To the blind eye it may seem that yoga is simply a bunch of stretching and napping, but if you move a little deeper you’ll see that there is more to what meets the eye. Yoga is gaining popularity in the addiction recovery community for its emotional, physical and spiritual benefits. Its combination of mindful movements, meditation and breath work create the awareness needed to change harmful patterns. These tools work in the following ways:
Essentially, recovery is about establishing new patterns-yoga teaches the body to do just that. Many of us look at those bendy yoga poses and think, “I could never make my body do that.” Then, we’re in a yoga class and we simply try to do it. It’s in the trying that the change happens. When a person attempts to twist and bend into an unfamiliar yoga pose they subconsciously realize that they could also take on different “poses” in life. This translates to later realizing, “Maybe I don’t need to reach for a joint when I am stressed. Maybe instead I could call my therapist for a check-in.” By mindfully moving the body through new poses one also learns how to create healthy new patterns.
Traditional meditation is a practice of sitting still and focussing attention on the sensations of the breath. When a thought enters the mind the person acknowledges it, lets it pass and returns to the breath. Off the yoga mat this practice helps a person to become aware of their thought patterns. Especially the ones that lead to harmful actions and relapses. It has been said that quitting an addiction is easy, the difficulty is not starting again. Meditation helps one to observe thinking patterns, let go of the ones that don’t serve them and refocus.
The breath work in yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for mental relaxation. Many people who struggle with addiction have an over active sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for fight and flight and actions based on impulse. Over 50% of those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder self-medicate with alcohol, 30% use drugs. Studies show that participation in trauma-informed gentle yoga leads to a 30% decrease in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including fewer intrusive thoughts and less dissociation from the body.