Yoga has become an essential complementary element in both substance use treatment programs and continuing care recovery actions. As a recovery tool, yoga provides a method for calming the mind while also improving physical fitness, both of which help maintain stability in recovery.
Stress management is immensely important in recovery, especially during the first year of recovery when encountering negative life events or stressors that could threaten sobriety. Yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety by regulating the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. “These chronically high levels of hormones are toxic to the body and central nervous system, and we know yoga can help reduce or balance the stress hormones in the body. It makes sense that if you’re less stressed, you may not be so quick to seek substances to cope,” according to Sat Bir Khalsa, director of the Kundalini Research Institute and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
Because of its many benefits for individuals in recovery, yoga has become a popular and integral part of a healthy lifestyle routine. Combined with other continuing care activities, like ongoing participation in a recovery community and outpatient therapy, yoga adds to the holistic piece of reinforcing sobriety.
The History of Yoga
Evidence of the practice and health benefits of yoga can be traced to as early as 3,000 B.C., although most scholars point to its emergence around 500 B.C. when Buddhism originated. Yoga has evolved significantly since its origin, with only the lotus position a remnant of the earlier forms of yoga practice.
Yoga is associated with the Hindu culture. The word “yoga” evolved from the root word “yuj,” which translates to concepts like to yoke or to unite. While yoga is essentially an expression of an Eastern religious belief system, those who practice it can use the concept of uniting to mean a union of mind, body, and spirit or the union of body and breath. As well, yoga’s meaning of unifying can also relate to its original purpose, the union of mind with the universe or a Higher Power.
Different Types of Yoga
When looking into yoga for the first time, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. This is because there are so many types of yoga available that it is difficult to know which is the best fit for you. The wide range of yoga practices offers something for everyone. Most people will dabble in a few practices before finding the yoga style that works best for them. Consider these types of yoga:
- Vinyasa yoga. A good option for someone with yoga experience, Vinyasa is dynamic and proceeds at a quick pace.
- Hatha yoga. Hatha is great for beginners who want a good workout but learn the moves at a slower pace.
- Bikram yoga. Also called hot yoga, Bikram is practiced in an environment with heat set at 105 degrees and 40% humidity.
- Restorative yoga. Restorative yoga emphasizes deep relaxation as its goal.
- Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga moves through synchronized movements in a more dynamic, athletic manner.
6 Benefits of Yoga in Recovery
Yoga is a highly accessible activity that requires nothing more than a mat and an instructor. Many yoga classes are available online at no cost. For individuals in substance use recovery, yoga offers a multitude of both mental health and physical benefits for enhancing overall wellness:
- Enhances relaxation. The relaxation response is one of the most popular aspects of practicing yoga. The combination of movement, purposeful mindfulness, and focused breathing together help to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension while reducing stress hormones.
- Increases strength. The postures, called asanas, help tone muscles, increase flexibility, and improve overall strength. Yoga is not easy, so it challenges our bodies to reach new levels of fitness.
- Detoxifies the body. Yoga is a slow but very physical activity, and through the changing postures and movements you will find yourself working up a sweat. The increased oxygen to the cells can then help rid the body of toxins.
- Builds confidence. When taking up yoga we are faced with a new fitness challenge. When you tackle a new activity, and learn how to gradually improve at it and eventually master it, you experience a nice boost in confidence.
- Heightens self-awareness. Practicing yoga is very similar to practicing mindfulness meditation. Both of these train us to control our thoughts, increasing awareness of our surroundings and sensory experience, in addition to our feelings.
- Improves mood. While yoga helps reduce feelings of anxiety, practicing yoga also has antidepressant effects. This is due to the way that specific yoga postures increase GABA production. GABA is a neurotransmitter that can block the nerve cells in the brain, which is considered a factor in depression.
Incorporating yoga into your continuing care strategies yields immense physical and mental health benefits that are protective in recovery. Do yourself a favor and find the perfect yoga practice for you and enjoy its many positive effects.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.