Yoga is typically associated with relaxation and flexibility, but this centuries-old practice may also be able to help people overcome addiction. As a supplemental therapy, yoga can aid in the healing of the mind, body and spirit – which plays an important role in a holistic-approach treatment for addiction.
Addiction is a growing problem in the U.S. and across the globe. In 2014, approximately 21.4 million people in the U.S. aged 12 and older were battling a substance abuse disorder. That equates to about 1 in every 12 American adults, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Yoga’s Effects on the Brain
Substance abuse alters certain pathways in the brain, particularly those associated with regulating emotion, feeling pleasure, controlling impulses and decision-making. These altered pathways create a vicious cycle in addicts which can be very hard to break.
But the brain’s chemistry and circuitry can rebuild and heal itself after the body has had a break from the substance. Yoga may be able to help with the rebuilding process.
According to The Beaches Treatment Center, yoga can help regulate and balance stress hormones. It can also help addicts cope with the anxiety, depression and stress linked to the withdrawal effects of treatment.
With regular practice of yoga, the grey matter and areas of the brain associated with stress control may be enlarged.
Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) were increased with the regular practice of yoga techniques. Higher levels of GABA typically translate to lower levels of stress and anxiety.
The Mind-Body Connection
The yoga practice can help balance certain parts of the body and brain that are impacted by substance abuse. All forms of yoga focus on the mind-body connection as well as the coordination of movement with the breath.
Yoga requires the practitioner to regulate their breathing and listen to their bodies throughout the entire practice. Over time, this help the practitioner becomes more self-aware of how certain movements or emotions can make you feel a certain way. The goal is to feel and be aware of these emotions without judgement.
When focusing the energy inward, addicts can learn how to take ownership of their feelings and emotions. Ultimately, they gain control over themselves and their actions. For example, regular yoga practice can help addicts recognize their cravings, but not attempt to give in to or avoid them.
Yoga also offers additional benefits, such as:
- Increased energy levels
- Better quality sleep
- Less stress
- Lower irritability levels
- Physical exercise
- Pain relief
- Improved self-confidence
- Increased self-awareness
The yoga practice also encourages people to eat healthier diets. Addicts are better able to cope with withdrawal effects and the life changes they’re experiencing when they’re well-rested and eating well.
Yoga is natural, safe and easy to implement into an addiction treatment program. All you need is a mat, comfortable clothing and time. With regular practice, yoga can help addicts battle the uncomfortable feelings they will ultimately face during treatment.