Addiction Recovery Through Yoga
With all the images online of toned women in tights pulling themselves into pretzel-like poses, it’s easy to focus on the physical side of yoga, thinking of it as an exercise class that ends with a mini nap. But the ancient practice of yoga can also help with drug and alcohol addiction, diseases that affect millions of us in this fast-paced, modern world.
While yoga can be a powerful tool for personal transformation and recovery, many people write it off before even stepping onto a mat, saying they’re not flexible enough or they can’t afford the classes. Yet the mind-body connection, stress relief and personal growth that can occur through the regular practice of yoga can be just what a recovering addict needs. Yoga encourages a person to reconnect to their breath, body, mind and heart. Here are just a few ways yoga can help release the mind and body from the grips of drug and alcohol addiction.
Yoga Eases Stress
“It was such a crazy/stressful/hectic day… I need a drink” is such a common phrase in our culture, it’s easy to forget that there are healthy ways to cope with stress. Many addicts have become so dependent on their substance of choice, they’ve forgotten that movement or even just a few deep breaths can bring a real sense of calm to the day. And that moment of calm can lead to healthier choices as you move toward a sober life.
The benefits of mindful movement and breathing, which are at the center of many yoga classes, have been proven to increase overall health.
According to the American Institute of Stress, 20 to 30 minutes of deep breathing has been shown to help the body kick into a relaxation response, where stress levels drop and blood pressure decreases. “Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness,” according to an article on the organization’s website. “Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body—it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.”
Nearly all yoga classes encourage students to consciously inhale and exhale, which brings peace to the mind and body, even as we move through a practice. If you commit even further, and regularly practice at home or at a studio, you might find yourself using deep breathing or a short yoga sequence to help you stay strong through a moment of temptation or stress.
This is especially important for addicts, as many suffer from post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS, in the early stages of recovery. These symptoms often include anxiety and mood swings. One study has shown that yoga directly helps to increase GABA, a neurotransmitter that aids in relaxing the nervous system, therefore improving your mood and decreasing anxiety.
Yoga Increases Self-Awareness
Addicts are often accused by their loved ones of being selfish. But devoting regular time to the kind of reflection that comes with yoga can be beneficial to those in recovery. More meditative types of the practice, like Yin Yoga, where there is little movement and just a few poses done in a single class, can create a meaningful space for really checking in with ourselves. While the questions that come to mind might not always be pleasant, these classes are set up as safe spaces for students to release emotions, and teachers are aware that their students might be struggling with all kinds of personal issues while in their studio. This type of contemplative yoga can help with anxiety, depression and even sleep issues. By dealing with some of the other factors that might be causing stress and unhappiness in your life, you might have more resolve or energy to commit to a recovery plan or time in a rehabilitation center.
Addressing the Roots of Addiction
Yoga is not superior in dealing with one addiction over another. Yoga begins to address the roots of a problem rather than the symptoms, making it a common tool among recovery from many addictions. If someone struggling with alcohol or drug addiction gets sober only to find him- or herself struggling with another addiction, such as food or gambling, yoga practices can be implemented to support in recovery from both addictions.
Yoga for General Wellbeing
Yoga can also be used as a tool to support general wellbeing regardless of addiction. For example, long deep breathing, or “yogic breathing,” has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase stress resilience. Yoga can also be used to assist in dealing with trauma. According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in the field of trauma treatment, yoga may be more effective than many medications in treating PTSD. “Medication can be quite nice to sort of dampen some of the symptoms,” he states. “But in the end, people need to own their bodies, they need to own their physical experiences. And, in order to overcome your trauma, it needs to be safe to go inside and to experience yourself.”
Yoga asks you to show up for yourself. Although deep breathing can help relieve stress at any moment during the day, a physical yoga practice requires regularly carving out time for yourself. Even if you are just going to spend a few minutes stretching in your living room, you still must make the time to practice. As with any other type of physical exercise, you’ll see more benefits if you practice regularly. Yoga, for example, has been proven to ease chronic back pain and joint pain. Some studies have found that it can also help with mental health issues.
German researchers, for example, studied a small group of women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed.” Over a three-month period, they took two 90-minute yoga classes a week. At the end of the study, their stress, anxiety and overall health all improved. Similar studies have also shown the one-off benefits of even attending a single yoga class. The uniting factor in all of these cases? The participants showed up for themselves and attended a class. They might have had stressful days or felt anxiety about trying yoga or were plagued by depression, but they put all of that aside and spent the hour (or more) bending, breathing and stretching.
It’s easy to put off a yoga practice: to buy a mat or a DVD and let it go dusty. Or to attend a single class, but never step foot in the studio again. But the more you commit to yourself, and a regular mind-body practice, the more overall benefits you’ll begin to see and feel. A single healthy decision, like deciding to roll out your yoga mat, can change your focus for the day and encourage another healthy decision. Over time, those mindful moments will add up, perhaps leading to an overall more positive outlook and healthier lifestyle.
The Art of Surrender
Yoga requires us to surrender. The first of the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” In a similar vein, yoga asks again and again that we drop everything that is not necessary in our lives. Most teachers will begin the class with a mind-clearing exercise and a short moment to set an intention. This helps us focus on the moment, and release all the other stresses in life. Similarly, some poses require surrender, as well.
