Addiction, Recovery, and Yoga: The Benefits
The health benefits associated with regular yoga practice are well documented and as the practice becomes increasingly popular, much is made about the physical changes, such as increased flexibility, weight loss and improved muscle tone, that the body experiences during regular yoga sessions. However, this is just one of the aspects associated with practicing yoga, and is certainly not the main focus for most dedicated yogis. In fact, yoga is based on eight ‘limbs’ of which the physical aspect is just one. The others are: ethical standards, self-discipline, postures, breath, sensory transcendence, concentration, meditation and ecstasy. The very best yoga practice will focus on all of these aspects, rather than just on the superficial physical aspects. Almost anyone can benefit from yoga. The whole practice is based on inclusion and ensuring that everyone who wants to can take part and reap the physical and mental health benefits. Yoga is often recommended as the ideal form of gentle exercise for individuals who are aging, have suffered from heart attacks or strokes, and for those who are experiencing mental health problems. What many people don’t know is that one group of people that can particularly benefit from regular yoga practice are those in recovery from either drug or alcohol addiction.
Yoga Counteracts the Negative Aspects of Addiction
One of the most common symptoms of addiction is a feeling of detachment not only from wider society but also from the self. When an individual is repeatedly and consistently abusing their body with either drugs or alcohol it stands to reason that they will detach from the behaviour, in order to diminish their sense of responsibility for it. By contrast, yoga encourages a concerted focus on self: it provides its followers with an opportunity to take time out and really focus on themselves, by concentrating on their breathing and ensuring that they can be present in the moment. Certain yoga poses can even encourage a sense of safety and of feeling at home wherever you are: essential for individuals at any stage of their path to recovery. A good yogi will be able to guide you through the poses that will best benefit you at each stage of your recovery process and encourage you to focus on the depth and rhythm of your breath during your class to ensure that you receive the optimum benefits from it.
Yoga in Conjunction With Other Programs
Even after sobriety (from either drugs or alcohol) has been established, the body still remains a holding place for the pain it experienced during the time of addiction. The body’s muscle memory will mean that any emotional or physical upheaval, no matter how small, feels significantly painful and could even result in recovery setbacks. Yoga focuses on the body and the positions that it is held in during recovery, a physical focus that is notably absent from otherwise effective 12 step programs, which is why the two recovery models work so well in conjunction with each other. It’s important to note that steps 11 and 12 of the 12 steps program focus on meditation, something that can be wholeheartedly supported and encouraged through regular yoga.
It is no coincidence that more rehabilitation facilities than ever are including yoga as part of their program and that more and more addicts are choosing to continue that yogic practice once their treatment is complete and for the rest of their lives. Yoga is a lifelong commitment, and one that has so many mental and physical health benefits: given that addiction can leave both of these aspects of health vulnerable, that means that it is a wonderful place for addicts to begin their recovery journey. Yoga is accessible to everyone, and its egalitarian nature means that anyone who is dedicated can reap its benefits, and that really is a part of the practice that makes it so wonderful.
Contributed by reader, Jennifer Hooton
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“A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction”, Duke University Medical Center, http://sites.duke.edu/
“Yoga for anxiety and depression”, Harvard Health Publications, http://www.