Yoga can be an important tool in recovery and is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs to help reduce withdrawal symptoms, along with cravings and relapse. It can provide a healthier outlet to cope with potential triggers and life stressors that can make staying sober difficult.
Yoga doesn’t require a specific location or a lot of expensive equipment, so it can be practiced anywhere at any time, which makes it such a great option. While there are many different types of yoga, hatha yoga is a common one that focuses on breathing technique and physical postures. Yoga can be a part of treatment centers but, if you are trying to do yoga on your own, it’s helpful to find a trained yoga instructor and attend a class while starting out.
The Brain, Yoga, and Sobriety
After someone has been abusing alcohol or drugs for a while, there are pathways in the brain that are altered. These pathways are related to feeling pleasure, making sound decisions, controlling impulses and regulating emotions. When someone is not using drugs or alcohol after a while, the brain chemistry does have the ability to heal itself and yoga can help with this. There is evidence that shows there is a link between stress reduction and practicing yoga.
How Yoga Affects Recovery
There are a number of benefits and reasons how yoga can help with recovery. There are different emotional and physical benefits experienced by the individual, and yoga doesn’t just help in one area of life.
Physical Benefits: You will feel more flexible and stronger after doing any sort of physical exercise, including yoga. Aches and pains that you could feel from any withdrawal will decrease as you stretch through them. Yoga can help increase energy levels, which helps improve the quality of sleep and also encourages people to eat better. Sleep and eating habits can be disrupted by withdrawal symptoms. When properly sleeping and eating better, you feel better physically.
Stress Reduction: Yoga involves a lot of gentle motions and breathing exercises. The meditative aspect of yoga can help calm any nerves, as well as help reduce cravings. The regions in the brain that are active in controlling stress, such as the hippocampus, can also be enlarged with the regular practice of yoga. There is also a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that showed an increase in the levels of GABA with the practice of yoga. This is a natural tranquilizer that is produced by the brain to help with stress response and to manage anxiety. Higher levels will mean less stress and anxiety. Since anxiety, depression, and stress can be symptoms of withdrawal, yoga can help improve these symptoms. There are different intensities for yoga, so you can determine which one works best in order to help eliminate your stress levels. Vinyasa yoga is quicker and you build more strength. Bikram yoga is practiced in a hot room and it helps your body sweat out any toxins. Yoga itself shouldn’t be stressful, so take some time to find a style that suits you.
Improved Circulation: Better circulation can help lower your blood pressure and reduce heart disease. Improved circulation can also increase oxygen flow to the brain, which helps improve your mood. Improving your mood is important during any difficult depression feelings that can be associated with recovery, and yoga can help you think more clearly.
Emotional Benefits: Yoga can give you access to a healthier life and new coping mechanisms. Instead of turning to alcohol or drugs, you can turn to breathing exercises in yoga instead.
Increased Self-discipline: Saying no to addiction is challenging, but committing to yoga can give you something else to focus on in order to help stay sober. By focusing on energy inward, you can learn to take ownership of the way you feel and help gain control of your actions. By recognizing cravings when they occur and not attempting to avoid them or give into them, a person can help cope with these feelings.
Inner Peace: Even if you are not religious, there is a spiritual aspect of yoga and can enhance inner peace. Similar to a 12-step program, you can just believe in a higher power and there is no dictation that says you have to believe in a certain entity. Quieting down any external forces during yoga practice can also help an individual find inner peace through self-reflection.
Support: Even though yoga is an individual practice, there is still a sense of support and community through it. Just like a 12-step program, individuals who participate in yoga get support from others that also practice.
Yoga goes beyond just stretching. When combined with other traditional therapy practices as part of an addiction treatment plan, it can be a beneficial part of any person’s recovery. Contact us today to learn more about helping yourself or a loved one with addiction.