How Yoga Helps with Recovery from Addiction

Written by Nityda Lupkin

More than 23 million Americans struggle with various forms of addiction, and 10% of Americans are currently in recovery for substance abuse and chemical dependency. Addiction affects us all, whether it be personally or via a family member or other loved one.

For many people struggling with addictions, medication and behavioral therapies are necessary. However, alternative practices, such as yoga, can help survivors rediscover happy, healthful, meaningful lives and here’s why:

1. Yoga asanas provide a physical practice. 

Finding ways to feel good without the addictive behavior is paramount in recovery. Exercise assists the body in boosting the brain’s serotonin levels, thus elevating mood. An elevated mood also aids in boosting confidence that recovery is both desirable and sustainable. For those who come to really love yoga, it provides a healthy hobby to keep oneself occupied. Boredom is often a trigger for relapse. Yoga and other forms of exercise also provide a positive channel for releasing negative emotions and coping with stress and anxiety.

2. Yoga is spiritual. 

More and more drug abuse agencies and rehabilitation programs are providing evidence that supports spiritual well-being as a highly effective coping mechanism in successful recovery. While loneliness and feelings of unworthiness can lead to addiction, believing in something bigger than oneself can help the person in recovery find peace in feeling connected to a higher power.

3. Yoga is an empowering inward journey. 

Yoga asks that we take a step back and look within, but objectively. This is a process known as witness consciousness. As an objective witness, we might more clearly observe the origins of our emotions, and the underlying pains that led to the addictive behavior. In learning about oneself through the eyes of an interested, yet unattached observer, we might begin to cultivate empathy toward ourselves. It’s empowering for the survivor to know that it was oneself who aided in her own healing.

4. Yoga is about the breath. 

Through our yoga practice, we become very conscious of our breath, our vital life essence. In Light on Pranayama, B.K.S. Iyengar teaches us that pranayama practice purifies the lungs and the blood while being good for the heart. The practices of inhalation (puraka), exhalation (recaka), and retention (kumbhaka) work to increase the lung capacity and strengthen the respiratory system. The practice of breathing more deeply and fully allows us to lower our heart rate and blood pressure. Through this practice a feeling of calm might permeate throughout one’s entire being. While anxiety is a trigger for relapse, the feeling of calm and cultivation of mindfulness that is gathered through pranayama practice has been found effective in easing anxiety and reducing cravings.

5. Yoga quiets our minds. 

The second sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodhah. This translates as yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. This one sutra summarizes the entire goal of the efforts of yoga. Through all of the practices mentioned previously: undertaking the physical endeavor, adopting and navigating a spiritual pathway, turning our awareness inward while objectively observing what’s there, and focusing on our breath, our minds our quieted.

Through the union of these practices, a mind-body connection organically develops. For the survivor in recovery, regaining or perhaps gaining for the first time, a sense of trust in one’s body and mind is pertinent, and through this gift recovery is truly attainable.

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