Yoga for Addiction Recovery

yoga for addiction treatment

The practice of yoga for holistic addiction treatment is a popular method that’s made a wave in recovery centers. Yoga balances the mind and body through a physical practice involving concentrated breathing and postures. In addition to the physical aspects of yoga, there is also no shortage of emotional benefits.

The practice of yoga for addiction recovery allows individuals to become attuned to their bodies, learn to control their breathing, and to listen to their bodies. Yoga also encourages a sense of self-awareness and appreciation for the present moment. By focusing all energy inward, individuals will develop a deeper understanding and ownership of their emotions.

Learning Self-Reliance in Addiction Treatment

A major aspect of addiction recovery is developing self-reliance and self-confidence. These two traits often go hand in hand with the practice of yoga. Yoga encourages appreciating who you are in the present moment and focusing on the strength that you currently have.

For example, let’s say a struggling individual feels certain temptations and cravings. By recognizing these desires when they occur and not attempting to avoid them or give in to them, the person develops more control. You’ll start to realize that emotions are like waves of the ocean, flowing in and out. Yoga for addiction recovery teaches you steady patience when it comes to working through feelings of discomfort and unease. 

Yoga also improves energy levels, encourages people to eat better, and increases the quality of sleep that may be disrupted by withdrawal symptoms. It is a powerful practice that ties the body and mind together. When the physical body feels better, you’ll find that you receive a lot more mental clarity.

What is Yoga?

Yoga can be described as a practice of physical activity, breath control, relaxation, control, positive thinking, and meditation. There is a central focus of developing harmony in the body, mind, and one’s environment. The word yoga originates from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” which is interpreted to mean “union.” Yoga is an ancient technique designed to bring the mind and body closer together through exercise, meditation, and breathing.

Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical positions. Bringing the mind, body, and breath together allows us to direct our attention inward. In addiction recovery, yoga can be especially beneficial. 

Through this action of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns in a nonjudgmental way. The awareness of each moment allows you to appreciate it for what it is. The awareness that we pursue is what defines yoga as a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. 

Different Types of Yoga

There are many different types of yoga for addiction recovery, all unique in their practice. Certain types of yoga focus on the postures, while others will focus more on the breathing and meditation aspect. Although there are much more more than just eight, the following types of yoga are a handful of commonly used practices today:

1. Anusara

Developed by American yogi John Friend in 1997, Anusara yoga is a recent addition in the world of yoga. Anusara is centered around the belief that we’re all filled with intrinsic goodness and light. Anusara uses the physical practice of yoga to help students open their hearts, experience grace, and find their inner light.

2. Ashtanga

Ashtanga is a rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures. Each movement is connected to a breath. Ashtanga is unique because it goes through the same sequence of poses throughout the entire class. 

3. Bikram

Bikram yoga goes through a series of 26 poses. Like Ashtanga, a Bikram class always follows the same sequence. However, the exact sequence of poses differs comparably.

4. Hatha

Hatha yoga is a general term that refers to any practice of yoga that teaches physical postures. A Hatha yoga class typically introduces the most basic yoga postures.

5. Hot Yoga

Hot yoga is similar to the practice of Bikram yoga. However, there is more looseness in regards to the exact sequence of yoga poses. The heat of the room varies, depending on the class. Typically, it ranges in the 90s. 

6. Iyengar

Iyengar yoga is a very meticulous style of yoga. The focus lies in finding the proper alignment in each pose. This practice is more slow-moving but can be equally as challenging. Finding balance and proper alignment requires full attention to the movements within your body.

7. Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga, incorporating principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The main difference in Yin Yoga is that the positions are held for longer periods. This can be seen as a more meditative practice, rather than a physical activity. 

8. Vinyasa

Vinyasa classes are recognized for their fluid, movement-intensive practices. There is a smooth transition between poses to link breath to movement. Music is often played to keep the activity lively as well.

Benefits of Yoga for Addiction Recovery

The practice of yoga serves as an amazing recovery tool and a coping mechanism for feelings of distress. Yoga has the power to help heal the body and mind through restorative physical activity. Some of the many benefits of yoga for addiction recovery include:

  • Physical Benefits – After each class, you find yourself feeling stronger and more flexible. Aches and pains as a result of withdrawal may also begin to alleviate. 
  • Lowering Stress Benefits – Through the relaxing breathing exercises and gentle movements, you’ll find that your nerves will calm. As a result, the practice of yoga can help reduce cravings and treat psychological distress or trauma about addiction.
  • Emotional Benefits – A greater peace of mind comes to the majority of people who practice yoga. As a result, you’re able to get in tune with new and healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Increased Self-Discipline – Addiction can be an overwhelming challenge to navigate. Learning how to say “no” is a discipline that yoga can help you achieve. It is a practice that requires discipline, thus also developing the trait within yourself.
  • Inner Peace – The spiritual benefits of yoga can provide a tremendous amount of inner peace. Through the meditative practice in yoga, you’ll connect to a deeper part of yourself, as well as the world around you. 

Science Behind Yoga 

For a long duration of time, the practice of yoga has been used to alleviate stress. There’s even scientific evidence to support the reduction of stress due to yoga. More specifically, yoga reduces tension by the modulation of the stress response, a study by Harvard Health reports. 

Stress can cause heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature to increase. Stress is the result of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline rising. Yoga can help to regulate and balance these hormones.

Yoga to Increase GABA

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also stated that there is an increase in levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) with the practice of yoga techniques. GABA can be described as a natural tranquilizer produced by the brain to help manage anxiety and the stress response. Higher levels of GABA tend to result in lessened levels of anxiety and stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common withdrawal symptoms, and yoga for addiction recovery can help to alleviate them. 

Another study published by Harvard Health took place involving a group of women that practiced yoga 1.5 hours twice a week over three months. At the end of three months, half reported less depression, a third cited fewer anxiety symptoms, and 65% stated that they felt an increase in overall wellbeing. 

There is a clear correlation between the reduction of stress and the practice of yoga. Yoga not only serves as a great way to exercise but also as a way to build mental strength. 

Helpful Tip: Try Out These Yoga Poses to Alleviate Anxiety 

We’re proud to be a recovery center that utilizes the power of yoga in addiction recovery. If you choose to begin the practice of yoga with baby steps, we encourage you to try some of these poses at home. 

A common feeling amongst individuals recovering is anxiety. Anxiety can feel like a tornado in your head. Taking a few minutes to breathe and stay balanced with a pose can help alleviate these uneasy feelings. Please make sure to be careful with your body and do not continue a pose if you feel any serious discomfort. 

Take a Deep Breath

San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher and physician Baxter Bell recommends trying poses with gentle movements that focus on breathing. One breath pattern Bell recommends is to add one second to each exhalation, so your exhalations grow increasingly longer than your inhalations. 

Open Up

Backbends and chest openers such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), are also highly recommended poses to reduce feelings of anxiety. 

You can take a look at what these poses look like here:

  1. Cobra Pose
  2. Fish Pose
  3. Bridge Pose

Seek Help Today

If you’re a struggling individual, you may find that yoga for addiction recovery has tremendous benefits. From a sense of inner peace to a deeper appreciation for yourself, you’ll begin to find fulfillment again.

Our trained professionals can help you navigate all the ins and outs of yoga for addiction recovery and treatment. You can contact us at Sana Lake Recovery Center here and begin your recovery journey today.

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3111147/

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.