Yoga For Recovering Addicts

Yoga For Recovering Addicts

Substance Use Disorders (SUD) are a very prevalent and ever-increasing problem worldwide. A recent study discovered that approximately 27 million people suffer from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. This includes both legal and illegal drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, meth, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs (opioids), and other types. 

This statistic is just one of many that healthcare providers, legislators, and other individuals are faced with addressing, as they collectively navigate the challenges of the continuous cycle of addiction.

When it comes to addiction treatment, most discussions are focused on more traditional forms of managing the disease, such as group and individual psychotherapy. However, while therapy/counseling is the main component of helping people manage their conditions and has evolved immensely, rehab facilities have started to integrate more non-traditional treatment methods as well. 

One of the most common types of unconventional management methods utilized is holistic treatments. While there are many different types of holistic treatments, this page is going to focus on yoga for recovering addicts.     

Yoga and meditation, with their stress-reducing effects and ability to provide people with tools for self-regulation and self-management, are potentially useful practices to navigate the painful and often deadly waters of addiction. 

What Is Yoga?

Coming from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which is interpreted to mean “union,” yoga is an ancient technique designed to bring mind and body closer together with the use of exercise, meditation, and breathing. While there are many different types of yoga, the most common one that you have most likely either tried or know others that do is called hatha yoga. 

One of the best things about yoga is it can be done virtually anywhere. While there is a slight learning curve, the main focus is centering both the body and mind. As a result, anywhere that you consider a peaceful setting can be a great place to practice yoga. 

Yoga is viewed as a highly spiritual activity. By posing the body in a specific way, the flow of energy is said to be opened as the spine and other parts of the body are properly aligned. This allows the mind to open up, creating a balance between the mind and the body.

Yoga therapists suggest that a better path for people who are especially in addiction recovery is to promote healing through the body by engaging in different forms of yoga and mediation. As a result, they can have an outlet to release their emotional pain. The philosophy of holistic treatments such as yoga,  emphasizes people to not solely focus on new ways of thinking, but on new ways of feeling.

What Is Yoga’s Effect on the Brain?

As we all know, addiction significantly negatively impacts the brain. Not only does it convince the brain that the substance is needed in order to properly function, but some substances can even change the entire chemical makeup of the brain. As a result, one of the main focuses of treatment is to essentially reprogram the brain so it doesn’t need the substance or substances to function anymore. A great way to help the brain heal is through yoga.

Yoga has long been used as a way to almost calm the brain down. It can regulate and balance stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This holistic approach activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), increasing the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, which in return, improves mood and enhances relaxation.

The Downward Dog position also is scientifically known to increase one’s blood levels known as gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. GABA amounts are typically low in people who struggle with alcohol and/or drug addiction and mental illness such as anxiety. 

As mentioned before, yoga reduces stress when the hormone cortisol is released in the body. In addition, grey matter and active regions of the brain responsible for controlling stress, such as the hippocampus, may also be enlarged with the regular practice of yoga. Since stress, anxiety, and depression are common side effects of drug withdrawal, as a result of doing yoga, a person learns to naturally cope and manage their levels of stress and anxiety better. 

Constant practicing of the holistic approach has been proven to disrupt the brain’s neural pathways, which cause a person to use substances. It also alters the size of certain regions in the brain, which contributes to improved decision making, better focus, increased self-awareness, and better self-esteem. 

With further explanation, yoga’s ability to be a resource of education and healing is the epitome of what it means to be a whole individual. Meditative exercises contribute to self-regulation as well as self-efficacy. Clients in addiction treatment are able to incorporate yoga into their daily routines, helping to provide a sense of centeredness and calmness and learn to cope with their intrusive and negative thoughts that contribute to their addictive behavior, rather than relapsing by acting on their urges and cravings. 

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga combines breathing exercises, posture, strength exercises, and focuses on flexibility, mindfulness, attention, sensory awareness, and concentration. The more someone practices yoga, it contributes to a person’s optimal wellness and provides various psychological, physical, and social benefits. These include:

  • Development or reinforcement of discipline and routine
  • Improves impulse control
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves breathing 
  • Lowers blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • Stabilizes heart rate
  • Eases muscle tension
  • Reduces emotional distress
  • Generates the formation of healthy brain cells (Neurons)

Many research studies have proven that this yoga, as a form of holistic therapy, is an effective alternative approach for treating a wide range of mental conditions. Most importantly, while there isn’t a lot of research dedicated to yoga’s effect on those with addiction, there is enough conclusive evidence to suffice and support its benefits for those who have underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. 

