Yoga In Addiction Recovery
Key Points in This Article
- How is yoga used in addiction treatment?
- How does yoga support addiction recovery?
- Yoga creates greater self awareness.
- Yoga gives addicts a tool to manage cravings.
- Does research support yoga effectiveness in rehab?
- Yoga stimulates addiction-impacted areas of the brain.
- Yoga has a measurable effect on stress and immune function.
Here at Elevate’s Northern California facilities (Santa Cruz, CA. and Placerville, CA.) and our South Lake Tahoe facility we do not believe that addiction is the result of a weak character, but rather evidence of deeper physical, emotional and spiritual dilemmas. To address these underlying issues, we don’t just simply treat the symptoms of addiction. Instead, alongside evidence-based practices, we treat the whole person and teach each person how to create a meaningful life without substances.
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Yoga is one of the most widely practiced holistic treatment approaches among rehab centers. About 21 million Americans regularly practice yoga for its ability to provide both physical and mental wellbeing. Applying those benefits to addiction recovery may enable clients to both manage cravings more effectively and restore brain and body health previously undermined by drugs and alcohol. Here is a look at how yoga can provide a supportive adjunct approach to recovery.
How is yoga used in addiction treatment?
Yoga is used in a majority of drug rehab programs, thanks to the fact that it can be used by and adapted to individuals of all fitness levels and walks of life.
As a holistic addiction treatment approach, yoga is used primarily as a complementary, or adjunct, therapy. This means that treatment centers use it alongside evidence-based therapies, such as CBT or EMDR, to support and enhance clients’ recovery. Yoga is almost never used on its own as the primary form of addiction treatment.
Yoga is utilized throughout every stage of the recovery process, including detox, active treatment, and relapse prevention. Many individuals also use yoga long after they leave treatment as a way to maintain their sobriety. This makes yoga a potentially useful tool for most addicts at any point in their recovery journey.
How does yoga support addiction recovery?
Yoga supports a client’s recovery from drug and alcohol dependence by providing them with a way to restore the physical awareness, mental strength, and brain balance necessary to navigate the challenges of rehab. Here is a look at the most important ways in which clients have reported being helped by yoga.
Yoga creates greater self awareness.
The highs created by ingesting addictive substances create a powerful disconnect between a user and their body. Between experiencing the powerful change in consciousness generated by the drug and spending much of their time seeking out that drug, addicts often struggle to pay attention to physical sensations within their bodies.
Yoga is often used in addiction recovery to help clients reconnect with their physical bodies. The practices of yoga focus on helping the individual build a self awareness that includes paying attention to the physical messages from the body. That awareness can teach addicts how to experience, recognize, and ultimately respond in a healthy way to the messages their bodies are sending.
Yoga can regulate mood.
One result of even a few minutes of yoga is a calmer mind and more regulated emotions.
For addicts who struggle with depression, anxiety, or even just the distressing emotions that accompany cravings, the relaxing effects of yoga may help reduce symptoms. A calmer mind and less intense feelings can make it easier for addicts to manage cravings or reduce one of the underlying drivers of an addict’s disease.
Yoga gives addicts a tool to manage cravings.
Many evidence-based practices focus on ignoring or pushing away cravings. Yoga can offer a different approach.
Addicts report using yoga to experience a craving without needing to give into the cravings. The practices of yoga enable them to recognize the craving, acknowledge its presence, and then feel its gradual lessening, all while recognizing that they can allow the craving to come and go without acting on it.
Called “radical acceptance,” this approach is helpful for individuals who may struggle to maintain their sobriety within a 12-step program. In addition, the ability to use a few minutes of yoga to manage a craving can support addicts in staying sober while navigating a daily life that includes work and family obligations.
Yoga may reduce pain.
Intense physical pain can make it harder for many individuals to pursue a successful recovery. For some people, yoga can provide drug-free relief from even severe pain. Not only does improved physical health enable them to focus on their lives and recoveries, but it may remove one of the triggers of their drug use, if they were using drugs to manage a chronic pain condition.
Does research support yoga effectiveness in rehab?
While yoga is considered an alternative form of treatment compared to evidence-based practices, there are some scientific studies that support its use in rehab.
Yoga stimulates addiction-impacted areas of the brain.
Addiction can reshape and rewire important areas of the brain, including the following:
- Prefrontal cortex
- Reward center
Yoga may combat these negative effects of addiction by stimulating these areas of the brain. A systemic analysis of 11 studies of yoga’s impact on the brain found that these practices helped to positively change the structure of each of these important areas of the brain. As a result, yoga may contribute to the reversal of addiction’s brain-related damage, while empowering the individual to make better decisions regarding their recovery and drug use.
Yoga has a measurable effect on stress and immune function.
While not linked directly to addiction recovery, other studies have found that 20 minutes of yoga a day impacts the genes linked to stress and immune function. In particular, regular participation in yoga can turn “off” genes that are linked to higher levels of stress or turn “on” genes that are linked to a sense of relaxation. Another study found yoga to be more effective than walking at reducing stress and improving mood in practitioners. As a result, regular yoga practice may help clients experience a more relaxed state of being and reduce the stress that can make long-term recovery difficult to maintain.
As a holistic treatment alongside evidence-based practices, yoga can support a calmer mind, healthier body, and longer-term recovery for those who want to support their evidence-based recovery with a powerful way of connecting their minds and bodies.
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