Yoga- An Important “Peace” To Recovery

Yoga- An Important

Most rehabilitation programs provide one-on-one and group counseling, education, healthful nutrition, recreation and exercise. Daily exercise has been found to provide many benefits to those in recovery – it is a natural mood-enhancer, provides a way to release tension and aggression, and promotes overall well-being. Research shows that yoga does all these things and more.

Yoga is a common practice for people who want to bring a sense of calm into their lives, get into shape, or connect with their spiritual side. It is also becoming a more common component of substance abuse treatment – a natural companion to 12-step based recovery because it shares many of the same goals and teaches participants how to achieve those goals. It is also often a key component of the group of holistic therapies now being used universally, such as art, music, equine and horticulture therapies.

Yoga therapy even affects the chemical balance in the brains of those with addiction – it can help your brain recover from a drug or alcohol addiction. In recent studies, yoga has been shown to increase the levels of a brain receptor called GABA by more than 20 percent. This is important because people dealing with substance abuse usually exhibit low levels of GABA. If an activity such as yoga can increase these levels, even for short periods of time, then people struggling with substance abuse can more conscientiously focus on their recovery.

Here are just a few ways that yoga supports a person’s drug/ alcohol rehabilitation efforts, according to the experts.

Benefits of Yoga Therapy for Substance Abuse Former substance abusers who practice yoga say that yoga fosters the kind of discipline and self-peace that is needed in a 12-step program. Rachael Chang, the yoga instructor at Wayside House, an addiction treatment program for women in Delray Beach, said yoga increases the threshold for coping, teaches a calm, nonreactive state of being. Ms. Chang, who trained at the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts, said this style of yoga teaches clients about self-acceptance – about accepting feelings without believing they have to react to them. “They respond really well.
Self-acceptance is important for everyone, but especially for those with addictions,” she said.

Yoga therapy has been shown to reduce the following symptoms that often accompany a drug or alcohol addiction:

• Depression
• Anger and hostility
• Anxiety and tension
• Fatigue and inertia
• Impulsive behaviors
• Confusion

Yoga Teaches New Coping Mechanisms

At the core of addiction is a person’s inability to cope with difficult thoughts or emotions. Much of counseling focuses on helping patients to recognize this and teaching them new ways to cope with stressful life situations. Yoga teaches the use of controlled breathing as a means of gaining control of thoughts and emotions.

Yoga Helps Individuals Achieve Balanced Peace

Often the person ensnared by addiction is carrying around a load of anger. They may be upset with themselves or they may be angry with others. Those who abuse drugs or alcohol may have reached for substances to find an escape because they lacked their own sense of peace. Yoga positions express acceptance.

This is a central part of 12-step recovery – accepting your own failures. On the other hand, deep breathing facilitates physical control. In this way, yoga combines inner and outer peace in a way that other forms of exercise do not.

Ms. Chang, who has been teaching yoga in the addiction community for two years, agrees. “There is a self-soothing aspect of yoga that makes them feel better – they focus on their bodies and get out of their heads for a while. When we start a class, we have the women check in with one word. Many say ‘anxious,’ or ‘tired,’ but when we check in again half way through the class, the words are often, ‘calm,’ or ‘relaxed.’”

Yoga Emphasizes Making a Spiritual Connection

Another core value in most 12-step programs is admitting that problems are too big for you to handle alone. The programs encourage participants to reach out to someone bigger than themselves who is capable of handling them. Yoga also emphasizes making a spiritual connection through meditation and prayer.

Ms. Chang said most of the women look forward to it. “It’s fun – the deep breathing and relaxation – some are surprised they can feel that good.”

Marlene Passell is the marketing and communications director for Wayside House in Delray Beach, FL. Visit