Addiction is a disease that can wreak havoc on the mind and body. Therefore, it seems only natural that a practice with mind and body benefits would help. Enter yoga. Many rehabilitation centers have been using yoga as part of their program, and yoga’s contribution to recovery has not gone unnoticed. A small but growing body of evidence supports yoga as a legitimate method to help people successfully recover from addiction.
With more than 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016 alone, addiction is touching more lives than ever before. If you or a loved one is struggling with any type of addiction, you may be interested to know that yoga can help.
Here are a few ways yoga can help with overcoming addiction.
1. Reduce stress levels
Stress is a major obstacle to recovery for multiple reasons. For starters, many people turn to substance abuse as a way to handle stress, so they begin the recovery process without healthy coping skills. Once they reach the Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) phase of recovery, which occurs after physical symptoms of withdrawal subside, they may find it even more difficult to deal with stress. At this point, the brain is re-learning to regulate stress hormones without a substance. The brain reacts to drugs like painkillers and heroin by reducing its natural flow of endorphins and increasing opioid receptors. When the opioids are removed, the brain must readjust. This can be especially problematic in dealing with stress because endorphins are responsible for reducing our perception of pain. With higher endorphin levels, we are less likely to feel the physical effects of stress.
Fortunately, yoga is showing some promise in this area. An Alternative Therapies in Health Medicine study found that integrated yoga decreased anxiety-related symptoms and decreased cortisol (a stress hormone). The same study also found that all types of yoga decreased depression and stress while increasing feelings of hopefulness.
2. Greater understanding of self
When you’re under the influence of a substance, it’s easy to lose yourself. Recovery is all about finding yourself again. Yoga is an excellent tool for helping anyone gain a greater understanding of who they are. By paying attention to what is happening in this moment—whether it’s a yoga pose, a breathing technique, or a meditative visualization–
With a great deal of focus on mindfulness, anyone who practices yoga will get a glimpse of their mind its unmodified state. After some practice, you may find a better understanding of yourself through yoga. A Complementary Therapies in Medicine study supports using yoga and mindfulness as promising therapies for treating addiction.
Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is an 8-week intervention that combines cognitive-behavioral strategies with meditation and mindful movement. Its purpose is to help patients get through cravings and difficult emotions, like anger or fear, without reacting.
MBRP teaches mindful movement that includes light stretching and gentle movements. A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology study of 168 adults with substance use disorders found that MBRP significantly reduced relapses at a 2-month follow-up.
4. Solidifying healthy habits
It’s crucial for anyone in recovery to change the ways that led them down a path of addiction. This includes replacing bad habits with more productive ones. By practicing yoga regularly, the person in recovery can spend time improving his or herself each day, which reinforces positive habits.
Recovery is a long road with many twists and turns. Unfortunately, there isn’t a silver bullet that can blast this disease into oblivion. But with a comprehensive treatment program designed to heal the mind and body, there is hope. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone. Start the conversation about getting help and what the recovery path should look like.
Yoga is just one tool in the recovery arsenal, but it has shown a great deal of promise.
AUTHOR BIO: Joshua is an ex-addict and founder of the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge.