Yoga is an ancient practice that first got a foothold in the United States in the late 1800s. By the 1970s, yoga was firmly established in American culture—with some people swearing by it and others feeling much more dismissive (you might remember the fella from the popular song who avers, “I’m not much into yoga” when he writes his personal ad). These days, yoga is extremely popular as a means of pursuing both physical and mental health.
Yoga and Recovery
That said, it may not be immediately obvious how yoga can be useful to a person in recovery. What do postures and flexibility have to do with avoiding drugs and alcohol? Let’s take a look.
Yoga: What Is It?
While it has a deep background in spiritual practice, much of the yoga practiced in the US today is largely detached from its original religious roots. What remains is the practice of assuming physical postures as a way to strengthen the connection between your mind, your body, and your breath. Yoga brings your focus inward and into the present moment. In that way, it has much in common with mindfulness meditation.
Of course, it is the poses that set yoga apart from mediation practices that simply involve sitting comfortably and quietly.
Yoga: How Does It Help?
There are a variety of physical and mental health benefits associated with yoga. For those in recovery from a substance use disorder, specific benefits may include a reduction in withdrawal symptoms, fewer and less intense cravings for drugs or alcohol, and an ongoing strategy for dealing with stress and various triggers. In the end, all of these benefits combine to help stave off relapse.
Yoga’s benefits for those in recovery may largely stem from the ways it supports the brain’s neuroplasticity—the characteristic of our brain that allows for new neural pathways to be formed. Ongoing use of drugs or alcohol change those pathways in negative ways that, among other things, reinforce the drug use itself. Once a person has gone through detox and rehab, however, they have an opportunity to take advantage of their brain’s neuroplasticity to build alternative pathways that support their sobriety.
Yoga may also encourage changes in the brain that can help modulate our response to stress. The reduction of stress is an important strategy in recovery, and practicing yoga can significantly contribute to the stress-reduction effort.
Yoga: How Can You Get Started?
One of the advantages of yoga is that there are few barriers to participation. It requires very little equipment (a good yoga mat may be the only thing you need), can be tailored to various fitness levels, and can be practiced either in a group setting or on your own with the help of home video and online resources.
As with any addition to your exercise program, we would advise that you discuss your intention to take up yoga with your doctor. Chances are, your physician will support your plan and will be able to offer advice and ideas for lessening the risk of injury in the early going.
Yoga: Does It Conflict With My Religion?
Some people worry that their faith traditions are in conflict with practices like yoga and meditation. This can be particularly true of people steeped in a Western religious tradition who feel uneasy about Eastern religious traditions.
But while it is true that yoga had a spiritual origin and remains a spiritual practice for many practitioners, it is absolutely possible to practice yoga without coming into conflict with Western religious teachings.
That said, if this is a concern for you, it is probably a good idea to have a conversation with a leader in your faith community. They may be able to give you guidance so that you are able to pursue yoga with a clear conscience. You may also wish to have a conversation with any yoga instructor you are considering so that you have a clear idea of how much spirituality, if any, is part of their teaching.
If you are not part of a faith community, you may find that yoga offers a kind of spirituality that serves you well in your recovery.
No Need to Get Bent Out of Shape About Treatment
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we want to help you (or your loved one) get sober and stay sober. We accomplish the first by providing compassionate, evidence-based detox and rehab services. And we support the second by pointing you toward an array of ideas and resources that can support your sobriety over the long term. Yoga practice may be among the tools that can help you sustain your recovery journey. We will help you explore a range of options so that you can find the support and strategies that serve you best.