Some people have their doubts when they hear that yoga can heal the mind, body, and spirit. Skeptics might assume that yoga simply improves flexibility, but the therapeutic activity provides a host of other physical and mental health benefits. The combination of movement and breathing techniques makes yoga especially valuable for those struggling with addiction—a disease that interrupts the connection between the brain and the body. Here are some of the many ways that yoga can be beneficial for addiction treatment and recovery:
1. Promotes Physical Health
One of the goals of recovery is to restore physical damage done to the body during active addiction. For this reason, many treatment programs encourage clients to practice healthy eating habits as well as engage in physical activity. Yoga can be an ideal workout because the different poses challenge the body without being overly strenuous, allowing different age groups to reap the exercise’s benefits. Because some types of yoga are practiced at a relaxed pace, it improves oxygen and blood flow to the primary organs of the body, including the heart. This can even lower a person’s risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer. Over time, the range of movements incorporated into yoga can also help loosen muscles, making a person physically stronger. Other physical health advantages include increased flexibility and endurance.
2. Improves Mental Health
Yoga fosters mindfulness, teaching a person to slow down, relax, and focus on the present rather than contemplate the pain of the past or the uncertainty of the future. It nurtures a sense of peace by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Poor mental health is at the root of addiction for many, and people in recovery who encounter stress triggers are more likely to use again in order to cope. Therefore, yoga’s stress-relieving properties can be especially valuable for those who suffer from addiction and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. The meditation and breathing exercises involved in yoga can help these groups process difficult emotions such as sadness, anger, and guilt and feel more in control of themselves. A specific practice called trauma-informed yoga similarly encourages mental wellness in those who suffer from PTSD.
3. Reduces Chronic Pain
Many people in recovery who struggle with prescription drug addiction started using in order to treat chronic pain. Because yoga utilizes different parts of the body that are not typically targeted such as the hips and pelvis, it can prevent chronic pain and arthritis by promoting blood and oxygen flow to these areas. For example, handstand poses stimulate blood flow from the pelvis and legs to the heart and lungs. For those in addiction recovery, yoga, acupuncture, and other natural practices reduce the risk of relapse and are safer alternatives to painkillers.
4. Encourages Healthy Sleeping Habits
Rest is a critical part of recovery. However, medications prescribed to treat insomnia often have unwanted side effects, including mood swings and confusion. Those who have overcome addiction to drugs that combat restlessness, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, can especially benefit from yoga. The breathing exercises that accompany the movement of the body can release tension and improve sleep naturally.
5. Strengthens Self-Esteem
Yoga is a physical activity, and those who practice it feel accomplished knowing that they are actively participating in their recovery. Incorporating physical activity into a routine makes people feel more in control, fostering self-confidence and positivity. Additionally, many people who experience yoga as part of an addiction treatment program are venturing outside of their comfort zone. People in recovery who may have used drugs or alcohol to manage their stress can therefore learn how to cope with discomfort through complementary therapies like yoga. Trying new activities can also help people become more well-rounded and give them the opportunity to explore their likes and dislikes, understanding themselves better in the process.
For people in recovery, yoga can be a rewarding therapeutic activity, especially when it is practiced as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Though people struggling with addiction should not rely solely on yoga for treatment purposes, it can help them relax and feel more at peace with themselves as they navigate their next steps in rehab, increasing their chances of continued recovery. By cultivating physical, mental, and spiritual balance, yoga encourages total well-being and can have a rejuvenating effect on those looking to create a sober, more hopeful future for themselves.