Yoga is used therapeutically to help people improve their lives. It is useful in bolstering physical health and mental well-being.  It can also be very helpful in treating addictive behavior.  Yoga is being increasingly utilized in substance abuse treatment programs to prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms, minimize drug cravings, and provide a healthy outlet to work through addiction triggers and daily stressors. 

When someone regularly abuses drugs and alcohol, it affects the way that their brain functions.  Neural pathways are altered to adapt to the chronic influx of mood-altering chemicals. These pathways affect an addict’s ability to feel pleasure, regulate their emotions, make decisions, and control their impulses. After being without the influence of drugs or alcohol for some time, this brain chemistry can regain balance and rebuild itself. Yoga can assist in this process.

Yoga’s Effect on the Mind, Body and Soul

Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that originated in India. Usually, Yoga is conducted in a class where poses, called asanas, are demonstrated by an instructor for the students to mimic.  Classes typically include some form of breathing exercises, called pranayama, along with meditation and relaxation techniques.  The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word” yuj,” which is means “union.”  The original practice of Yoga was designed to bring the mind and body together with the use of exercise, meditation, and breathing.  

Participating in Yoga has been proven to promote relaxation and lower stress levels. The meditative quality of Yoga can contribute to physiological changes that help lower heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline and cortisol (a hormone related to stress).  A study even showed that portions of the brain, like the hippocampus, that control stress may be enlarged with the regular practice of Yoga.  Aside from stress reduction, Yoga has been shown to be useful in other aspects of a person’s health.  Some added benefits are:

  • Increased stamina and strength
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improved eating habits
  • Improved self-image
  • Pain relief
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduction in fatigue
  • Emotional healing

Yoga classes typically last from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half.  During them, students focus on imitating physical postures while breathing in a controlled way.  The purpose of posing in a specific form is to align the body so that energy can flow through the spine to other parts of the body. This opens the mind, bringing balance to the mind and body.

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Can Yoga Help Treat Addiction?

Yoga can naturally balance parts of the brain and body that were disrupted by drug and alcohol abuse. There are also emotional benefits of participating in Yoga.  Through Yoga, people become uniquely tuned in to their bodies.  They learn to regulate their breathing and observe how their bodies behave under different circumstances. This helps create an awareness of how influences, both external and internal, make them feel in a nonjudgmental way.

By focusing their energy inward, people in recovery can learn to take ownership of their feelings.  A byproduct of this process is becoming more self-reliant and confident. This internal control can be transferred to addictive behavior as well.  By applying the techniques learned in Yoga to their daily lives, addicts can separate themselves from their cravings and addictive urges.  These feelings are more easily dealt with when the person becomes physically aware of them, observes that they are having these feelings, and then chooses to ignore them when they occur.

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Yoga can also help people cope with the side effects of detoxing from drugs and alcohol.  Yoga increases energy levels, encourages people to eat better, and improves their quality of sleep.  This is especially important because the most common symptoms of withdrawal are fatigue, loss of appetite and restlessness, all of which can lead to s relapse.  When people feel better, they are more capable of handling stress and other issues that can send them spiraling back to addiction.  Improved sleep habits also make a person more focused and less irritable, allowing people in recovery to get more out of psychotherapy and addiction education.

There is a spiritual aspect of Yoga that helps with recovery as well.  During the recovery process, addicts are often reintroduced to spirituality for the first time since they were children.  Many 12-Step programs rely on spirituality and spiritual concepts.  The belief in a “Higher Power” can be a sticking point for many people who have had bad experiences with organized religion, or who have never felt a divine presence in their lives.  Yoga introduces individuals who are averse to spiritual concepts to a refreshing form of spirituality that doesn’t have all of the baggage that many established Western religions have. 

In Yoga, participants reach a spiritual connection through breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation.  By quieting external influences, a person in recovery can find inner peace.  Through self-reflection, an addict can come to the profound, personal realization that they need to make serious changes in order to improve their lives.