The 8 Limbs of Yoga and How They Help With Addiction Recovery


If my friends and family members met me for the first time around a decade ago, they wouldn’t recognize me. In fact, some of them are still awestruck at the changes I have gone through these past 10 years. You see, I used to be an addict.

The term is thrown around loosely nowadays, yet people forget about the seriousness of addiction as a mental health issue. That’s what it is, in reality. Addiction is an uncontrollable urge which was recognized as a disease by The American Medical Association in 1956.

If you manage to pull yourself out of your addiction abyss (some people never do), you’re confronted with a whole new set of challenges. For me, I had a difficult drug detox period while in prison. Then, one relapse after I got out, and endless moments when the cravings were so bad I was ready to say screw it and give in. Although I’m better at suppressing those cravings now, they never seem to go away in the end.

People deal with recovery in different ways. Some seek comfort in their friends and family, others go to therapy, a long-term residency at rehab, outpatient programs, and so on. Rehab centers have been immensely successful. Yet, there are people who have a difficult time coping with their new lives after they are released and sober. This has led to the development of holistic approaches to post-rehab.

While none of these methods should be considered as your one and only solution in recovery, they can be effective when combined with a proper program. Methods include acupuncture, meditation, massage, reiki and yoga among others.

When I set my eyes on yoga as a holistic method, I was drawn tothe fact that it’s a way to exercise. Working out was highly recommended post-rehab. After doing research, I put it into practice and was fully satisfied with the results. Yoga can help you control your emotions, which in turn helps you control your cravings. It allowed me to build self-control, which was very important in the recovery process. I used yoga to replace the artificial high from drugs and alcohol with the natural one from breathing and meditation.

Yoga is split into 8 different paths, also known as limbs. When people think of yoga they think of breathing and stretching, when in reality those are only a small part of it. In this article, we will look at how these limbs benefit your recovery. Let’s get started:

1. Yamas

Yamas are the first limb, and they deal with the behavior that one should have when practicing yoga. They consist of 5 different practices that we promise to ourselves when we begin yoga. The idea behind the Yamas is that we treat others the way we would like to be treated:

  • Ahimsa: the promise of non-violence.
  • Asteya: the promise of non-stealing (whether it be objects or the time of others).
  • Satya: the promise of truthfulness.
  • Aparigraha: the promise of non-greed or non-possessiveness.
  • Brahmacharya: the promise of self-control.

The five Yamas lay the groundwork for becoming a person who treats others with respect. Forgiveness and treating others well was a massive part of my recovery program. When I connected Yamas with the concept of acting with kindness, I felt more fulfilled and at ease with myself.

2. Niyamas

Similar to Yamas, Niyamas are the guidelines to our own ritualistic process. The way we nourish our mind, spirit, and body are the core standards for the Niyamas, which work in accordance with Yamas. They are:

  • Saucha: cleanliness of the inner and outer body. Proper nutrition, elimination of sugar, fats, drugs, and alcohol are part of keeping your body clean. Your mind must also be kept clean, removing feelings of anger or stress.
  • Santosha: contentment with oneself. Being mindful and appreciating the present moment, finding joy in the everyday instants of life.
  • Tapas: the fiery desire to improve your life with self-discipline. This relates to the motivation we have to live a better life.
  • Svadhyaya: to study your own body and mind. Using this you will know yourself inside and out, understand who you are, and accept yourself.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: to surrender yourself to God. While this may seem difficult to accept for those who don’t believe in God, it can be interpreted as giving yourself to a higher purpose.

The 5 Yamas in combination with the 5 Niyamas are your ten keys to success in the practice of yoga. You will adopt the traits necessary to complete your journey, while also applying those very same stages to your life in recovery.

3. Asana

Asana is the practice that you will see in any studio. People stretching, doing poses and breathing. The benefits of this limb are that you get to exercise your body while enhancing your spirituality. Your circulation is also improved with Asana, which means that your vital organs get that extra boost of blood they need to recover and detox.

Asana reduces stress and negative feelings. If you didn’t already know, challenging emotions are among the top reasons why people relapse. When you exercise through Asana you lose weight. This boosts self-confidence and provides a general feeling of self-satisfaction.

4. Pranayama

This limb focuses on the control of your breathing. It is an essential step in yoga, where different techniques can improve circulation, heart health, and mental health. A strong mind is vital in addiction recovery. Pranayama allows you to build that strength through breathing.

5. Pratyahara

Recovery can be hectic. You might stress, feel depressed and overwhelmed with the second chance you’ve received at life. Sometimes you want to get away from it all, and in fact, it’s important to withdraw from daily struggles every now and then. Pratyahara does exactly that. It’s a form of meditation which provides a well-needed rest while you restore your energy to continue on the path to recovery. Focus on each of your senses individually from touch to taste, and appreciate the moment. You will replenish your energy.

6. Dharana

The Dharana stage follows Pratyahara, and is translated to “concentration.” You use this stage to proceed with deep meditation after the initial steps of the previous stage. These two limbs combined are especially important when fighting the anxiety that may affect you in recovery

7. Dhyana

As you continue through the limbs of yoga, Dhyana builds upon Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharana. Dhyana is the step when full concentration is reached. People who manage to reach this level end up introspecting and gaining self-knowledge. Understanding who you are and setting clear goals for your future plans are main key points of a successful recovery.

8. Samadhi

Welcome to the stage of transcendence, where you have arrived at the high point in your practice. People in the Samadhi stage feel themselves ascend into conscious freedom, and the natural high that comes from yoga is unleashed. Recovering addicts often compare this feeling to the one they would have if they were to completely eliminate addiction from their lives.

Those are the 8 limbs of yoga, and the ways they connect to and aid in your recovery. Holistic practices are plenty, with researched benefits. Yoga has been my favorite because I saw amazing results and it pushed me to maintain my sobriety. I am now 10 years sober, and I have reached heights in my life that I never thought previously possible. Hopefully, yoga will have the same effects on you as it did on me.

Has yoga helped you recover? How? Let us know in the comments!

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Andy MaciaEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Andy Macia, a recovering drug addict/alcoholic with over 10 years sober. He was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles California. He is an avid rehab blogger and digital marketing entrepreneur. 

Photo credit: Brian Crawford Photography on Instagram

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