Using Yoga to Help Break the Cycle of Addiction

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The 12-step approach is one of the most well-known ways to get clean and sober, especially in the Western hemisphere. The programs are accessible and practiced through Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help groups. Following the 12 steps is more than a promise of abstinence. Recovering addicts, spiritual or not, have the same longing to find purpose and meaning in their life and connect with a higher power. This connection is what ultimately drives people to practice the 12 steps.

Though having a spiritual background or religious affiliation of some kind is not necessary to benefit from the 12 steps, those in the recovery program are expected to take on a spiritual approach in a way that matches their lifestyle. Some recovering addicts connect to a god and others find the higher power to be in Mother Nature. The only thing that is required in the 12 steps is the willingness to grow along these spiritual lines.

Much information is available on the 12 steps, especially in the Big Book. Yet little information is available on the mind-body connection and how it can benefit the healing process. As the benefits of holistic healing are gaining widespread acceptance, more treatment programs are encouraging the use of alternative therapies such as yoga. In fact, yoga and the 12 steps are the perfect marriage and can help a recovering addict stay sober, especially in those early, difficult months.

Why Yoga and the 12 Steps are the Perfect Marriage

Why does yoga and the 12 steps work so well together? People with addiction problems tend to find it very difficult to be present. When the addiction is in power, the addict continues to use drugs to forget about their problems, erase pain and avoid being present.

When the addict goes to rehab, they must learn how to feel, express emotion and deal with stress in a healthy manner. This is challenging but can often be mastered in rehab because the environment is safe, sober and supportive. When the recovering addict re-enters the world and some of that safety and support is gone, the motivation for a sober existence becomes harder.

If the recovering addict isn’t able to handle their emotions in a healthy manner, they are likely to relapse. Up until recently, recovering addicts who couldn’t manage their intense emotions didn’t make it very far in recovery. But now with the integration of alternative therapies like yoga, the outcome can be very different.

What yoga does is bring the recovering addict to reality so that they can recognize their fears and emotions. They learn to deal with these feelings in a healthy manner rather than burying them. With this release also comes the anticipation of hopes and dreams. Recovering addicts start to envision a life that is free of drugs; a life where they aren’t powerless. Yoga relies on being present and encourages the mind-body connection that is the basis for spirituality.

How Yoga Helps Newly Recovering Addicts

Yoga encourages recovering addicts to connect with a higher power, which is important because addicts have a tendency to be isolated, leading to a lack of self worth. Believing in something bigger than themselves and finding peace through a higher power is what healing is all about. Spirituality is easier to achieve through practices like meditation and yoga because it makes people aware of the mind-body connection.

Yoga also has physical benefits that aid in healing such as boosting the brain’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and releasing negative energy. When addicts adopt a healthy yoga regimen, they are also kept busy instead of letting boredom fill their days. Boredom is often a trigger for relapse, so it’s important to have a healthy schedule in the early days of recovery. Yoga is accessible to most people and encourages them to venture outdoors where insight and enlightenment often take place.

Proper breathing is another component of yoga, and it helps newly recovering addicts manage their anxiety. The practices of inhalation, exhalation and retention work to increase the capacity of the lungs and strengthen the respiratory system. When the lungs take in deep breaths, it lowers blood pressure and heart rate, increasing feelings of calmness. Anxiety is often a trigger for relapse, and newly recovering addicts are faced with much of it. Yet through deep breathing techniques, a recovering addict can release the anxiety they are feeling and embrace peace and tranquility.

The only thing an addict can do wrong in their journey to sobriety is to stop trying. Addiction can be successfully treated, and the use of yoga and other alternative therapies such as acupuncture, meditation and massage therapy, can be used to help break the patterns of impulsiveness and addiction.

Photo Credit: Ana Flavia