By Hailey Shafir LPCS, LCAS, CCS
If you are working to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction, or even just kick a bad habit, you may be surprised to learn that Yoga might be able to help. Read on to learn more about why Yoga should be a part of your new routine.
Yoga can help you develop mental strength
You probably know that in yoga, you stretch and hold poses that help you become more flexible, coordinated, and balanced – all indicators of physical strength. What you may not be aware of is the way that yoga also improves mental strength. Mindfulness, a key component of yoga, involves learning to direct your attention to the present moment and pulling attention away from other distractions.
Often, learning to pull attention away from thoughts and urges related to drugs and alcohol is the most challenging part of addiction recovery. Incorporating a mindfulness practice like those taught in yoga can be incredibly helpful in learning and applying this skill. Besides helping you manage cravings and triggering thoughts, mindfulness can help strengthen your mind in other ways as well. In studies, MRI scans showed that after practicing mindfulness for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks, there were structural changes in the brain that could be seen on the scans. Specifically, the regions of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotion regulation became denser, offering protection from mental illnesses, cognitive decline, and drug and alcohol addiction.
Yoga can help you meet new people
Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction also often necessitates changes in your social habits as well. You may find that you need to distance yourself from certain friends and family members who you may have used with or who have enabled your addiction in other ways.
The problem is that in doing so, you are more likely to become isolated and lonely, which is a trigger for both mental health disorders and addictive disorders. For this reason, making new social connections with non-users is usually an important part of recovery. Yoga classes are offered in almost every community and are an affordable way to connect with other people. Because Yoga is a wellness practice, these are likely to be people whose personal values align with the new health-conscious lifestyle you are trying to build.
Yoga can deepen your self-compassion
People who struggle with addiction are likely to also struggle with a very active inner critic, a voice that is quick to find your faults and point out your mistakes. This voice can become louder after you first get clean and sober because your newfound mental clarity also means you face the reality of some of your past choices.
While you may think that this inner critic would motivate you to stay on the right path, research suggests otherwise. In fact, the opposite is true. People who are self-compassionate are more motivated, make better lifestyle choices, and are less likely to struggle with addiction.
Yoga is a practice that helps you get in touch with your body, mind, and spirit in a gentle way, and is also a great form of self-care because it is a way you are prioritizing your own wellness. In this way, Yoga can be a great way to demonstrate self-compassion. In addition, the mindfulness aspect of yoga will help you refocus your attention during times when your critic becomes loud.
Yoga can help you cope with stress
At some point in your addiction, you probably began using drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with stress. While common, this can make quitting harder, especially if you have a lot of stress in your life. For this reason, you are going to need to find new, healthier methods of coping with stress and difficult emotions, and Yoga can be a great option.
Many studies have demonstrated that Yoga can be extremely helpful in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, three of the most common mental health issues. These benefits are important because there is a strong link between mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD and addictive disorders, meaning that recovery also often includes treating any underlying mental health issues. Some researchers have also measured cortisol, a stress hormone, before and after developing a Yoga practice, with proven results.
Yoga connects you to the present moment in a healthy way
Addiction to drugs or alcohol is all about immediate gratification, acting on momentary impulses to help you avoid pain or experience pleasure. Clearly, addiction only offers temporary pleasure and pain relief, but at the cost of lasting consequences. Yoga is a practice that helps you connect to the present moment in a different, healthier way. Instead of acting on impulses and urges, Yoga helps you become more attuned to what you are experiencing at this moment and teaches you to get more in touch with stillness and calm beneath the busyness of your thoughts.
Recovery is a process, with many stages. Each stage brings new challenges that need to be met with new skills and strategies. People in early recovery often benefit from learning to manage urges and avoid triggers while people in later stages may benefit more from social connections and an aftercare routine. At each stage, working to add new, healthy routines is essential. Yoga’s many health and mental health benefits make it a great addition to your recovery toolbox.