According to the 2012 Yoga in America study, 20.4 million Americans practice yoga. It’s likely that someone is unfurling a mat and preparing to bend and stretch right now, at this very moment. That person could be in a gym, at home, or in a private yoga clinic. Or that person could be in a specialized program for drug and alcohol addiction.
Some addiction treatment programs offer yoga to clients as part of their healing process. The practitioners who offer yoga claim that the treatments they provide can have a deep impact on a person’s short-term healing and long-term health.
What Is Yoga?
The practice of yoga involves putting the body through a series of stretches or poses. Almost every single muscle in the body is a target of those stretches, and each pose is held for a few moments while the person breathes deeply. It takes a great deal of balance and discipline to hold the poses, which makes the practice a little bit like dancing.
Yoga is sometimes associated with an alternative lifestyle. That association might have merit, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the use of yoga (paired with deep breathing or meditation) is approximately 40 percent higher in Mountain and Pacific regions of the United States, when compared to the national average. These are the parts of the country often linked with a mindful lifestyle.
It’s true that there are some aspects of yoga that make it a little less than conventional. For example, some practitioners play world music during sessions, and others ask their clients to join them in tea ceremonies. Some practitioners incorporate Eastern religious elements into their courses, and others discuss concepts like chakras, which have been associated with ancient forms of medicine.
All of these inclusions can make yoga seem a little quirky, but the fact remains that this practice has been associated with a number of mental and physical health benefits. Many of those benefits could be vital for people in recovery from an addiction.
Why Use Yoga in Addiction Programs?
The physical aspect of yoga could be appealing for people in recovery from an addiction. For people like this, muscles may have atrophied and tendons may have shrunk due to disuse. These people might feel pain when they attempt to do even the most basic of physical activities, such as:
- Carrying groceries
- Walking the dog
- Cleaning the house
- Mowing the lawn
That constant prickle of pain can be a prompt to relapse, particularly when the person has a history of addiction to painkillers. Living with discomfort can be simply exhausting, rather than joyful, and that can add to feelings of depression.
Yoga may help, as each session helps muscles to lengthen and tendons to stretch. In time, people who participate in yoga may find that they’re more able to handle day-to-day life, and that could help them to avoid some relapse triggers.
In addition, yoga can help people to cultivate a sense of mindfulness. A former smoker, discussing her addiction in an article in the Yoga Journal, explains that she had always found it hard to quit smoking due to the physical discomfort of withdrawal. She felt overwhelmed and overpowered by those sensations. When she participated in yoga, she learned techniques that helped her to hold somewhat uncomfortable poses for a few moments. She was able to acknowledge the discomfort without moving to address it immediately. By putting those same techniques to use when she was hit with a craving, she was able to maintain abstinence.
Building up that connection between the mind and the body is vital, experts say, as it helps people to learn how to control their bodily needs and functions by simply thinking. Rather than reacting – rather than doing something – they can learn to endure and pass through. Their minds become powerful tools they can use to fight an addiction.
Yoga can also be an important tool, according to an article in Social Work Today, because it’s always available to people in need. Poses can be struck anywhere, at any time, with no appointment needed. People in crisis who can’t contact a therapist might find that it’s useful to perform a pose instead. It can become a technique the person uses for the rest of life, anytime temptation appears.
Using Yoga the Right Way
Yoga is generally considered safe, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, as long as it’s learned under the guidance of a trained instructor. That means people with addictions shouldn’t simply buy a yoga book and hop right into the practice. Instead, they should work with someone who knows how to teach them the poses in a safe and structured manner.
Also, yoga shouldn’t be considered the only tool people with addictions need in order to get well. Therapy, group meetings, medications, and more can be vital tools in the fight against a drug addiction problem. Yoga can complement these tools, deepening the lessons and improving the overall experience of recovery, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for these more conventional forms of care.
But those who obtain yoga through a treatment program can rest assured that they’ll get the right kind of help that they need. The program they choose will provide these other forms of addiction care, and the clinicians teaching the yoga classes will know just how to structure the lessons so they’re safe for participants. When the course is complete, people will know a great deal about addiction, and about recovery, and that could help them to put together a completely different life.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of yoga, or you’d like to find an addiction treatment program that incorporates yoga lessons, please contact us. We’re happy to link you with the resources you need, and we’re always here to help. Please call or chat with us.