Yoga-ing & Recovering

Yoga-ing & Recovering | Transcend Texas

Addiction recovery is a complicated road, made ever more twisted and convoluted by the many paths it can be composed of. Two people struggling with sobriety from the same drug addiction could go through entirely different programs and come out the other end fulfilled and determined to stay clean. Yet there are many who feel skeptical about alternative approaches to addiction recovery, particularly in the fields of mindfulness, meditation and yoga.

However, a little research and a lot of examples go to show that the physical and mental aspects of a yogic lifestyle – or even just the casual adoption of yoga as a regular exercise program – influence those struggling with sobriety, and people in general.

Scientifically, that influence has been under scrutiny, particularly as researchers consider the validity of fitness and mindfulness therapy – therapeutic exercises that challenge patients to focus on something, and forego distraction. The proposed benefit of such a therapy is increased self-control, improved self-esteem and a lower likelihood of episodes of depression and anxiety.

In its simplest context, mindfulness is the ability to better focus on what you feel is most important. So how does that translate into recovery from addiction?

Mindfulness & Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the brain, yet exactly what that means matters. Some scientists argue that there is evidence of addiction being a neurological affliction – it changes the way the brain works and looks, affects your state of mind, and becomes a chronic illness highlighted by a high relapse rate and the challenges of staying sober, even after detox and rehab.

Others assert that addiction is a learning and development disorder, because it’s mostly (but not entirely) rampant among youth, and is otherwise tied to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Either way, addiction is a condition wherein a person is compelled to use drugs to cope with something, from a certain type of behavior to a feeling of shame, or a past trauma. Even among those who developed addiction due to unfortunate genetic circumstances or to fit into a social circle, long-term addiction will have a largely negative impact on your life, and can send you down a spiral of self-loathing and depression.

Even at the root of every cause of addiction, there lies a dysfunction. No one turns to an addictive substance without having a compelling reason to, not with the existing common education on the danger of drugs. Kids today don’t turn to drugs because they love the health benefits, but because there’s a need for them, perhaps as a social lubricant, as a ticket to a feeling of belonging, to bolster their self-esteem and reduce their anxious inhibitions.

Adults do the same thing, covering up what they don’t like about themselves and their lives with a drug. People in fields of immense success are under pressure day and night. In every life, we all carry around a little bit of unhappiness, and some of us carry around much more than others.

When it comes to addiction, rehab is typically the first step out of this hole. Residential treatment facilities offer detoxification and tips for early recovery to teach someone how to cope with what they’re going through. After the initial shock of detox and the passing of withdrawal symptoms, people dealing with addiction will often feel a wave of fear, depression, anxiety or pessimism overcoming them. All issues that might have been brought up over their time as addicts were previously suppressed, and sobriety forces them all out.

When such issues see the light of day and the initial coping mechanism is forbidden, people can turn bitter and angry. They begin to regret, to feel guilty. Overcoming those emotions – realizing that it’s okay not to have something, or to let go, or to make amends and move on – is key to long-term sobriety. These emotions can’t be drowned out by partying, drugs, friends or spirituality – they’ll always return in full force, ready to knock you off your feet. And so, they must be resolved.

Yoga for Recovery

That is where mindfulness & yoga come into play. It’s relatively easy to lose yourself in a maelstrom of negativity when dealing with the emotional consequences of an addiction. Mindfulness exercises teach you to focus on a simple, inconsequential concept or point of reference to avoid overthinking, worrying, and panic. Mindfulness is expressed by making a conscious choice to reject a negative thought, and instead focus on the positive possibility. It’s useless to make a fuss over things that haven’t happened yet – such as fearing that your family will reject you despite your recovery because of what you’ve said and done in the past – instead, mindfulness allows you to calm your mind and take away the power that pessimistic thought and depressive thinking holds over you.

This concept – the ability to control how you think, to deny a line of thinking and instead convince yourself to turn it all around – is directly related to the usefulness and meaning of yoga as a tool for addiction recovery.

