Yoga and Addiction by Lorraine Close
At Edinburgh Community Yoga we believe that practicing yoga should be something that everyone has the opportunity to explore regardless of age, financial situation, social class or background. We aim to reach out to communities who may not be in a situation where it is straightforward to walk into a regular yoga class. Let’s be honest; yoga is expensive, prohibitively so for many. And then there is the added fear factor: One of the most common things I hear people say is ‘I’m not flexible/thin/fit/calm/strong/abletotouchmy toes enough to do yoga”, which always makes me smile because I never heard anyone say they aren’t good enough at swimming to learn how to swim…
There are multiple other reasons why people may not feel able/have the opportunity to come along to a regular public yoga class, but that might be another blog post in itself. It may be especially hard if you are someone who is in a vulnerable position in society. Practicing yoga is likely to be far down the list of priorities for people who are living in poverty, have chronic ill health or who are in recovery from drug, alcohol or any other addiction and as an organisation we are working hard to offer yoga to some of these groups as part of our Yoga Outreach Programme.
We have recently begun delivering yoga classes to the recovery community in Edinburgh, and thought we’d share a little of why we think yoga can be especially helpful for people in recovery.
Addiction is a complex issue with various philosophies around what it is and how it affects the body and the mind but in essence it can be considered a chronic relapsing condition that over time can cause serious damage to a person’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being. The 8 limb path of yoga is to unite and heal the mind, body, and spirit – which makes yoga a perfect practice for those in recovery. The neuroscientific and physiological explanations around why yoga and breath practices work for people in treatment programmes for addiction can get pretty complicated – we were lucky enough to qualify to teach Yoga and Mindfulness for Addictions with Shaura Hall and Heather Mason at the Minded Institute. www.yogaforthemind.info/ www.yogalove.co.uk. The course teaches an 8 week programme specifically developed for people living with addiction called the Minded Addiction Recovery Kit (MARK). It uses a combination of asana (physical postures) mindfulness exercises and yoga nidra – a sort of yoga sleep (it’s as good as it sounds) to support healing for people in recovery.
Basically practicing yoga in recovery is a great idea. Here are our top 5 reasons why!
- Yoga regulates the nervous system: People with addiction often live in a state of hyperarousal-the fight or flight response that protects us from danger is chronically activated which has many negative effects on the mind and body. Specific breathing practices and asana help people in recovery to learn how to calm the nervous system and change the way they feel by using their breath and body; skills that can be taken off the mat and into daily life.
- Yoga gets you back in your body: People living with addiction may be completely disconnected from their bodies. When you are unaware of your body and how it feels it is difficult to care about how you treat it and what goes into it, particularly if you have been affected by trauma. Yoga helps develop connection to the body through breathing and by paying attention to sensations in the body during asana practice; This can help people to develop self-respect; encouraging compassion and positive regard for oneself, something many people in recovery struggle with.
- Yoga can actually create new brain pathways (neuroplasticity- pretty cool!)which helps to break bad habits and build good ones. Yoga has been shown to increase levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), a cheeky little protein that helps regenerate new neurological pathways in the brain which are established by learning new practices e.g yoga asana!
- Yoga brings awareness to the present moment: It allows people the opportunity to find peace and stillness in the present moment which is likely to be a rare occurrence for those newly in recovery. Savasana (resting pose at the end of practice) is particularly brilliant for this opportunity to completely let go. The practice also encourages people to ‘be with what is’ and accept, notice and observe sensations/thoughts that may arise. This can be really useful when dealing with cravings or negative emotions.
- Yoga Philosophy: the Yamas and the Niyamas are aspects of yoga philosophy that refer to how we relate to others and ourselves. Principles including non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-restraint and non-attachment as well as cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender to a higher power are concepts that may be familiar to those in 12 step recovery programmes, and this aside, they provide really positive messages that can be brought into every yoga class and then taken away, in lots of ways.
- (sorry couldn’t help it)…Yoga friends: By coming to a yoga class for people in recovery you make friends and develop a yoga community which can be a really positive thing for people in recovery who may be trying to stay away from communities who are using drugs/alcohol.
In recovery and feeling inspired? If you’d like information on any of our classes, whether for recovery or not why not contact us.
With love and gratitude to our teacher Shaura Hall, who taught us so much about yoga and addiction.
NB: We advise that participants should already be sober or clean and committed to a path of recovery when deciding to take up yoga and should contact a GP with any medical concerns prior to beginning. Please also note yoga for recovery classes should only be used as an assistance to maintaining sobriety and in conjunction with formal medication and should not be used to replace prescriptions or as a tool for detoxing.