Addiction is an insidious disease that isolates the victim; both from themselves and from others. While treatment options are available to help people reconnect and rebuild relationships with those they have hurt due to addiction, there still remains a great need for helping individuals find themselves and heal the inner pain or longing that lead them to addiction in the first place.
According to Ken Griffin, founder of the Buddhist Recovery Network, addiction can be, “in itself … a misguided spiritual search. Many people who don’t see themselves as spiritual find that when they get sober they have some longing in them, and that their addiction, in one form or another, has been longing for a connection.”
Indeed, in the 12 Steps, the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous, multiple textual references to spirituality are made, although none point to meditation or body-mind connection as integral to the process of healing. While many have found success within the 12 Steps, some struggle accepting the spiritual underpinnings and overt references to God found within the text. This is where yoga could play an important role. Addiction is a form of “checking out” with reality, the ultimate form of escapism. Whereas yoga and guided meditation is the ultimate “checking in” with reality, requiring you to be present and focused on the moment.
The 12 Steps and Yoga
There are many parallels to be found between the 12 Steps and eastern practices such as yoga and meditation. For one, self-acceptance is the first of the 12 Steps, wherein individuals are asked to accept that they have lost control over their drinking. The 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism also ask followers to accept the nature of reality, that there is suffering, that there is an origin to suffering, that suffering will end, and that there is a reason the suffering will end. Similarly, the 12 Steps asks followers to be mindful of their drinking, stating that anyone can get sober and stay clean if they practice “rigorous honesty”. Rigorous honesty can be interpreted as honesty with yourself and with others, or in other words, an existential honesty or mindfulness of reality.
Looking Forward vs. Looking Inward
Western medicine tends to favor the view of addiction as an inherited disease that requires external treatment in the form of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and rewiring the brain to think differently. The western approach focuses on the affliction and supports a person in the practice of new behaviors, whereas yoga and meditation focus on the cause of the suffering itself and supports a person in the practice of new behaviors. They’re similar but different. In western medicine, addiction is treated as existing outside of the person, as an ailment of the body. In Eastern philosophy, attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain is seen as a constant, meaning addiction is just an imbalance of what is normal.
How Yoga and Meditation Support Recovery
Yoga and meditation are an effective means to help someone on the path to sobriety, but they are no substitute for the clinical assistance of a registered treatment center. The tools and methods you learn during yoga can help assist you in drug and alcohol recovery by helping you manage stress, control your thinking, and improve your overall quality of health. Whether you choose to recover through therapy, the 12 Steps, meditation, or perhaps a combination of all three, the ultimate goal is to achieve spiritual well being and happiness. The important part is to keep working and find a method that works for you. As Buddha told his students: “There is only one mistake you can make on the path to awakening, and that is to stop.”
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a drug and alcohol recovery center. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for Boston Consulting Group before he realized where his true passion lied within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.