Understanding Yoga

Yoga as a school of thought is ancient, and its teachings refer to eight limbs – concepts that describe what yoga is meant to do. Each of the eight limbs gives you an overall idea of what you should aim for in a meditative session, and they help you understand why yoga is an excellent choice to calm the mind and introduce better focus and stability in recovery:

  • Yama: the essential moral values of yoga, including non-violence, honesty and non-avarice, or the absence of senseless greed.
  • Niyama: the goals of the mind, or certain virtues that should be strived for, such as contentment, a clear mind, contemplation of spirituality, self-reflection and persistence in life.
  • Asana: the actual movement of yoga, described as a series of poses and posture meant to be “steady” and “pleasant”, eliminating the shaking of the body through focus.
  • Pranayama: the focus of breath, both continuous and in a series of suspended inhalation and complete inhalation.
  • Pratyahara: the process of slowly cutting out the outside world to focus entirely on the yoga itself, and your thoughts.
  • Dharana: this is the point in practice where you concentrate on a single concept, subject, or thought in your mind, returning to it when you drift, and remaining in focus.
  • Dhyana: once you have a point of focus, Dhyana is meant to be the contemplation of that focus – thinking about a subject or concept and exploring every imaginable perspective, point-of-view, description and personal conclusion.
  • Samadhi: this is the last step, a point in your practice wherein every aspect of yoga flows together to leave you completely entranced and focused only on whatever it is you decided to commit yourself to in that session.

More than a form of exercise, yoga is an expression of mindfulness – and one that can steel your mind and help you develop immense focus and self-contentment. There is a bit of spirituality in there – contemplating the self may also mean contemplating the universe, and practicing a bit of personal philosophy and soul-searching – yet there is no need to believe in a higher power to practice yoga.

All you need is a posture or position that might challenge you, and the time to make that position comfortable, while focusing entirely on a single, relevant thought. Returning to this thought repeatedly, or coming up with new points of focus, allows you to quickly quiet your mind and think of something more constructive when negativity and depression strikes, and the urge to use grows.

The Effectiveness Of Yoga In Addiction Recovery

The Effectiveness Of Yoga In Addiction Recovery | Transcend Texas

Stop whatever you’re doing, just for a moment; take a moment just for you. Just enjoy a few soothing breaths in, and if it’s possible, stand up and stretch your body. If you’ve been working for several hours or even just having a rough day, that small yet simple action could help to comfort and revitalize you, if only just a little bit. In just seconds, you’ve improved your circulation and increased the amount of oxygen going to your heart, muscles, and brain. You may feel more grounded, more in-tune, and less frazzled, too.

This is the very same principle found in yoga, an ancient art form that’s quickly becoming a steadfast hobby for thousands of recovering addicts all over the world. The main difference? Yoga has significantly more emotional and spiritual health benefits than just stretching and breathing alone. It encourages you to get in touch with your inner self and feelings while increasing physical health.

What Is Yoga?

Considered by many to be an art form, yoga dates back thousands of years in human culture. The most commonly accepted theory states that originated in Northern India, where the Indus-Sarasvati people used it as a form of sacred practice. In fact, an ancient text called the Rig Veda contains the first references to a yoga-like ritual; the writings date back at least 5,000 years. The oldest form was thought to teach laymen and spiritualists self-sacrifice, wisdom, and knowledge through movement of the body.

As the centuries passed, the teachings of yoga spread throughout the world and adapted to suit various needs. This is why we have multiple forms of yoga even today. The practice most people enjoy at the local gym today didn’t come to be until around the late 1800s, when yogi Swami Vivekananda spoke to a gathering of individuals in Chicago about its benefits.

Today, this Hindu spiritual practice is available to everyone, not just those who seek enlightenment through the Hindu religion. Surprisingly, the practice has managed to connect two very different groups of people (scientists and spiritualists) in a manner that isn’t often seen: both sides agree that yoga has significant benefits for the healing mind and body.

