Mind-body practices like yoga have been shown to decrease stress and anxiety and contribute to an overall sense of well-being, with reports of these changes occurring after just one session. For individuals in recovery from an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, this ancient Indian system of healthcare can quickly imbue hope that a return to wellness is achievable.
Yoga and Addiction
Individuals exposed to stress are more likely to abuse substances or relapse into active drug use. We also know that substance use and dependence are high among people with mood and anxiety disorders. While such traditional therapies as counseling and medication have been proven effective in treating addiction and its co-occurring disorders, mindful physical exercise like yoga has recently emerged as a potent complementary health approach.
In the experience of Melissa D’Angelo, a college graduate with a loving family and a good job, a prescription for opioids after kidney surgery soon led her to heroin. Yoga, she said, was the catalyst that helped her get her life back on track. In recovery, D’Angelo told yogajournal.com that when she gets anxious, there’s nothing better than doing adho mukha svanasana.
“At work, if I’m stressed, I’ll literally go into the bathroom and do downward dog,” D’Angelo told the online publication. “It puts me in a relaxed state and allows me to clearly focus on what I need to be doing — not [on] what I want to be doing, which may be relapsing.”
The Science Behind Yoga for Addiction
Some of the most exciting research into the healing power of yoga for recovery reveals that its mind-body benefits are more complex than we might think. According to Dr. John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, yoga can trigger an almost immediate response in genetic activity, switching on and off genes linked to stress and immune function.
In a government-funded study, Denninger found that blood tests showed substantial changes in gene expression in participants who meditated for just 20 minutes a day over eight weeks. “People who are long-term yoga practitioners, people who are long-term meditators, they are different in many ways from the people who don’t practice,” Denninger said in an interview with Ally Ford and Tom O’Brien. “It’s pretty hard to be a skeptic in the face of this kind of data.”
Other research compared the effect of yoga versus walking on mood and anxiety. Participants engaged in their respective activities for 60 minutes daily, three days a week, for 12 weeks. At the end of the study period, the yoga practitioners reported more significant improvements in mood and anxiety than those who had walked.
Treating Addiction Through Yoga
Many drug rehab centers now offer regular yoga classes. And because yoga asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) can be done by anyone, anytime, anywhere, addicts can work to strengthen their recovery when neither a therapist nor sponsor is available. These yoga poses are recommended to help recovering addicts bring peace and calm to their daily lives. Here are other ways yoga can be instrumental in your recovery:
- Improves focus and awareness — Yoga can help recovering addicts maintain the concentration necessary to stay mentally strong and focused on their recovery goals. In addition, yoga training emphasizes an awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings without the need to get involved with them by “numbing out” with substances.
- Reduces cravings — Yoga helps individuals develop a calmer state of mind, which goes a long way toward thwarting cravings. Also, after withdrawal, when the brain is essentially starved of dopamine, yoga has been shown to increase levels of the pleasure-inducing chemical naturally.
- Stimulates the prefrontal cortex — Long-term yoga practice aids in developing the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for self-control and an area heavily compromised by substance use.
- Helps conquer insomnia — Yoga provides downtime for the nervous system, with the byproduct being better sleep. Here are poses to enhance sleep.
Incorporating yoga into your recovery practice heals the body and mind and can help you develop spiritual wellness, no matter your religious beliefs. In addition, yoga can help you meet and bond with like-minded individuals who are working on themselves in the same way you are. All it takes is 20 minutes a day to experience this healing therapy’s beneficial mental, physical, and spiritual effects.
Heal with Yoga for Addiction and The Right Step in Texas
At The Right Step, we recognize the importance of comprehensive care for addiction recovery. Our evidence-based treatment programs include yoga and other mind-body practices designed to restore your overall well-being and help you develop physical balance and emotional calm.
We offer a variety of programs, including:
- Detox and inpatient
- Partial hospitalization programs
- Intensive outpatient programs
- Continuing care, like alumni programs