How yoga can help your recovery

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Recovery from addiction involves healing several different levels of your being—mind, body and spirit. A regular yoga practice can help support all three. For many people in recovery, yoga is a powerful tool that helps them stay clean and sober while developing a sense of discipline and serenity.

We often think of yoga primarily as a form of exercise. However, yoga is thousands of years old, and was originally developed in India as a practice to help prepare you for meditation. The word itself means union: it’s about connecting you to all parts of your being, and to the universe. In other words, yoga can help you get in shape, but it can also take you much deeper.

Many people in recovery, especially those who have only recently stopped drinking and using, struggle with the experience of being in their bodies, sober. They frequently feel anxious, unsettled, bored or angry (or all of the above). If you’re used to using drugs as a shield against such feelings, they can be really hard to deal with when you don’t have that option anymore.

Yoga can help.

First, it gives you something to do in place of drinking and using. Most addicts follow a simple pattern: they feel uncomfortable in one way or another, get the urge to use, then go ahead and do it. It’s an action that follows a feeling.

Yoga can be a replacement action. Instead of using drugs when you feel uncomfortable, you can do yoga instead. While it doesn’t provide the immediate rush that drugs do, a regular yoga practice can get you feeling good. If you’re feeling anxious—great, do some yoga. You’ll start to feel a sense of calm as you get into the practice. If you’re feeling angry—great, do some yoga. You’ll work the anger through your body and release it.

But there’s more to it than that. The more you get into yoga, especially if you make a commitment to do it regularly, the more you can really start to develop a sense of discipline and confidence. You are forced to confront your physical limitations (which is humbling), and indeed, many of your fears, but you also get to see that you are capable of walking through them. For addicts, especially, it can be really empowering to see that they can go through this stuff sober and come out the other side okay.

A really deep yoga practice goes hand in hand with meditation. Indeed, it’s really meditating while moving: getting out of our thinking and into our bodies. If you let it, yoga can take you out of the cycle of worrying about the past and the future, and into the freedom of the present moment.

Older people should also know that yoga doesn’t have to mean strenuous physical poses. There is some really powerful work you can do no matter how limited your physical capabilities may be. Yoga is for everyone.

In that spirit, I want to close with a brief breathing routine I learned from my friend, yoga master Oleg Flow. It’s the sort of yoga anyone can do, and is particularly useful if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. It takes about five minutes, and you can do it anywhere.

  1. Sit comfortably (ideally cross legged on your yoga mat, cushion or on the floor). Make sure you’re breathing through your nose. Spend a minute or two just watching the flow of your breath, in and out.
  2. Inhale for 6 seconds, breathing deeply into your belly. Hold for 3 seconds. Exhale for 6 seconds, gently bringing your belly in to push the air up and out. Hold for 3 seconds. Repeat this pattern for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Inhale for 6 seconds. This time, hold for 6 seconds. Slowly breathe out for 12 seconds. Hold for 12 seconds. Repeat for 2-3 minutes.
Joan Borsten