Science and Research Points

What exactly do we know about yoga and its benefits? The astonishing answer is quite a lot. Unlike other forms of spiritual practice and alternative medicine, the art of yoga has been studied extensively with very positive results, both physical and mental.

Emotional and Mental Health

Most specifically, studies have shown a link between better emotional and mental health and regular yoga practice. For people in recovery, that’s one potential drug-free way to soothe feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression.

Harvard University’s Health Department mentions that it has the potential to decrease negative physiological changes in the body. This includes elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and elevated breathing rates, each of which is frequently associated with anxiety or panic attacks. The review mentions that much of the benefit occurs because yoga is a self-soothing activity that’s also slightly meditative. It requires focus and inward attention, both of which can help you to recognize your symptoms without drowning in them – so you can develop ways to self-soothe without your drug of choice.

Physical Health

Physically, there are plenty of benefits to go around, too. Most importantly, beginner’s yoga is extremely gentle; it meets you where you are, regardless of where you’re coming from. And that’s exactly the sort of thing someone who’s in recovery needs. Jumping into a running routine may be too much, especially if your body is still in detox or healing mode, but taking 15 minutes to do a few yoga poses may be okay.

Yoga Journal mentions that regular yoga practice can increase cardiovascular health, improve muscle strength, and increase flexibility. While it’s not a guarantee, all three of these benefits together should mean that you experience fewer aches and pains, better endurance, and less stiffness after everyday activities. The only caveat is that these benefits seem to come on slowly over time and only with regular practice, so you may not notice them right away.

Immune Benefits

Finding you come down with colds a lot in recovery, especially in the early months? There’s a good reason for that. Whenever your body is healing from damage, it takes resources away from your immune system to do so. That can make you more susceptible to communicable diseases like colds and influenza.

Can’t stomach the thought of another flu? Here’s the great news: there’s evidence that regular yoga practice may boost your immune system. Mind Body Green mentions that four specific poses seem to improve the immune system the most:

  • Legs up the wall.
  • Cobra pose.
  • Supported fish pose.
  • Downward dog with block.

Exactly how these poses benefit the immune system is complex. For the most part, they encourage lymphatic drainage and better circulation, which can boost the immune system all on its own. Some, like the downward dog with block, also help the sinuses to drain – perfect if you’re fighting that awful summer cold.

Integrating Yoga Practice into Your Recovery

Now that you’re more familiar with the benefits of yoga and how it can benefit you, let’s get to the most important question of the day: how exactly do you go about integrating practice into your recovery? Where do you start?

First and foremost, understand that you should never go into any new exercise routine (even yoga) without clearance from your physician. This is especially important if you’re new to recovery or if you have other physical health struggles.

Secondly, it’s important that you work with an instructor for at least the first time you try yoga. Practicing yoga poses incorrectly is risky. Much like working out at the gym, there is at least some potential for harm. If you’re staying in a recovery center, most will offer this in-house or at least have connections to instructors who can help. Otherwise, your local gym or yoga house should be able to point you in the right direction. If these aren’t an option for you, this beginner’s yoga video may help.

Finally, one of the best ways to experience yoga in terms of recovery is to engage in it within the recovery community. Some areas may offer yoga groups specifically for those in recovery. These groups generally focus on poses that have the most benefit to those healing from addictions and may offer the opportunity to forge new connections with other people in recovery, too.

Yoga, like any other self-soothing activity, offers immense benefits, especially for those who are healing in recovery. It’s a wonderful way to soothe frazzled emotions, reduce the stress associated with cravings, and stay on track. Best of all, it’s drug-free and encourages you to focus on self-care! Try practicing two to three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes in the beginning. Or, try taking a few minutes each morning to focus on yourself, your breathing, and your center as you do a few poses in the morning sun.