Finding Sobriety Through Lakota Culture and Spirituality

A number of different spiritual practices have been found to help with addiction recovery—ranging from practicing gratitude to rewiring your brain with mindfulness meditation.  The Lakota Tribe has found the same healing powers in their traditions.

Creating a spiritual home

Re-connecting to Lakota culture is, for those in the midst of recovery, a chance to embody the strength of their people and turn over a new leaf.  The chance to practice ancient traditions passed down through oral history, speak the language of their ancestors, and learn about the spirituality that has guided the tribe through many hardships provides a much-needed sense of community and belonging for the people who most need that connection.  

In a Lakota-based recovery program, participants look inward to find peace, strength, and understanding.  Teachers also emphasize that the Lakota way of life has never involved drugs or alcohol.  Leaving these substances behind becomes not a sacrifice, but an opportunity to connect with their heritage.  

“To forgive yourself, you need the help from a higher power to do that.” 

The practices and beliefs of Lakota culture, combined with the 12 steps, create a strong foundation for people searching for sobriety.  Basil Brave Heart, a leader of efforts to do just that, credits rituals such as the sweat lodge and the sun dance for helping him recover.  

Because these practices are layered and all-encompassing, they bring together one’s mind, body, and spirit for healing.  Mr. Brave Heart shared his story and unique approach to AA in an interview on spirituality and recovery, tying his tribe’s religious practices into the moral laws laid out in the 12 steps.  

A Four-In-One Approach

There are four tenets that underlie successful recovery: health, home, purpose, and community.  The Lakota practices of spirituality-based healing can provide support in all four areas.

  • Health: Rituals like the sweat lodge help purify one’s body in preparation for a new start.
  • Home: For the Lakota, every object in nature has a spirit that can help them.  Re-connecting with Lakota spirituality is a reminder that the land has long been a home to one’s people.
  • Purpose: The integration of spirituality into recovery revives both the soul and the culture the soul is learning from.
  • Community: Immersion in cultural lessons including language, history, and traditions leads to a strong sense of identity and belonging. 

Spiritual practices strengthen bonds, providing the vital support systems that can help someone successfully navigate their recovery.

An Array of Spiritual Solutions

For those looking for alternative spirituality, but uninterested in Lakota tribe culture, there are many other spiritual paths and practices that can help with recovery.  Choosing a holistic route like the ones below can work as a complement to the 12 steps, addressing both the physical and mental aspects of addiction recovery.


The Five Universal Precepts of Buddhism help followers of the Eightfold path move away from behaviors that cause suffering.  Through the awareness of suffering throughout the world, and the part one’s actions play in it, Buddhism teaches how to release negative emotions and cultivate positive thought patterns.  And, mindfulness asks that followers not use drugs or alcohol (or engage in other harmful forms of escapism) to avoid dealing with difficult emotions.


Rooted in Taoist philosophy, acupuncture can help with healing by rebalancing the bodies essential energies—called Qi by practitioners.  Taoism urges living in harmony with the universe and following the Three Jewels: Compassion, Frugality, and Humility.  These behavioral values complement the acupuncture process, which is designed to bring the organs back in alignment with their natural state, and combine to create a holistic healing process.


Yoga is more than just a trendy way to stay fit—it’s based in spiritual practices meant to help both mind and body.  Studies have shown that yoga can help people recover from traumas, eliminating the need to self-medicate through drug and alcohol use.  Like meditation, yoga practices involve breath regulation and mindfulness, which help reduce stress.  Elements of behavioral therapy may also be included in a yoga session, helping participants learn to better regulate their emotions and cope with stressful situations.  


Created in Nepal, Reiki is a method of energy-based healing that can help patients during the discomfort of withdrawal.  Found to have an effect on everything from mood to sleep patterns to personal insights to pain relief—Reiki treatment may be a good choice for those who are struggling with any of these common effects of detox.  The practice has been credited for helping patients move away from identifying as a victim of addiction to finding deeper understandings that can help them move past the urge to drink or use drugs.

Which approach is right for me?

Lakota spirituality won’t be the answer for many people—but that doesn’t mean you can’t apply the principles to your own situation.  The most important thing about a spiritual practice is that it has meaning to you, in your current situation.

At its heart, spirituality is about finding meaning and purpose.  You may choose not to follow either Western or Eastern traditions, but there is no “wrong” way to be spiritual.  If you consider yourself non-religious, you may find spirituality through activities such as:

  • Volunteering 
  • Practicing art or other creative pursuits
  • Enjoying nature by taking a walk or a picnic outdoors
  • Reflecting on the positive elements in your life
  • Connecting with groups who share your life philosophy and goals

The most important thing is to find activities that restore the parts of your heart and soul that were ignored or damaged during your struggle with addiction.  Cultivating a strong sense of spirituality allows you to take control of your life and turn your back on the darkness of drugs and alcohol.

At Windward Way, we offer a variety of holistic recovery methods that help you heal inside and out.  If you or a loved one is looking for a way to break the cycle of addiction, contact us now at 855-491-7694.

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