Dissertations & Theses (Open Access)

Date of Award

Summer 8-2019

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Aubree Shay, Phd, Mssw

Second Advisor

John Herbold, Dvm, Mph, Phd

Third Advisor

Don Mcgeary, Phd, Abpp


Over 72,000 people die from overdose or secondary health issues related to substance use disorder (SUD) annually. Studies support mind-body interventions in reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and craving symptoms. There is a growing body of literature supporting yoga as a mind-body intervention for individuals recovering from SUD. These interventions promote improved physical awareness, greater awareness of mental states, non-reactivity, and reduced perception of pain, allows for more successful coping with cravings. Ashtanga yoga (AY) is a tradition of yoga wherein students work on a one-on-one basis with highly qualified teachers following an invariant sequence of yoga postures. AY is characterized by intense physical exercise, controlled breathing, and a focused gazing point which combined create a concentrated mindfulness practice. Because research supports reduction in depression, anxiety, stress, and addictive behaviors from mindfulness interventions, AY may be a highly effective intervention for individuals recovering from SUD. Currently, no research has investigated AY interventions for individuals with SUD. This study identified measurable outcomes from individuals with SUD who use AY as a tool for their recovery. The objectives of this qualitative investigation were to identify domains worthy of further investigation including appeal of AY, change in underlying symptoms, transfer of mindfulness skills to daily life, and leadership. 31 participants, age 18 or older, who have practiced AY for at least 3 months completed an open-ended web-based survey. Qualitative content analysis revealed that the participants shared common themes of physical appeal, giving explicit credit to AY for their sobriety, and improvements to stress, anxiety, depression, confidence, and self-image. They also noted transformation of their daily lives through improved routine and the use of mindfulness skills and breathing exercises. Additionally, participants noted new roles as leaders in their communities. These domains will inform future study of AY interventions for SUD. Additionally, they will inform recruitment and design for SUD public health interventions. Limitations include an inability to expand upon participants’ responses, and because of the rigidity of AY, limited transferability of findings to less structured yoga styles. This study employed a novel use of web-based qualitative data collection and social media based, peer-to-peer recruitment.