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How Yoga Can Turbo Charge Your Recovery

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Yoga has taken center stage in many health publications, and some stereotypes have emerged as a result. Magazines show photographs of slim, fit instructors and practitioners in exotic locations, and often they are holding some of yoga's most complex and advanced poses. In some circles, it is trendy to wear yoga pants while going about daily routines, and entire businesses have emerged to supply consumers with increasingly more expensive yoga gear.
All of this might give the impression that the practice of yoga is reserved for the elite, but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout its 5,000-year history, yoga has offered individuals from every walk of life -- and every body type -- an opportunity to reduce stress, build strength and develop inner peace. In fact, the practice of yoga has been shown to ease the bumps associated with addiction recovery, and for that reason, it comes highly recommended as a complement to recovery programs.


The Philosophy of Recovery Yoga


Yoga was originally introduced to the west from ancient Sanskrit texts of northern India, and has been practiced for centuries. The philosophy can be summed up as an active, purposeful discipline of the body and mind. Early writings describe the practice as a method of "dealing with the challenges of being human." In its purest form, each yoga pose is designed to promote meditation by creating physical stillness. Simultaneously, yoga develops the physical strength and stamina necessary to create a calm space in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life.


Many practitioners attest to the fact that the discipline and effort required for yoga have transformed their bodies and minds. In recovery, yoga offers an opportunity for reflection, goal setting and the self-awareness necessary for success. Addiction chips away at self-esteem, and yoga offers an antidote. Through disciplined practice, many develop a sense of empowerment, and they are able to connect with their inner strength.


Calming busy, agitated thoughts is one of the biggest challenges during recovery, particularly when substance abuse originated from a need for escape from reality. Yoga supports a focus on breath and energy, gently transitioning anxious energy to feelings of peace and comfort. An increased ability to soothe away stress and worry makes enduring the many uncomfortable feelings that go along with recovery more tolerable. The integration of mind, body and spirit work hand in hand with the basic tenets that guide recovery programs. In fact, the compatibility of yoga and recovery is so pronounced, many programs have developed 12-Step Yoga workshops.


Yoga and Addiction


Recovery experts have long known that a large part of the recovery puzzle is related to recovering addicts' relationships with their bodies. The Betty Ford Center, a leader in recovery services, has included yoga in its programming for many years.


"Addiction takes a person out of their body and prevents them from connecting to who they are physically and feeling what their body is telling them," says Jennifer Dewey, Betty Ford's fitness manager. "Yoga is a great way to slowly reintroduce someone to physical sensation. It's also very relaxing, so in terms of the anxiety, stress, and depression that arise from detox, it's invaluable in helping people stay calm and grounded."


A disciplined approach to the practice of yoga introduces new methods of managing negative emotions, which offers relief to those working to recover from addiction. However, the true impact of yoga is more profound. Hormonal imbalances, particularly when stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are involved, can lead to a wide variety of emotional and behavioral disorders. High levels of stress hormones mean significant increases in anxiety and depression, which have a correlation to addiction. Yoga has a direct impact on the body's ability to regulate hormone levels, so it doesn't just make coping with difficult emotions easier -- in some cases, it actually reduces physical stress levels.


Brain chemistry plays a major role in how emotions are experienced, and addiction can be directly linked to brain activity. Neurobiologists noticed the effectiveness of yoga in relieving depression, and they wanted to learn more about the connection. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found answers. When they compared the levels of stress-reducing chemical GABA in the brains of individuals who spent time reading versus individuals who spent time practicing yoga, they saw an increase in GABA for the yoga participants.
Recovery programs that combine traditional therapies with recovery yoga, such as Fusion Recovery Yoga, offer individuals suffering from addiction an additional tool in their arsenal of post-addiction coping methods. The practice of yoga isn't limited to those that have the time for regular classes or the money for expensive equipment. True practitioners span all body types and levels of income, and poses can be done anytime, anywhere.


In addition to formal classes and workshops, there are ample resources for learning more about the practice of yoga and its relationship to recovery from addiction. Information on poses for beginners and those who are experienced can be found online, and libraries typically offer a wide variety of books and videos for patrons.


Written by Michael O’Brien, SAP, CATC, CSC and Kyczy Hawk.

 

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