Yoga and Addiction Treatment
Perhaps the most beneficial part of yoga is the breathing. Yoga involves very deep and mindful breathing, which continuously improves lung capacity. Careful and controlled breathing stimulates the relaxation response, reducing anxiety levels and creating a calming sensation. This is very important in regards to the healing of addiction because anxiety is one of the major causes of drug and alcohol dependency. The deep and focused breathing also helps one let go of the mind chatter that often is associated with stress, and delivers more oxygen to the brain thus creating endorphins (the body’s natural feel good chemicals). This will result in a better mood and improved concentration.
While Yoga is not part of mainstream addiction therapy, many drug and alcohol addicts are discovering that it is a very effective tool for rehabilitation. Some recent studies have shown that yoga is just as effective as psycho-dynamic group therapy. There are many individual cases of positive results as well. Yoga can also be integrated into the traditional 12-step addiction-recovery program, as well as acupuncture and other rehabilitation programs.
The essence of yoga treatment is to turn the mind’s focus inward, which has a calming effect on the patient—as they learn to feel physical sensations and focus on their breathing rhythms. This calming effect counteracts the habitual physical responses of years of addiction. The yoga postures also stimulate the healthier side of the body, which is typically long-neglected in patients.
The Body-Mind Connection
Addicts are typically out-of-control, both physically and emotionally. Many addiction clinicians know that addiction impulses are not just psychological, but physical as well—and impulses can be controlled by making use of that connection in a positive way. For example, yoga teaches that comfort can be achieved even during uncomfortable physical states, such as a forward bend. These types of training require the patient to become accustomed to patience and tolerance—which leads to impulse control.
A Medical Explanation of Yoga Addiction Treatment
Physicians and researchers explain that the main action of drug and alcohol use is stimulation of dopamine in the brain—a neurotransmitter that produces a feeling of well-being. This keeps the addict coming back time and again for that dopamine high. Yoga and meditation, on the other hand, may actually dampen dopamine stimulation. Eventually this reduces dopamine impulses and reduces cravings for drugs and alcohol—and the resulting emotional control, reduces impulses for substance abuse.
Kundulani yoga, for example, focuses on intense breathing patterns, which can activate the body’s natural pleasure producer—endorphins. The result is a kind of “high”—but completely natural and healthy. So the net result is that the patient or addict using yoga treatment learns to replace the destructive dopamine high with the healthy endorphin high.
Yoga Treatment Nurtures a Sense of Community
Many drug and alcohol addicts feel alienated, or they associate with like-minded addicts. What they need is a community that is caring and nurtures a sense of well-being. There is plenty of opportunity for healthy friendships, unlike in bars and drug dens. In addition, yoga teachers tend to have an inner calm that translates to people in their surroundings, and help addicts find their own similar inner strength.
Many yoga studios provide special attention to after-class activities that can help even severe addicts calm their physical disturbances. Some of these activities may include a tea session, music, or chanting plays—all of which have a calming physical and emotional effect, and promote a feeling of safety and well-being.
In effect, yoga treats both the psychological and physical side of an addict. Yoga requires will and determination and can play a central role in helping addicts regain both their physical and mental control over their lives.