yoga in addiction recovery

In 2014, an estimated 21.4 million people in the United States who were 12 years old or older battled a substance use disorder, which equates to about 1 in every 12 American adults, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSUDH) reported.

There are many methods and programs available to treat substance abuse and addiction, from traditional, to alternative, to complementary. More and more programs are focusing on a “whole person” or holistic approach that encompasses a variety of methods and tools to help achieve, maintain, and enhance recovery.

Yoga is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs and throughout recovery to help prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, and provide a healthy outlet to cope with potential triggers and daily life stressors.

Yoga is a complementary, or adjunct, health practice that is often considered a natural form of medicine. Adjunct means “in addition to,” and not “in place of.” Yoga is often beneficial when used in tandem with other traditional substance abuse treatment methods.

The Yoga Journal describes modern yoga as the use of physical postures to learn how to connect mind, body, and breath to gain self-awareness and focus attention inward. According to data published by US News & World Report, around 21 million Americans practice yoga, a number that has doubled in the past 10 years.

Yoga has many potential benefits, including:

  • Stress relief
  • Increased physical stamina and strength
  • Self-reflection and increased self-awareness
  • Healthier exercise and eating habits
  • Heightened self-confidence and improved self-image
  • Pain relief
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduction in fatigue
  • Emotional healing
  • Overall health and wellness improvement
Yoga’s Effects on the Brain

When someone abuses drugs or alcohol regularly, some of the pathways in the brain are altered, and the pathways related to feeling pleasure, regulating emotions, making sound decisions, and controlling impulses may be negatively affected. After a period of time without the influence of drugs or alcohol, brain chemistry and circuitry can heal and rebuild itself. Yoga may be able to help with this as well.

Yoga has long been used to help relieve stress, and scientific evidence has provided a link between practicing yoga and the reduction of stress by modulation of the stress response, Harvard Health reports. When a person feels stress, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature increase. Yoga may actually act on this system by regulating and balancing some of the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, the Yoga Journal publishes. Grey matter and regions of the brain active in controlling stress, like the hippocampus, may also be enlarged with the regular practice of yoga, as published in Scientific American.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also reported on a study that showed an increase in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) with the practice of yoga techniques. GABA is a kind of natural tranquilizer produced by the brain to help manage anxiety and the stress response. Higher levels of GABA usually mean less anxiety and less stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common side effects of drug withdrawal, and the use of yoga in recovery may actually work to improve these symptoms.

A study published by Harvard Health on a group of women who reported themselves to be “emotionally distressed” practiced yoga for 1.5 hours twice a week. At the end of three months, half reported less depression, a third cited fewer anxiety symptoms, and 65 percent claimed an increase in overall wellbeing. Over 80 percent of the people practicing yoga in the United States, according to a National Health Interview Study (NHIS) in 2012 published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), reported a reduction in their stress levels as a result.


source: American Addiction Centers article

yoga to become a better driver

Even though yoga has helped me become kinder to others, when I’m in my car and stuck in traffic, any practice of loving-kindness is replaced with a middle finger and a resounding f-you. Yoga asks us to serve the world in an elevated capacity. But it can be difficult when our daily commute is stressful and even dangerous. However, with practice, yoga can help drivers be more mindful when hitting the road.

Core Power Yoga in Phoenix and Allstate teamed up in August 2016 to inform drivers of the importance of mindful driving. According to the spokespeople for the Be Present mindful driving campaign, which aims to end distracted driving, 25% of accidents involve smartphone use. More alarmingly, in 2015, there was a 15% increase in fatal vehicular accidents. With these looming statistics, it is more important than ever to be a mindful driver and do yoga practices for driving. Thankfully, there are multiple ways that yoga can turn a traffic jam into a joy ride.

1. Eliminate Distractions

Similar to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), eliminating distractions is one of the best ways to be a mindful driver. Focus only on the road. Put your phone in the backseat or glove compartment. If you have to use it, pull over before sending a text message or making a call. Make your playlist in advance so you aren’t distracted shuffling through music. If you are rushed and have to eat in the car, carve out 10 minutes before or after driving to mindfully eat.

2. Breathe

Pranayama (conscious breathing) can calm the road rage you might feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. According to research from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, conscious breathing can reduce anxiety, improve stress resilience, and lower the heart rate.

Not all yogic breath is appropriate while driving. However, there are a few breathing practices that are safe to do behind the wheel. Dirga Pranayama (three part breath) is relaxing and calming. Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious breath) can redirect your focus from frustration to the soothing sound of the breath.

3. Be Compassionate

Yoga teaches us to treat all beings with love and compassion. Still, when you are alone in your car, it is easy to forget that you are interacting with other humans. As such, practice compassion with fellow drivers. For instance, drive the speed limit so that you don’t endanger yourself and/or others. When someone lets you merge, wave to say thank you. Offer other drivers the same courtesy as you would to a friend.

4. Do Yoga Before Driving

Before hopping in the car, take two or three minutes to stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose), close your eyes, and breathe. Or spend a few moments moving through Cat pose and Cow pose. Your pre-travel yoga practice doesn’t need to be intense. Simply give yourself time to get centered.

5. Set an intention

Yogis practice intention or sankalpa as a way to stay focused and to redirect distractions and frustrations toward something more positive. For instance, if drivers in your area tend to be aggressive, drive with the intention of having peaceful interactions with fellow motorists. If driving stresses you out, set the intention to stay calm and let go.

6. Observe Your Body

Current research proves what yogis have known for thousands of years: emotions manifest in the physical body. For example, when traffic is gridlocked and frustrations are high, the body tenses. Use your drive to connect the mind and body. Where can you soften? Are you clenching the steering wheel? Notice your shoulders. Draw them down and away from the ears.

7. Practice Yoga Regularly

All of these methods are important components of a regular yoga practice. So the more yoga you do, the more natural these become. If you aren’t sure where to start, try this Calming Basic Yoga Sequence.



author credit: Rebecca Warfield on Yoga Basics article link