Addiction in the US is widespread, with the Surgeon General declaring that 1 out of 7 Americans will become addicted to substances in their lifetime. There are many ways to treat addiction and prevent relapse, and many of the most effective forms tend to be holistic or complementary and interconnected to traditional abuse treatment methods, taking into account the mind, body, and spirit rather than just the physical symptoms of addiction.
Yoga for addiction treatment has become wildly popular in recent years, and for good reason. The benefits of yoga are far-reaching, and though there are still opportunities for more scientific evidence to the fact, this ancient practice has helped many people in addiction treatment and beyond.
7 Benefits of Yoga in Addiction Treatment
Whether in treatment for addiction or not, yoga can be beneficial for and is accessible to everyone. Yoga as it is commonly practiced today (Hatha Yoga), includes three elements: controlled breathing, asanas or physical poses, followed by a short period of deep relaxation and meditation. Along with improved health and overall wellness, there are specific benefits of yoga in addiction treatment:
Stress Relief: Often, those who abuse drugs report stress as the reason why. In addition, stress is the number one trigger for relapse. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress, in part because of the connection between exercise and the regulation of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, but also because of the meditative aspect. Meditation has been shown to significantly reduce stress when practiced even for short periods of time.
Relief from Co-Occurring Disorders: Since yoga can reduce stress and anxiety, it can aid in certain common co-occurring disorders including anxiety, depression and eating disorders. According to a research study by the University of Utah, yoga helps to reduce perceived stress and anxiety and regulate stress response systems. This can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and ease of respiration. This not only reduces stress physically and emotionally, it increases heart rate variability, helping one to be more flexible in stressful situations.A new form of yoga called trauma-sensitive yoga focused on helping those who have experienced significant trauma, a deeply distressing experience or physical injury, to regulate their emotions, has also been found to help young people suffering from bipolar disorder better cope with symptoms.
Pain Relief: Opioid prescriptions have skyrocketed in recent years, most often prescribed to help reduce pain for a range of injuries and pain chronic issues. This has fueled the opioid epidemic, killing thousands of people every year. In addition, no matter the drug or substance, many people experience pain acutely during and after the detox process. This is because substance abuse can affect neuroreceptors in the brain that help to interpret how we feel pain. Once the body is free of the toxin, any underlying pain can become much more pronounced and aggravated.Yoga can help a person to experience pain differently, by teaching the body new reactions to pain and stress, the body can ‘relearn’ healthier responses.Yoga can also relieve significant muscular tension (that often leads to or exacerbates chronic pain), increase muscle strength and range of motion, all of which can help to reduce pain.
Better Sleep and More Energy: In the process of recovery and healing, sleep is an important element. Substance abuse disrupts natural processes of the body, including the Circadian rhythm, which regulates the brain activity to allow for deep, restful sleep at night. Both stimulants (cocaine) and depressants (sleeping pills and alcohol) affect both your waking and sleeping rhythms, and people often suffer from insomnia after detox. This is often a cause of relapse, as the body requires the substance to get to sleep (though drug-induced sleep is not as restful or healing as natural sleep).In a study conducted by National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), researchers found that practicing yoga daily (or as little as twice a week) improved sleep for those suffering from insomnia, and those who practiced had an improved perception of quality of life.
Improved Emotional Regulation: A key skill that is honed in addiction treatment is emotional regulation, which is how people react to situations that are emotionally stimulating, and what actions are taken in response to those emotions. Emotions are interpreted by the mind but felt and expressed by the body. As such, it is important to work both the mind and body together to learn to regulate emotions. Yoga fundamentally approaches both the mind and body concurrently by integrating breath, movement, and meditation, and offers new ways to experience all the sensations in the body and mind. This helps to set a foundation for building self-regulatory skills like self-awareness and control.
A Spiritual Experience (with or without religion): While you certainly do not have to believe in a higher power or relate it to spirituality in any way to reap the benefits, yoga can involve a spiritual aspect if it resonates with you. This can be helpful in the 12-step approach to recovery, such as the method used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which requires opening up to a higher power outside of one’s self and opening up to spirituality. For those who do not identify with any one religion, yoga can provide a spiritual environment that is open to several interpretations, and one that is largely self-driven.
Reduce Cravings and Impulsivity: Yoga can play a significant role in relapse prevention, a critical element of recovery. Cravings will come up after treatment, and when they can be avoided and suppressed, or they can be dealt with. By paying attention to the sensations, when they appear, and how they manifest themselves, one can learn to accept them and release them. Through a consistent yoga practice, one can slowly develop this skill by listening to the body and mind and employing new, healthy responses to cravings.
What is Yoga?
Hatha Yoga classes are usually between 45 minutes and 90 minutes long. There are many forms and variations of hatha yoga, some of the most popular being Vinyasa (a sequence of poses done one after another in a flow) and Bikram (26 poses completed over 90 minutes in a heated room). But yoga can be done at home, as well, with many classes available online, offering both gentle and vigorous classes. All can be done almost anywhere and there is something for everybody, as well.
In its earliest forms, yoga was focused on the spiritual aspects of mindfulness and breathing. Today, it has many variations and expressions including just breathing, meditation and breathing alone and physical practice.
Yoga at Futures of Palm Beach
We know that the holistic approach to treatment leads to the best chance of recovery. Along with our comprehensive addiction treatment program, we offer a variety of holistic options including yoga, massage, acupuncture, and hypnotherapy.