What is Yoga?
To the uninitiated, yoga can seem like an activity that only a certain type of person can enjoy. Many people picture yoga as fit people in tight clothes doing strange body contortions on colorful mats. That image alone may steer people suffering with addiction away from the practice. They may feel they aren’t physically able to participate or that it is just an activity for people who are young, athletic, and exceptionally healthy.
Yoga is so much more than an hour on a cushy mat in a gym. Yoga involves focus on the breath, postures, meditation, and one’s lifestyle to ultimately lead to personal enlightenment. It teaches the fundamental skills necessary for creating a better balance of the relationship between the mind and body. Like a 12-step program, it teaches specific lifestyle changes that can allow people to connect with a higher power and discover a blissful life. However, it is important to note that yoga doesn’t require spirituality; the “God” mentioned in yoga practice does not necessarily need to be thought of in a traditional religious sense.
How Yoga Therapy Differs from Yoga
One could argue that all yoga is essentially therapy, and this is true to a certain extent. However, yoga therapy, specifically, is an emerging practice that harnesses the healing powers of yoga. It helps people with struggles, such as addiction, develop the self-knowledge that can enable them to change dysfunctional aspects of their lives. Yoga therapists use traditional yoga models to address the underlying root causes of pain and suffering while providing a guide to create lasting change.
Yoga therapists assess their clients and get a full picture of their medical history as well as their physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual needs. From there, they find the most appropriate yoga methods to bring lasting change. They often give homework, encouraging individuals to develop a routine and begin their journey of self-exploration.
How Yoga Therapy Can be Used to Treat Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Many people who are struggling with addiction seek ways to escape their everyday existence because their thoughts, feelings, and emotions are too difficult to handle. Instead of dealing with life’s challenges, they use substances as a way to escape. They bypass their inner knowledge and wisdom for a “quick fix” to ease their suffering. Unfortunately, the temporary relief they get from using drugs or alcohol doesn’t address the deeper root issues.
Yoga challenges people who are struggling with addiction to face their problems, create necessary change, and accept some situations for what they are. Yoga is based on discipline, something those struggling with addiction might sometimes lack. The self-discipline gained through postures, breathing, and meditation can transfer to other aspects of life as well.
Like mindfulness meditation, yoga teaches how to live in the present moment. Instead of being depressed about the past or anxious about the future, yoga practices encourage an acceptance of the present moment. When one appreciates life moment by moment, they take control of their life and disengage from unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations caused by an unfocused mind. This can be especially helpful for those struggling with drug or alcohol cravings early in their recovery.
Yoga also encourages a positive leisure lifestyle. When someone is stressed or dealing with difficult emotions, they learn to choose a healthier alternative instead of reaching for a drug or substance. By repeatedly turning to yoga practices when faced with challenges, they create a positive habit to replace their previous reliance on drugs or alcohol. Ultimately, you can feel better after choosing a more constructive way to cope than escaping with a “quick fix.”
The social aspect of yoga can also help people struggling with addiction. Like support groups and 12-step programs, someone joining a group yoga class can find like-minded people looking to improve the quality of their lives. Those in the group often encourage each other and form special bonds. For someone struggling with addiction, a strong social support network is essential for a successful recovery.