It’s no secret that many Americans currently suffer from addiction, whether it be to drugs, alcohol, or other harmful behaviors. If you’re reading this and you are not personally struggling, you probably know someone who is.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2016, an estimated 20 million people in the U.S. battled with substance abuse, which equates to about 7.5% of American adults. After marijuana, the misuse of prescription drugs, cocaine and hallucinogens ranked in the top of the list. If you have watched the news lately, you’ll know that prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction is the #1 substance abuse problem in the country right now, and deaths due to heroin overdose have increased at an alarming rate.
Clearly there’s a problem, and we’re here to help. Many health professionals, both conventional and alternative, have begun to tout the benefits that yoga for addiction can provide to those struggling with and searching for sustained sobriety.
How Yoga For Addiction Works
Basic Benefits of Yoga
As we frequently discuss and maintain on our blog and at our Rancho Mirage, California facility, yoga has many potential benefits, including:
*Increased physical strength and stamina
*Increased energy levels and less fatigue
*Healthier exercise and eating habits
*Self-reflection and increased self-awareness
*Improved self-image and self-confidence
*Overall health and wellness improvement
It’s easy to see from this list why more substance abuse treatment programs are using yoga and mindfulness practices to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings and to help prevent relapse. A strong argument can be made that yoga provides a healthy outlet for coping with potential triggers for drug abuse and daily stress that could lead to relapse.
The Disconnect Malfunction
A common thread that runs through all addiction is the compulsive desire to alter, avoid, deny and escape reality. In short, drugs and alcohol offer a retreat (albeit, an unhealthy one) from daily stressors, boredom, uncomfortable physical or emotional sensations or past traumas. Indeed, it could be argued that a certain amount of deflection of responsibility takes place in the mind of those struggling with addiction, or at least a disconnect between action and consequence. Here’s where yoga for addiction and mindfulness practices come in.
A yoga practice encourages self-reflection and self-awareness. Self-reflection techniques are used by many 12-Step and recovery programs to help addicts see how addictive behavior is negatively affecting themselves and the people in their lives, and yoga is no different. Yoga takes this self-reflection a step further and hones in on self-awareness, specifically being in tune with one’s mental, physical and emotional states. By doing so, we can improve our ability to sit with these oftentimes uncomfortable sensations that we all instinctually want to get away from.
Nobody enjoys confronting pain or feeling anxiety. It’s human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Yoga provides an alternative to escape: it gives us the confidence and self-awareness to see our internal and external triggers, to explore them and see what causes them, and to make a healthy choice to move and breathe through them. Yoga gives us the power to choose our reaction to our specific stressors and triggers. Now that’s powerful!
Dysfunction of Mind, Body and Spirit
When someone regularly abuses drugs or alcohol, pathways in the brain are altered. Pleasure centers, emotional regulation, decision making, memory function and impulse control can all be negatively affected. After a period of time without the influence of drugs or alcohol, brain chemistry and circuitry can heal and rebuild itself. It’s possible that yoga for addiction can help with this as well.
Yoga aims to “yoke,” or connect, the mind, body and spirit where there is a definite disconnect or imbalance. It fosters the kind of discipline and inner peace needed in a 12-Step program, because yoga encourages one’s mind and body to work in harmony. Yoga has been proven to reduce stress hormones, and may also increase grey matter in the brain and improve the functionality of areas responsible for controlling stress.
Since stress, anxiety and depression are not only triggers of addictive behavior, but also symptoms of withdrawal from drugs and alcohol, we can see that a regular yoga and mindfulness practice can be beneficial at many stages of addiction and recovery.
Overall Health and Wellness
Drug abuse and addictive behavior can be a vicious cycle: I drink or use drugs because I feel bad, and then I feel bad because I drink or use drugs. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yoga has the potential to break this cycle down and even stop it in its tracks. Since yoga has been shown to relieve symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety and other mental and physical ailments, it could be an excellent compliment to a whole-health approach to addiction recovery.
We know from personal experience that a regular yoga and mindfulness practice tends to influence a person’s self-care and lifestyle choices, not to mention that it is oftentimes practiced in a group. Support from like-minded individuals plus the desire to be healthier and happier can have a powerful impact on the life of someone who struggles with addiction. It could in fact be a perfect compliment to traditional or alternative addiction treatment strategies!
More and more programs these days are focusing on a “whole health” or holistic approach that encompasses a variety of methods and tools to help achieve, maintain and enhance recovery. Our offerings aim to heal the mind, reduce stress, and connect you with a like-minded community so you can start your path to successful and lasting recovery. We’re excited for you to contact us today to see how we can help. Empowerment, joy and freedom are just around the corner!
Have you practiced yoga before and seen any of the benefits above? Do you make yoga a regular part of your daily life as an important part of your addiction recovery? Share your experiences in the comments below!