Maybe there’s a complicated pose in class that you simply cannot twist your body into. That doesn’t mean you have to flop down on your mat or write the pose off for good. It simply means that accepting that today, that pose is not happening.
The same idea is true during some of the more “relaxing” poses. While your body might be still in a seated position, you may feel your mind racing. Again, yoga teaches us to simply surrender and to be present with who we are, where we are, right now. By engaging in a regular practice, we learn that acceptance comes with not being able to control the world around us but by allowing the world around us to exist as it is. By doing so we learn the art and gift of peaceful surrender.
In terms of learning to let go of expectations and limitations, yoga can be a boon for those who are recovering from addiction. In AA, the moment of surrender becomes “the firm bedrock upon which a happy and purposeful life is built.” The same is true in yoga: When we accept that a pose is out of our reach or that our minds cannot be quieted, we might finally find a moment of true freedom.
Feel Healthier and Younger! 5 Detoxifying Habits to Begin
- Dry Brush Your Beautiful Skin
Europeans have used [skin brushing](/video/ayurveda-action-plan-skin-brushing} as an effective method of detoxification for centuries. It’s a simple detox technique which removes toxins accumulated in dead skin cells while simultaneously enhancing circulation. If you brush your skin every day for three minutes, you will be giving it a cleanse that is better than a traditional soap cleaning or bath. In fact, there’s simply no soap that can wash the skin as clean as the new skin which lies beneath the old.
Dry skin brushing your whole body every morning before you shower will do your skin so much good – even if you can’t see it. Just trust in the process because it works! Make sure you use an all-natural dry skin brush, and brush from the feet and hands in the direction of the center of your body. Be sure to brush the bottoms of the feet because nerve endings in your feet affect the whole body. Use lighter strokes over breasts and avoid your nipples if you can. Wash your brush every few weeks in water and let it dry. Get blissed out in the sensation of newly invigorated skin!
- Sweat It Out!
Perspiration is so very, very good for you. It’s an absolutely essential ingredient for healthy skin. Sweating detoxifies and cleanses the skin. If you only sweat for twenty minutes every day, you’ll be doing your skin a world of good. The body detoxifies through the skin, the body’s largest organ of elimination, by sweating. In many traditional cultures around the world, sweating is the first thing people do when they feel a cold or flu coming on. How many times a week do you sweat? For some of us, depending upon our constitution, it’s much easier to sweat than others. But for all of us – no matter what dosha dominates – there are ways to sweat every single day.
For starters, there’s cardiovascular exercise and vinyasa or Bikram yoga classes. Then there are steam rooms and infrared saunas. You can also have some fun in the bedroom by revving up your sexual activity with your partner to get the body sweating and releasing toxins. Whatever you choose to do, try to sweat regularly to maintain optimal health and remove those unwanted toxins.
- Drink Chaga Tea
Chaga, the king of super foods, is a natural detoxifying agent. You can take it in a number of forms, such as powders, capsules, or tinctures. But sipping it in tea form is a great way to relax and drink it as a daily tonic, the way it’s been done for thousands of years by traditional cultures around the world. Chaga is naturally detoxifying because it is a super food that directly impacts the immune system – in a good, good way.
When we feed our bodies with this immune super food, it detoxifies itself naturally because fifty percent of the detox process is simply the immune system working to eliminate toxins. Chaga is also one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world, second only to cacao. Antioxidants detoxify the body, too, by preventing our liver from being overtaxed with oxidative stress.
- Go To Bed and Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day
Research has shown us over and over again that serious sleep deprivation has the same negative effects on the body as do illness and stress. Our body naturally goes to work for us when we sleep, and getting enough sleep is crucial to the body’s natural mechanisms of detoxification. For the brain in particular to detoxify, adequate sleep is absolutely essential.
There’s something referred to as the glymphatic system, which is simply defined as the brain’s system of removing toxins that can lead to such diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other brain maladies. It’s like the lymphatic system for your brain. When we get a good eight hours of sleep on average, the brain “takes out the trash.” Sleep is absolutely essential for removing toxic waste products.
- Twist It Out With Yoga
Yoga postures that twist and turn the body have a natural detoxifying effect. They get things movin’ and groovin’ inside, enhancing the digestive system, while giving the organs a nice, internal massage. When we get into twisting poses, our organs are compressed. This action actually moves blood that inevitably gets filled with toxins out of our system. Twists also flood the liver and kidneys with oxygen while getting blood flowing to those organs of elimination. Try to detox daily by sitting in seated spinal twist and breathing for six to ten breaths.
Other excellent yoga poses for detoxification include: chair twists, wide-legged forward fold with twist, cat/cow (not a twisting pose but still great for digestion), supine twists, twisted side angle pose, downward dog with a twist, crescent lunge twist, and marichiyasana.
In addition, all inversions are also excellent for detoxifying as they soothe the nervous system while stimulating circulation and lymph in the legs and feet, bringing oxygenated blood to the abdomen and brain. While you do your yoga postures, try breathing through the nose. This, too, has a detoxifying effect because many environmental pollutants get stopped in the mucous membranes of the nasal passages when we breathe through the nose. They then travel to the digestive system where they are broken down and eliminated from the body.
Good luck with your whole body demo habits! Your body will love you for bringing these new habits into your life.