Overview Of Treating Substance Abuse With Yoga
Addiction is a major problem in America. Seventeen million Americans report alcohol abuse annually. Opioids like Heroin, Fentanyl, and Morphine cause tens of thousands of deaths annually. Not only have family members lost loved ones, substance use disorders cost Americans over $740 billion per year. This has resulted in many campaigns against substance abuse, along with treatments that can help. Holistic treatments like mediation and yoga have become increasingly valuable treatments for substance abuse alongside traditional medications and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Yoga is the Sanskrit word for union. Yoga is a physical and spiritual union between the mind and body that often includes philosophies echoing themes in 12-Step programs (i.e., belief in a higher power, prayer, meditation, humility, spiritual awakenings, and surrender). Yoga is a practice that combines physical activity and physical postures, breathing, awareness, mindfulness, and meditation. It has gained popularity in the West in recent years after having been an Eastern practice for thousands of years. In addition to prompting relaxation, yoga supports a lifestyle of calmness, mindfulness, and self-comparison. The result of such a centering practice is a renewed mind, realization, and grounded emotions.
Yoga centers on wisdom and offers guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life. Yoga does not require a belief in a higher power or prayer (although it is considered to be a spiritual practice as it has a 5,000-year history in ancient Indian philosophy). These are options one may choose to implement into their practice.
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Benefits Of Yoga
Benefits of yoga include:
- Increased relaxation
- Increased calmness
- Increased mindfulness
- Increased muscle strength, tone, and flexibility
- Improved cardiovascular and circulatory health
- Improved respiration energy and vitality
- Weight loss
- Improved posture
- Prevention of cartilage and joint breakdown
- Significantly increased mood and happiness
- Emotional stability
- Stress reduction
- Mental restoration
- Improved impulse control
- Improved focus<
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Yogic Beliefs And Substance Abuse
By introducing routine and breathing to the mind and body, yoga and meditation have been thought of as a path to release physical and emotional pain. Different yogic practices have their own beliefs on substance abuse. Such yogic principles believe drugs interfere with consciousness and interrupt the body’s energy centers. Students of Kundalini yoga are instructed to not practice substance abuse as “energies in the body may spiral out of control,” hence their abstinence from drugs.
These traits are all useful to individuals battling substance abuse, as yoga centers and grounds the mind. This means yoga creates a sense of ease and connection despite the highs of excitement and the lows of depression. Because someone is connecting the body while taking deep breaths, they can feel endorphins, or “feel good hormones,” which create a natural high throughout the brain. A woman who practiced yoga while recovering from addiction notes:
I walked out of class feeling new, grounded, balanced, alive, and more than anything, feeling like I was going to be okay. I loved it, LOVED it.
She returned later because she found that yoga provided less reactivity, a safe community, and the ability to control her thoughts. These were few of the many benefits of yoga post-addiction, and many of them have decreased her anxiety and insomnia. I also gave her a different life perspective and taught her lessons about her willpower.
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How Yoga Affects Moods And Emotions
Yoga has been scientifically proven to help reduce anxiety and feelings of depression. This is very useful for individuals suffering withdrawal from harmful chemicals. A 2-week study surveying alcohol-dependent participants concluded they experienced lesser symptoms of depression after practicing yoga. In addition to depression relief, yoga decreases stress and levels of cortisol, fights fatigue, and clears brain fog.
Due to the continued breathing yoga involves and the strength needed to stabilize and hold poses, yoga has been “shown to disrupt neural pathways that may reinforce addictions.” In a test evaluating yoga and Opioid-use disorders, some members of the experiment noted higher moods and quality of life. A study on yoga and Cocaine-use disorders yielded participants who had lower stress and cortisol levels. More studies are being done to understand the long-term effects of yoga on substance abuse.
In addition to depression relief, yoga decreases stress. Reports have noted yoga decreases levels of cortisol, fights fatigue, and clears brain fog.
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Yogic Philosophies And Alcoholism
Yoga has different types of practices governing and impacting specific parts of the body. A common one is hatha yoga, which is a more physical and breath-focused school of yoga. Kundalini yoga explores the connection between the physical body and spirituality. All of these practices include meditation, breathing, or mantras. Due to its spiritual nature, some argue yoga and alcohol do not support each other. A yogic lifestyle celebrates present-moment awareness and self-compassion, which can translate to putting healthy foods and substances in one’s body.
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A life of substance abuse can impact many, not just the individual suffering from an addiction. Don’t let a fight with substance abuse complicate your life. Find treatment today and have access to traditional and holistic treatments, such as yoga and meditation. Contact a treatment provider to find out more.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience