How Yoga Breaks Addiction

How Yoga Breaks Addiction

How Yoga Can Help Break Addiction

By Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, MD

As human beings, we are made perfectly happy and serene creatures. We only need to hold a baby to feel the

optimism of our original selves.   As children we believe we are fine and perfect. But the world is not perfect. As we

grow up, we learn that the world is not always so great. People disappoint us, hurt us, even abuse us. We develop

patterns to fill the void. The stage is set for anxiety, depression, low self esteem, or post traumatic stress disorder. We

might then spend our lives battling our demons, or we may become resilient and find joy in life. How we thrive vs.

survive is based on our genes, our family patterns, our opportunities, social stressors, our peer groups, and the people

who care for us.

Everyone has an addiction. We attach to habits that are not in our best interests. Not just to substances, such as

tobacco, alcohol or opiates. We can also be addicted to our own behavior patterns, which turn on the feel-good areas

of the brain. This can manifest as overspending, over-achieving, gambling, over-eating. We may have a self-

destructive tendency to hold ourselves back, each time we come close to success. We may choose unhealthy

relationships again and again. We want the familiarity of the pattern and its secret reward more than we want our own


I myself am not an addiction specialist. I have spent 35 years in healthcare first as a nurses’ aide, then a registered

nurse, and then as an obstetrician-gynecologist.  I have observed human nature from many angles, and

witnessed tragedy and aftermath from many types of addiction.

At a certain point in my professional career, I knew that I needed stress reduction in order to keep up the hectic pace

of medicine. I started practicing, then teaching Kundalini yoga & meditation as taught by Yogi Bhajan and found new

tools for inner calm, strength, and resilience.

Specialists tell us that the science of addiction recovery requires individualized care from many sources. The NIH’s

National Institute on Drug Abuse 1 advises that these include building skills to resist drug use, and replacing drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding activities.

Yoga and meditation get to the root cause of our behaviors. We learn to change gears, from stressed to calm. We do

this by changing the input to the brain. For example, slowing down the breath, and breathing more deeply, sends a

message of calm to our brain. Even if we are nervous, by making the breath relaxed, the mind obeys the signal that

everything is ok. Brain chemistry changes, glandular changes occur. We feel good. Over time, the brain learns to

follow this command more quickly, like a well-worn path in the woods. It becomes easier to calm our selves even in

very stressful situations.

Scientists have also shown that a regular practice of meditation strengthens the “executive” function of the brain. This

overrules our more animalistic impulses. We gain control of our habits.

What does this all mean? Simply put, our lives, surroundings, genes, families, temptations, habits are still right there.

What’s changed is our need to react in the same old way. We are calmer, steadier, more neutral, more able to see the

whole picture. We gain self-awareness so we can see the trap before we fall into it once again. We feel lighter. This

causes a ripple effect, and others feel lighter too.

My friend and mentor, international teacher & addiction specialist, Dr. Mukta Kaur Khalsa, PhD, ran an accredited yoga

hospital which treated addiction in the 1970s. She now dedicates her time teaching people in general, and clinicians,

how to break habits and addictive behaviors via yogic science. Her program is called SuperHealth. It is open to

everyone, with CEUS for nurses, social workers, physical therapists, and counselors. It includes juicing, supplements, yoga technology  manuals, and dietary recommendations. SuperHealth will be held at Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA May 20-28.

For more information about this training, visit

To learn more in general about SuperHealth and Mukta Kaur’s work, visit
1 NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse Publication: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third


Mukta Kaur Khalsa, PhD,  directed the first yoga-based specialized hospital for substance abuse and mental health, rated in the top 10 percent in the country by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, an arm of the American Medical Association. She was a special representative to the United Nations Office of Drug Control and Crime in Vienna, Austria, and is a trainer and teacher worldwide. Mukta studied with Yogi Bhajan for 30 years, and is the author of Meditations for Addictive Behavior.

Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, MD,  formerly known as Diane Pingeton, is currently focused on the intersection betweenWestern health care and yogic technology. She is a Board Certified Obstetrician Gynecologist on sabbatical from clinical practice. She serves as volunteer faculty both at Umass Memorial in Worcester and at the Guru Ram Das Center for Medicine and Humanology in New Mexico, bringing its yoga therapy training to Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA, where she serves as the yoga center director. She and her colleagues offer yoga by donation in the greater Worcester, MA community at

Further Reading:

1) Your Brain on Yoga (Harvard Medical School Guides), Dec 17, 2012, by Sat Bir Singh Khalsa PhD and Jodie Gould

2) Healing Addictive Behavior: Yogic Science for Transformation, Oct 17, 2014, by Mukta Kaur Khalsa

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