindfulness-based therapies were employed in conjunction with traditional substance abuse treatment methods. The authors note that more scientific studies are needed to flesh out what aspects of mindfulness therapy, meditation, and/or yoga are effective and for which demographics of patients they are most successful.

Benefits of Yoga for Addicts

Even so, many drug rehabilitation centers and substance abuse facilities are including yoga in their suite of offerings to those trying to recover from addiction. Here are some of the benefits that have been reported by addicts:

  1. They are better able to connect with their feelings. Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol to avoid or mask their feelings, yoga helps addicts get in touch with their emotions so they can start controlling their stress, anxiety, depression, and other troublesome feelings.
  2. They are better able to clear, focus, and strengthen their mind. At its core, meditation is “strength training” for the mind. It helps people become more adept at concentrating on the present and combatting negative thoughts and ideas which help drive addiction.
  3. They sleep better. A major aspect of yoga and meditation is the ability to practice breathing control and relax on demand. When people acquire this skill, they can make themselves fall asleep faster and obtain restful slumber.
  4. They can cope with real life better. Many addicts are able to replace the artificial euphoria they received from drugs and alcohol with natural feelings of euphoria from yoga. Plus, when life becomes difficult or troublesome, yoga can replace a bottle, pill, or syringe as a coping mechanism.
  5. They join a community. While substance abusers do find support from counselors and their peers in recovery, practicing yoga in a group setting can allow addicts to bond with like-minded people in a “normal” and healthy activity, which can help eliminate their feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Twin teenage boys sitting crossed legged with arms up in the air.

To be sure, yoga may not be for everyone. In fact, the authors of the India study write that “spiritual lifestyle interventions” like yoga might be more effective “in populations receptive to such approaches.” Therefore, forcing a recalcitrant adolescent to participate in yoga in addiction recovery may not yield positive results.

But for addicts who are open-minded and willing to try novel approaches on their road to recovery, yoga has the potential to be a key (and perhaps life-changing) element of their struggle for sobriety. After all, the practice of yoga would not have survived for thousands of years if it were not helping people heal themselves and improve their lives.

For more information on unconventional techniques that can help teen addicts, contact us today.

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