Additionally, yoga can be a great first step in adopting an overall healthier lifestyle, another key component of battling addiction and addiction treatment. Yoga has been known to promote the following:

  • Increase in energy
  • A better diet
  • Better sleep
  • Increased stamina and strength
  • Self-reflections
  • Pain relief
  • Emotional healing
  • Overall health and wellness

When people feel better physically, they are more able to handle stress and anything that may come up during the day, including potential temptations when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction With Mindfulness 

With the practices of meditation and yoga being an extremely popular form of exercise to help reduce stress, scientists have begun to hypothesize on why or how these practices can also help people who are recovering from addiction. 

Studies have shown that addiction has two components. Psychological and mental cravings that occur with substances, and the ability of individuals to remain from acting on their urges and addictive behaviors. Meditation and yoga teach people the act of mindfulness, which in return, provides relief and the tools to regulate a person’s response to stress by learning to observe our experiences with a greater sense of mental calmness. 

How Can Yoga Help in My Recovery?

Todo truly recovers from addiction, your body and mind must first heal. Addiction puts the body and mind through hell. Not only does the way your brain acts and responds to things change, but the entire chemical makeup of the brain can also change as well. Not to mention the side effects that many substances of abuse have on the body as well. That’s where yoga can come in.

In terms of addiction recovery and treatment, yoga can be used to help balance the parts of the mind and the body that has been adversely naturally affected by addiction. Yoga is a great way to get in tune with the body and truly understand how your body operates on a spiritual and physical level. Yoga is a great way to listen to the body and better understand not only how it operates but the triggers that it has that may have led to addiction in the first place. 

When a person takes the time to truly listen to and understand their bodies, they can take ownership for not only how they feel, but also for how they act. This can allow for a greater sense of self-awareness and self-confidence, two key components of addiction treatment.  

What Are Some Yoga Poses That I Can Try?

If you have never tried yoga before, you might want to attend a few yoga classes to get the hang of it before attempting to try it on your own. With that being said, the following are some yoga poses that have been proven to be effective when it comes to addiction treatment:

  • Spinal Breathing Pranayama
  • Downward Facing Dog
  • Fish Pose
  • Warrior I
  • Low Lunge
  • Pigeon Pose
  • Corpse Pose
  • Legs Up the Wall

It’s important to remember to listen to your body when attempting any of these poses as well as focus on your breathing. If you begin to feel significant pain attempting any of these poses, stop immediately. Yoga should make you feel better, not worse.

Things to Consider When Exploring Yoga and Meditation for Recovery

As mentioned before, evidence-based research has shown that yoga helps activate the body’s activation response, especially for people with addictions. It increases the GABA neurotransmitters that get released when alcohol or drugs are consumed. 

Instead of reaching for a drink, the mind is rewired to choose to engage in other behaviors that can relax them such as yoga, which will give them the same effect, without the hangover. So, when cravings become too intense, it’s okay to reach out for help. Every time you “ride the wave” as yogis like to say, you strengthen your muscles of abstinence and will have a better chance at long-term recovery. 

Dual-Diagnosis: Addiction and Mental Illness

It is important to gain a better understanding of substance abuse and mind-body practices. While research and evidence do show successful outcomes for the role that yoga, mindfulness, and meditation provides for those in addiction recovery, it is not uncommon for people to abuse drugs and/or alcohol due to pre-existing or developing underlying mental health conditions. These include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Schizophrenia, etc. 

Unfortunately, it is worth noting, that holistic treatment such as yoga and meditation, sometimes won’t be enough to reduce or prevent substance abuse, especially in the early stages of recovery and sobriety. During this time, the rate of relapse is very high. 

Are You Interested In Yoga For Recovering Addicts?

At Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare, we know that there is no cookie-cutter formula when it comes to addiction therapy. Everyone is different and, as a result, how they respond to addiction treatment is different. That is why we offer a wide variety of treatment methods and programs, including holistic treatment and yoga therapy. 

Granite Mountain Can Help You Recover

If you or someone you know suffers from an addiction, it is proven that alternative holistic treatment methods, such as yoga, have numerous benefits, physically, psychologically, and socially. Most importantly, it majorly improves the chances of achieving long-term recovery (sobriety). It is our number one priority to get you the help that you need so that you can go back to enjoying your life. Don’t let drugs and alcohol control you and your life for even another day. Contact us today! 

Article Reviewed by Gregory Struve

Greg received a Master’s in Counseling from the Adler Graduate School in 2006. He trained at one of the top trauma and anxiety treatment centers in the world until 2008 when he became a faculty member at Grand Canyon University. From 2011 to 2016 he directed a program that leads the field in terms of innovative treatment of anxiety and trauma. During that time he even made several appearances on A&E’s intervention.