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Holistic Addiction Treatment: Yoga

Although many people think of yoga as simple stretching and exercise, there is a lot more to it than that. Yoga embodies the mind, spirit, body connection that many strive to find in life. The teachings of yoga lend themselves to helping people conquer addiction as well.

Addiction consumes all of a person; their thoughts, their beliefs, and their physical body. What better way is there to recover from addiction than to assume a practice that is based off healing these three things? In order to benefit from the total connection that yoga offers, it is important to understand what yoga is, its principles, and the types, benefits, and drawbacks of practicing yoga for addiction.

What is Yoga?

yoga for addiction

Yoga is more than just stretching. The practice can help people on many different levels.

Yoga is a form of exercise that encompasses the whole body. The poses require concentration, breathing, and force. They promote meditation and relaxation. In addicts, the practice of yoga helps to calm the mind and enliven the person, helping them find peace and mental clarity. It fills the hours with meditation, calming exercise, and other spiritual practices.

For most people yoga is an excellent form of exercise, for addicts it becomes a tool to use against the addiction. The different schools of yoga have something to suit every need. Most people who practice yoga are calmer, more centered, and fit. Although slightly different in style, all the schools represent the same dedication to improving yourself and the world around you. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are the basic concepts of drug rehabilitation programs.

The Principles of Yoga

There are ten fundamental principles in yoga. These principles explain the different beliefs and tenants of the yoga practice. Each of these principles can also be used to help those recovering from addiction.

  • Yoga teaches liberation – this principle is about freeing yourself from the past. Addicts often find that they are lost in their own past mistakes. This teaches them how to not only be aware of their past but to free themselves from it.
  • Everyone is strong and everyone is weak – this principle is about recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and using them to better yourself. The different types of yoga help everyone find their where they are comfortable.
  • The foundation of all the yoga types is a sound moral life – Law, virtue, order, and morality guide it.
  • Yoga is both a way of life and a physical practice – in order to practice yoga, you have to practice the overall philosophy behind it as well as the physical aspects of it.
  • Yoga is self-discipline – even the smallest most simple yoga practice involves self-discipline.
  • All yoga types fit into two categories – these categories are the techniques used and letting go of already formed attachments.
  • The key to yoga is focus – this is where control comes from.
  • Yoga is replacing old and unconscious habits with new ones that are more beneficial – the benefit can be a healthier life or freedom from addiction.
  • Getting back to the basics – the belief that the whole person is healed with diet, exercise, relaxation, breathing, and meditation through positive thinking.
  • Yoga is progressive in nature – it is about practicing patience to achieve perfection and always striving for betterment.

These principles vary in wording but the basics are the same. Yoga is ongoing improvement to reach freedom from the things that bind us. This includes addiction.

Types of Yoga

The different types of yoga follow different disciplines. These types are:

  • Karma yoga also known as the discipline of action – Its participants believe in service to others. Their beliefs are based off the Bhagavad Gita. Karma yoga is an altruistic branch of yoga that encourages a person to give up their self-centered nature as well as what they like and dislike. People who practice Karma yoga believe that the work they do should be done without selfishness. That no one should expect a specific result and be disappointed if it does not turn out right.
  • Bhakti yoga also known as the discipline of the spirit – the people who practice spiritual yoga believe in devotion to God. They have a desire to please God rather than worship him out of fear of punishment or rewards. The practice of Bhakti yoga involves the Bhakti movements. These movements are: Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism.
  • Jnana yoga also known as the discipline of knowledge – the people who practice Jnana yoga believe that liberation results in complete clarity. They practice different forms of meditation as a way of being closer to the divine and mental clarity. This type of yoga is based off intellect and striving for knowledge and clarity.
  • Raja yoga – this form is thought to be the highest form of yoga. The goal of this type of yoga is to use the thought processes to change physical and mental energy into spiritual energy. Meditation is a huge part of Raja yoga.
  • Hatha yoga – as a part of Raja yoga, it combines the breathing, postures, and relaxation exercises.
  • Mantra yoga – is the discipline of sound, this yoga uses sound as a way to gain freedom.
  • Tantra yoga – is the discipline of continuity, this yoga uses energy, perception, and visualization to gain freedom.

These types encompass the full journey through yoga. Although a person can practice only one if they choose, many people practice pieces of all of them. Many people who practice both the spiritual side and the physical side of yoga believe it gives them balance in their lives.

Addiction Treatment and Yoga

Therapists use yoga to help treat addiction because it improves both the mind and the body. In respect to the mental addiction, it helps:

  • control cravings,
  • alleviate insomnia,
  • manage agitation,
  • reduce anxiety and depression,
  • relieve stress,
  • reduce pain from withdrawal

The physical benefits of yoga are also well known. The benefits as to a recovering include improvements in:

  • muscle strength,
  • flexibility,
  • joint mobility,
  • the loss of muscle mass that is lost due to drug use,
  • circulation,
  • heart rate, and
  • blood pressure.

There are many other benefits to practicing yoga. It quiets the mind and pacifies cravings. The exercise fills time and lets you concentrate on something else. Most styles of yoga are low impact and helps with aching joints and sore muscles.

Yoga Risks

Like all forms of therapy, yoga is not without its risks. The risks of yoga are more physical than mental. If you experience chronic pain, back pain, or other joint pain, it is important to see a doctor before starting yoga. Yoga is a form of exercise and even though many doctors recommend it for people with injuries, it is still better to have a doctor approve your routine.

Unfortunately, many of the addicts that use yoga are opiate addicts. It is important for them to consult a doctor if they are practicing medication replacement therapy. Some replacement therapies are also painkillers. While on painkillers, it is difficult to find out what the limits of the body are. It is very easy to overstretch or overdo yoga practice if you cannot feel when your body tells you to stop.

One more risk involved in yoga is all of the yoga fads. Some of these fads do not focus on the traditional principles of yoga and may be harmful if you are attempting to recover from addiction. There are also many people who go too far in their treatment. Do not be one of these people. Yoga is certainly a beneficial practice and possibly a life changing one but going too far in it is not good. Remember the purpose of yoga is to achieve balance.

Tips You Should Know

According to the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:

  • Yoga is wonderful for pain,
  • There are some issues that do not benefit from yoga – talk to the doctor before starting yoga,
  • Most yoga is safe for most people,
  • Be both safe and mindful in your practice, and
  • Always be aware of your limitations, if you are unsure discuss the forms you are using with your doctor.

Most people who teach yoga are balanced and friendly, if you are considering a yoga program for addiction, be sure to ask any questions you might have at the start.

Yoga and Addiction

The addiction destroys both the mind and body; addicts try to repair this damage by looking outside themselves for answers. Unfortunately, this does not always help. Yoga teaches the recovering addict to look inward and use their mental, physical, and spiritual energy to heal. When an addict starts yoga, they are often still feeling low and may be struggling with low-self-esteem. Yoga teaches the recovering individual to control the body, their breathing, and the mind. These spiritual practices teach for improved self-esteem and self-respect gradually breaking the pattern of addiction and helping the addict to build a new life.

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