Recovering from addiction is not easy. In fact, you could say recovery is one of the toughest things you will ever do. However, with the right toolset, this task becomes much more achievable.
One tool you can make good use of to strengthen your recovery is yoga. Yoga is a holistic therapy that helps improve both your physical and emotional wellbeing.
In this article, we aim to explain both why and how yoga is beneficial for those in recovery. We outline some practical yoga poses. We then outline some useful resources to help you pursue yoga in a real-world setting.
The often hidden nature of addiction
Many people who develop an addiction are otherwise highly productive individuals. They may appear to be performing well, both privately and professionally. Their colleagues may have no idea they are battling addiction.
If you are a ‘high functioning’ addict, it might precisely be because of the stressful lifestyle that’s causing you to rely on substances. You may abuse substances to push out negative emotions.
Addiction is a progressive disorder. This means you generally do not become addicted to substances overnight. Instead, it’s likely your addiction has developed over many years. You may have begun experimenting with alcohol and drugs during your teenage years.
When many of your friends stopped using drugs or drinking alcohol to excess, you simply continued to do so.
When your drug or alcohol use becomes too much to bear
What was once something you considered ‘social drinking’ or drug-using suddenly becomes something you find yourself doing alone. You no longer restrict your use of substances to weekends.
As you age, the toll your substance misuse takes on your body becomes unbearable. Also, as you become more and more experienced in your professional life, your responsibilities and income will inevitably increase.
This extra responsibility will mean your drinking and drug use become a problem. You simply cannot cope with life’s demands whilst also juggling a drug or alcohol addiction.
It’s also possible you could be in a relationship with a man or a woman who is also using drugs or abusing alcohol. If your partner is not addicted to any substance, a condition is known as ‘co-dependency’ could mean your partner is enabling your addiction in some way or another.
Yoga isn’t a silver bullet
The point we are trying to make is that learning yoga or any other form of holistic therapy is not a silver bullet for your problems. Addiction typically required a variety of treatments, including traditional talking therapies, family therapy and a variety of holistic therapies.
However, yoga is a powerful technique to assist you in both attaining and maintaining your recovery. It’s a technique that’s readily available as well as being inexpensive and relatively easy to learn.
If you are not utilising yoga to assist your in recovery efforts in 2019, we urge you to make a real push to make this so.
It’s also true that yoga will not be for everyone. But we urge you to give yoga a try. You can never know whether yoga is to your fancy or not if you do not give it a go. In our experience, it’s relatively rare for a person not to warm to yoga.
Just 30 minutes each day
Performing yoga for just thirty minutes each day will allow you to relax and process your thoughts without feeling negative emotions such as anxiety and stress. This will make you feel empowered and serve to raise your self-esteem.
Many people who have invested the requisite time to learn yoga say it makes them feel spiritually and emotionally empowered in coping with relapse urges. We believe yoga will also award you the emotional resilience to avoid relapse too.
It’s believed relapse rates following the completion of rehabilitation is as high as 70%. In fact, many people must attend rehab and hundreds of hours of mutual support group meetings before relapse becomes less of a threat.
Beating the odds with yoga
If you are new to recovery, it’s likely you will expend a lot of time, money and effort in securing your recovery. And then there is no guarantee you will succeed.
After all, recovery is difficult.
If you want to get an insight into just how hard it is to attain your long-term recovery goal, then we urge you to watch a film titled ‘Beautiful Boy’ starring Steve Carrell. This film is one of the most accurate portrayals of just how difficult it is to enter and then stay in recovery.
Given these poor odds of remaining in recovery using traditional talking therapies, it’s no wonder more and more therapists are turning to adjunct therapies such as mindfulness and yoga in order to better serve their clients’ needs.
How rehab clinics are making good use of yoga
Today, most drug and alcohol rehab clinics now offer a variety of holistic therapies. Yoga, together with mindfulness meditation, is perhaps the most commonly utilised holistic therapy used at UK drug and alcohol rehab clinics today.
Meditation is often taught alongside yoga. Meditation helps you first calm your mind. You achieve this by focusing on the breath. This helps you feel at peace and centred.
At the beginning of your treatment, you will be introduced to simple yoga positions.
Why yoga works in helping you stay in recovery
The overall aim of yoga from an addiction recovery perspective is to allow you to build tolerance for uncomfortable feelings and emotions that typically cause you to relapse.
It’s no secret that you abuse drugs and alcohol as a means of escaping negative thoughts, feelings and sensations. You are able to better manage these negative emotions through yoga. Yoga thus offers you a healthy alternative to substance misuse when it comes to managing your emotions.
Whilst yoga may not offer an ‘escape’ in a manner akin to substance misuse, instead, yoga empowers you by allowing you to access a peaceful inner state. Yoga also helps you to build a more positive outlook when it comes to physical sensations.
Understanding and overcoming physical sensations and urges
When you abuse drugs, you lose an innate connection you ordinarily have with physical sensations. Addiction makes you numb to these sensations. Yoga allows you to rebuild a bridge to physical sensations which can form the bedrock of an organically and naturally pleasing existence.
Yoga is also a useful tool to employ during a detox. A detox is typically medically assisted. This means you will receive medications to help protect you from drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
However, even with the use of these medications, a detox is still an acutely discomforting process for many. Yoga may be utilised during your detox to ease this discomfort.
Why yoga complements 12-step recovery
Yoga also makes up for some of the deficiencies within the 12-step programme. A 12-step programme is a spiritual approach to recovery forming the central teachings of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
The 12-step programme is not a ‘whole-body’ approach to recovery, and it does not take advantage of the fact that physical well-being often translates into mental wellbeing.
We feel integrating yoga into your recovery makes up for this shortfall. Those who are addicted to substances for many years suffer from a variety of ailments such as backache and muscle soreness. Yoga provides these people with a means of reducing or eliminating this pain entirely.
It’s thus viable to say that yoga complements and goes hand-in-hand with the 12-step programme. When you stop using drugs and alcohol, yoga combined with the 12-step programme offers an excellent means of filling the void that’s created by your abstinence.
Science that backs up these claims
One reason yoga may be so beneficial for those in recovery is that it helps to regulate the stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.
It’s believed an imbalance in stress hormones causes us to experience a range of negative moods such as anxiety and depression. Both of these conditions are almost always experienced by people who suffer from addiction.
When you regularly practice yoga, you keep anxiety and depression at bay. High levels of adrenaline and cortisol are toxic to the central nervous system. Thus, reducing these hormones via yoga is definitely a good thing.
A 2007 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports Yoga may also have a beneficial effect on the brain’s chemistry.
The 2007 studies carried out PET scans on the brains of people who had just completed yoga sessions. Another group of people also underwent a brain PET scan after reading a book.
The results were clear: those who have undertaken yoga exhibited raised levels of the neurotransmitter GABA-A in the brain, whilst those who had merely read did not.
It’s believed low levels of GABA-A is associated with negative mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. These mood disorders are commonly experienced by those who suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
If you are in recovery and also suffer from anxiety and depression, it’s likely these negative moods will act as relapse urges. Thus, if yoga is capable of eliminating negative moods via altering your brain chemistry, why not take full advantage of this fact?
Understanding the implement nature of negative emotions
Many argue addiction is a disease that cannot be cured and cravings must either be averted or pushed away. In contrast, holistic therapies such as meditation and yoga take a different and somewhat radical approach when it comes to managing urges. This approach allows you to realise the impermanent nature of your emotions.
During this observation, you are able to truly embrace and accept negative emotions. You are then provided with evidence that these negative emotions have no power over you as you watch them dissolve into the peripheral of consciousness.
In a form of therapy known as ‘dialectical behaviour therapy, this is termed ‘radical acceptance’.
Radical acceptance is essentially the notion that you are able to acknowledge and even accept cravings for drugs and alcohol but knowing that you do not need to act upon them.
An introduction to basic-yoga poses
To get you started in yoga, we list some common yoga poses below. At the end of this article, we also list some useful resources to help you locate yoga classes in your local area:
1. Vajrasana (Sitting Mountain), variation
Benefits: Promotes stillness and balances throughout the body and helps you open your heart
Affirmation: Serenity will come as I surrender myself.
Guidance: Begin by kneeling on the floor. As you kneel, have your knees pointed forward and with your feet stretched out behind you. After this, lay back on the heels. This will mean your back is upright. Put a pillow underneath your knees or bottom. This adds padding and allows you to feel comfortable. In case you cannot kneel, sit down on a chair. As you do, ensure the spine is straight and not hunched over. Relax the shoulders and keep the chest open. Breathe slowly and deeply. This helps you relax both the mind and body. Imagine you are planted like a mountain. Imagine energy rising up the spine, feeling serene and strong.
2. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Benefits: This serves to release tension in the spine and shoulders region. It also serves to relieve mental stress and fatigue. You will experience feelings of safety akin to being in a womb of healing energy.
Affirmation: I rest in patience and trust.
Guidance: Start this pose by being in Sitting Mountain Pose. Sit on your feet with heels separated and the toes touching and Inhale.
Exhale and lower your head to the floor in front of the knees. Place the hands, palms up, adjacent to the feet. Relax your shoulders and neck. Keep this position as you breathe for at least 5 minutes or as long as you do feel discomfort. Make use of pillows for support underneath the torso if the lower back is tight or if you have knees, hips, stiff or ankles.
3. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Benefits: This stretches the lower back area and the hamstrings. It helps you calm the mind and let go of negative emotions, while also stretching the spine area.
Affirmation: I move forward with patience.
Guidance: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Sit up straight and rotate your ankles, flexing and stretching them. Keeping your feet flexed, inhale and lift your arms above your head. As you exhale, bend at the hips and lower your chest toward your knees. Keep your spine straight as you do this. Place your hands on your calves, ankles, or feet, wherever you can comfortably reach. Hold the pose for 10 breaths.
4. Baddha Konasana (Butterfly)
Benefits: Gently opens the pelvis and hips.
Affirmation: My spirit is as gentle as a butterfly.
Guidance: Sit up straight. Bring the bottoms of your feet together, pulling them in toward your groin. Your knees should be out to the sides so your legs are like a butterfly’s wings. Inhale. As you exhale, lean forward. Clasp your feet and begin pressing your forearms into your upper thighs, gently inviting your legs toward the floor. Breathe.
You can also lie back in the supine variation. Bring your arms out to the sides, and relax as you breathe deeply.
5. Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose)
Benefits: Relaxes the legs and feet by relieving pressure.
Affirmation: As I relax, I gain insight, clarity, and ease.
Guidance: Sit on the floor next to a wall, with your knees bent and your left hip and side barely touching the wall. Using your hands for support, slowly lie back and swivel your hips so that you can slide both legs up the wall and your buttocks press against it. You can let your arms relax either at your sides or on your belly.
Straighten your legs. (If you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees or move your buttocks farther away from the wall.) Hold the pose and breathe. You can place a pillow under your head or lower back for more support.
6. Apanasana (Little Boat Hugging Knees)
Benefits: Releases the lower back and lengthens the spine.
Affirmation: I hold myself with compassion.
Guidance: Lie on your back and bring your knees in toward your chest. Wrap your arms around your knees and legs, hugging them toward you. Keep your chin slightly tucked so your neck stays long on the floor.
Hold the position and breathe.
7. Jathara Parivartanasana (Knee-Hug Spinal Twist)
Benefits: Releases the lower back and lengthens the spine. Increases flexibility of the spine, back, and ribs.
Affirmation: Everywhere I turn I see beauty.
Guidance: Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Keep your knees bent into your chest and place your arms out to your sides. Your palms can be up or down, whichever feels most comfortable to you. Inhale. As you exhale, move your hips and knees to the left as you turn your head to the right. Hold the position and breathe. When you are ready, do a gentle spinal twist to the other side.
8. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Benefits: This basic pose of relaxation is done at the end of each hatha yoga session. It helps relieve the body of tension. It relaxes, rejuvenates, and replenishes the mind and body.
Affirmation: I allow myself to relax completely and surrender to my Higher Power.
Guidance: Lie on your back and gently close your eyes. Place your feet and legs slightly apart.
Place your arms along the sides of your body with your palms facing up. Make sure your teeth are slightly parted so that your jaw is relaxed. Start taking some deep breaths. Lie absolutely still. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and let healing energy restore any areas of the body or mind that have been depleted by stress or tension. Visualize healing energy flowing through your entire body. Relax your body, quiet your mind, and soothe your soul. Stay in this position for up to 20 minutes.
Below, we list a number of resources to assist you in learning more about yoga and recovery:
- Find yoga classes near you
- Healing Addiction with Yoga by Analisa Cunningham
- NHS Guide to Yoga
- Information about dialectical behavioural therapy from Mind