Yoga for Addiction

Ashtanga Yoga Practice Sheet

Yoga as A Powerful Aid Against Addiction:

If immersing yourself in the world of yoga has inspired you to book a teacher training course to paradisiacal areas like the Greek Islands, the tropical beaches of Patnem or the verdant oasis that is Costa Rica, chances are, you’re already aware of the powerful impact yoga can have on your health. Yoga has been found to be an ideal complementary therapy for everything from obesity to cancer, since it has the unique ability to improve strength and flexibility and ameliorate pain, while being gentle on the joints. Its benefits range beyond the physical, however, with recent findings indicating its immense power in helping battle addictions to substance abuse and alcohol. If you or someone you know is suffering from any form of dependence, Yoga can be a powerful aid against addiction. Here’s how Yoga for Addiction may help:

Yoga Lowers Levels of Stress Hormone, Cortisol:

A recent study has found that yoga bestows important physiological changes on the body, lowering cortisol levels and fatigue. The study, carried out on a group of women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer, showed that those who engaged in yoga sessions three times a week for six weeks, experienced a significant reduction in stress. Scientists noted that the physical and mental benefits bestowed by yoga lasted long-term, making this practice ideal for those undergoing rehabilitation for powerful addictions to drugs and alcohol as well. Recovering addicts often face moments of acute stress, particularly when worries about the future or strong cravings take hold; yoga’s emphasis on mindfulness – staying ‘in the moment’ – goes a long way towards banishing destructive thoughts, encouraging us to concentrate on the asanas/bandhas we are performing and on pranayamic breathing and Drishti (our gaze point). Controlled breathing is a particularly powerful aid against panic attacks, which occur when anxiety is present and sufferers begin to breathe too quickly, taking in too much Oxygen and provoking hyperventilation. Yoga sparks the body’s innate relaxation response, lowering the blood pressure and heart rate. It is all about being in control, being aware of the air we inhale and exhale and achieving a state of wellness, in body, mind and spirit.

Yoga helps battle pain:

During withdrawal, addicts can suffer from physical pain, often in the form of strong headaches. Yoga can alleviate the pain of migraines, as well as other forms of pain (e.g. chronic lower back pain and osteoarthritis-related pain). Addiction isn’t always to opiates; prescription pain medications are a worrisome source of abuse on a global scale, which makes a strong case for the importance of natural therapies like yoga.

Yoga helps build muscle:

After a long period of addiction, muscles can become atrophied owing to a lack of physical exercise; yoga is an excellent way to build muscular strength and to improve flexibility, therefore opening the gateway for recovering addicts to take up a host of different sports and exercises they may have enjoyed before they began consuming harmful substances and/or alcohol.

Yoga fosters respect:

Yoga teaches practitioners to respect their body and mind, but also to respect others. Indeed, it offers an excellent opportunity for recovering addicts to find a new social network, united by a love for health and wellbeing. As practitioners begin to notice positive changes in their body, they are encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle, which lays great emphasis on regular exercise and sound nutrition (comprising seasonal, whole, pesticide-free foods).
Bhavana aids yoga practitioners in envisioning a better future: Bhavana (comprising yogic contemplation and visioning) invites us to use our imagination to connect with our spiritual power and to see ourselves in a positive light. It is easy for addicts to feel overcome by their past; yoga helps us see our present self in the best possible light.

Yoga helps addicts perceive the world in a whole new light:

A fascinating study undertaken recently by A. Heenan and co-researchers at Queen’s University was able to identify exactly whey yoga is so helpful in reducing anxiety. The study used point-light displays to draw a person via numerous ‘light dots’ representing the major joints in the body. Point-light displays are depth-ambiguous – i.e. those looking at the image can either see a person walking towards, or away from them. Numerous studies have shown that persons with high anxiety levels tend to see the image walking towards them; those who are relaxed see the image walking away. Heenan’s study showed that those who used a yoga-style relaxation technique, perceived the figure as walking away from them much more often than those who did not use the relaxation technique. The reason, says Heenan, is that this type of practice changes the way we perceive the world; basically, it helps us see our environment in a much more positive manner.

Yoga can help battle depression:
Studies have shown that controlled breathing can help treat depression in those in the early stages of alcohol addiction recovery. It is also an ideal practice for those suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, who tend to view yoga as far less threatening than traditional therapies.

Thanks to Jennifer Hughes – a freelance writer for this insightful and thoughtful piece.

Has Yoga helped you in the battle against addiction?

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