Yoga has been embraced by many addiction treatment facilities around the world as a complementary therapy to aid recovering individuals in overcoming deep-rooted psychological and physical hardship.
One of the unique qualities of yoga is the practice of mindfulness which teaches individuals to sit quietly to calm the body and mind, practicing breathing while learning how to seek and experience feelings of peace and comfort.
Besides teaching the practice of mindfulness, teaching simple yoga postures such as Downward Dog and Child's Pose can give recovering individuals the skills needed to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings and sensations that can lead to relapses.
As researchers find more about how yoga affects the physiology of our bodies, we get more clues as to why yoga can be so beneficial to those in recovery. For example, yoga has been found to be very effective at regulating the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, says Sat Bir Khalsa, director of the Kundalini Research Institute and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He also points out that an imbalance of those hormones has been associated with anxiety disorders, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder as well as substance abuse. "These chronically high levels of hormones are toxic to the body and central nervous system, and we know yoga can help reduce or balance the stress hormones in the body. It makes sense that if you're less stressed, you may not be so quick to seek substances to cope."
According to the Yoga Journal, a 2007 pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, funded in part by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, demonstrated that yoga may be able to change brain chemistry. The study compared a session of reading to a session of yoga and concluded that the yoga session resulted in increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, while the readers experienced no change. Low levels of GABA are also associated with anxiety and depression which are conditions often considered to underlie addiction.
In addition, at a psychological level, people who practice yoga gain a new improved level of clarity in their daily life, such as learning how to remain calm at times of great distress or anxiety. Yoga helps relax individuals, allowing them to think more positively, and thus, relieving tension even when things get tough.
In short practicing yoga during addiction recovery and beyond can support recovering individuals bringing them to a restorative inner state that integrates mind, body, and spirit.
Florida Center for Recovery incorporates yoga and meditation into its inpatient addiction treatment programs at no extra charge, offering early morning classes for those who want to embrace the practice. Although yoga is available, clients are under no obligation to attend yoga sessions. All clients are welcome to try and continue with the classes if they choose so.
For most recovering individuals, one of the most valuable life lessons to be learned on the mat is about letting go of their habits of control and perfectionism.