Yoga and alcoholism may sound like an odd combination but the truth is that yoga is helpful as part of addiction recovery. Yoga supports wellness in ways that make it an excellent addition to a holistic drug addiction treatment program when used along with traditional treatment methods. Living in sobriety successful requires that individuals work through the issues that led to their alcoholism or addiction. In addition, new coping skills must be learned. Yoga can help both issue resolution and provide new coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s stressful moments.
What is yoga?
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Yoga is an ancient Hindu practice of mental, spiritual, and bodily discipline. Originating in India, the goal of yoga is to attain a perfect state of spiritual insight and tranquility. The word itself means “union.” Although yoga has not been a traditional part of the treatment program for alcoholism, it is something that can be incredibly beneficial for people suffering from alcoholism.
Yoga is a comprehensive system for well-being that was developed up to 5,000 years ago in India to heal the entire person – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is comprised of a healing system of postures and breathing techniques that enhance the person’s fitness, mental clarity and vitality, while also offering stress relief, peace of mind and spiritual growth.
Yoga and alcoholism or drug addiction
Unfortunately, millions of people suffer from alcoholism or an addiction to another substance. Diagnosing alcoholism can be difficult, and it is hard for individuals to seek treatment because of a negative social view of persons who suffer with drug abuse and drug addiction. Addiction is frequently accompanied by either or both physical or mental health disorders. Success in sobriety is best achieved when the entire person is in a state of good health. Holistic treatment is designed to treat the mind, body and soul, and yoga fits very well as a part of a holistic program.
Alcoholics tend to dissociate from their body. Generally speaking, it is likely a function of denial because being aware and conscious of the damage being done to their bodies would cause them to slow down from their drinking habits. The alcoholic brain needs denial order to get what it needs.
The dissociation may be similar to traumatic splitting. Alcoholism causes individuals to justify, rationalize, and minimize dangerous and destructive behavior. An embodiment of this split from the alcoholic and their body are blackouts. Blackouts are literally a shut down from the body. The alcoholic body and mind are becoming farther and farther apart, and the alcoholic accepts all of their symptoms as normal.
Yoga and the mind
Yoga is the union of mind and body, and it is also the practice of mindful movement. Mindful movements are something that the alcoholic has gone a long time without. Postures and breathing through yoga can bring the mind into positive and healthy places. The movements can also heal and rebuild the disassociation that the alcoholic suffers from. As the individual suffering from alcoholism continues to practice yoga, they will experience a renewed sense of empowerment. Another positive effect that yoga can have on the alcoholic is they will begin to care about their body. And as the healing continues between their mind and body, this will give them compassionate for it as well.
The danger that many alcoholics face is that they do not know how sick they are or how much damage their bodies are facing. Yoga acts as a detox for this denial, and it stimulates healing in their minds. Over time, yoga teaches the individual to listen to their body and gain a better understanding of it. Not only can yoga let the individual become more in tune with their bodies, but also with their emotions. Emotional and physical healing are things that are incredibly beneficial to alcoholics. This makes yoga and alcoholism an unlikely combination, but it also gives a way out.
The benefits of yoga
Yoga heals the brain
Yoga is a form of meditation. It helps heal the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part of the brain responsible for choice. Unfortunately the prefrontal cortex is damaged by drug or alcohol addiction. Meditation helps heal and restore this area of the brain. Yoga helps restore control of choice for the individual. Yoga also increases control over stress and anxiety levels, and helps to repair the nervous system. Over time the yoga practitioner masters specific breathing exercises that can be used on demand to cope with stress and fear.
Yoga participants learn to draw their awareness from external stimuli, detach from their senses, and direct their attention inward. This leads to a deeper connection with the inner self. Over time the person learns to be more reliant on obtaining peace from within and less reliant on external influences. This reduces the temptations to rely on substances for pleasure and stress relief.
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Yoga enhances self-control of one’s mood. The study of yoga and meditation teaches participants better methods of controlling thoughts, emotions and responses. This, in conjunction with healing the brain and nervous system, work together to improve the person’s coping mechanisms. When stressed, the yoga student turns to their yoga mat to “escape” from stress and chill out. This effectively curbs the desire to turn to alcohol or drugs.
Yoga improves sleep
The act of meditating, with or without yoga, makes it easier to fall asleep. A variety of yoga techniques can help your body and mind ease into sleep and obtain a better quality sleep. Yoga Nidra uses progressive muscle relaxation to bring on relaxation. Yoga can also aid in returning to sleep when you awaken in the middle of the night.
Yoga in addiction treatment
Research has proven the value of adding alternative medicine methods, such as yoga, to support healing in addiction treatment. Yoga provides a compliment to other evidence-based treatment modalities and enhances overall wellness. Staying sober is tough, but is much easier when the person enjoys a healthy mind, body and spirit. Yoga addresses the healing of all three areas of the person. It can heal the brain and nervous system, strengthen the body, and enhance the spiritual mind. This is why yoga is increasingly part of a quality addiction treatment program.
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