Incorporating holistic wellness practices into your life improves both your physical and mental health. More importantly, these practices keep you centered in the present and your body fit, two benefits for individuals in addiction treatment. Keep reading to find out how practicing qigong in recovery can help you stay sober.
What Is Qigong?
The word qigong is a portmanteau of two Chinese words: ‘qi,’ or life-energy, and ‘gong,’ meaning skill or cultivation. It’s a thousand-years old discipline started by field laborers, who imitated wild animals to develop dynamic movements that relieved tension from their bodies. Popularized in the United States during the ‘90s, qigong has since become a staple of holistic healing. A typical session focuses on engaging your mind and muscles with slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation. These movements have names like ‘Deer’ and ‘Crane,’ and are inspired by the graceful motions of forest animals. By combining naturally relaxing movements with deep breathing and meditation, qigong promotes inner harmony and the flow of qi (life-energy) within the body.
How Does Qigong Improve Your Physical Health?
Experts believe that the rejuvenating movements of qigong can bring many benefits to those who practice regularly. Here are a couple of ways in which the Chinese practice can improve your health:
- Cardiovascular Health: gentle exercise and controlled breathing improve blood circulation, which promotes oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body’s tissues and organs. Exercise can also lower blood pressure, reducing risk of hypertension and cardiovascular emergencies like stroke or heart attack.
- Flexibility and Balance: stretching and flowing movements improve flexibility and balance by strengthening muscles and joints and increasing range of motion. These benefits lessen the risk of injury and improve physical performance.
- Pain Relief and Management: qigong’s movements can also reduce chronic pain through relaxation, reduction of muscle tension, stimulation of the body’s pain-relief mechanisms, and gentle stretching in pain hot-spots like the knees and elbows.
- Respiratory Health: the breathing techniques of qigong can improve lung capacity, promoting better respiratory function.
- Energy and Vitality: by focusing on balancing and enhancing the flow of qi (life-energy) throughout the body, qigong is believed to increase overall energy levels and vitality in people of all ages.
How Does Qigong Improve Mental Health?
While qigong may have many physical benefits, its ability to improve mental health is remarkable and important, especially to those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Explore below to discover how practicing qigong can boost your mental health:
- Stress and Anxiety Reduction: the slow, gentle movements and deep, rhythmic breathing of qigong induce relaxation in participants, activating your parasympathetic nervous system and counteracting the body’s stress response. Decreased cortisol levels, the hormone produced in a stress response, as well as grounding and centering meditation, reduce anxiety and stress.
- Emotional Regulation: qigong encourages participants to cultivate mindfulness, allowing you to become more in tune with your emotions. Improved emotional awareness helps you to manage and respond to emotions in a balanced, healthy way.
- Enhanced Mood: relaxation, deep breathing, and light exercise release endorphins and other ‘happy chemicals,’ like dopamine and serotonin, that elevate mood and can alleviate feelings of depression.
- Improved Sleep Quality: regularly practicing qigong can help improve sleep quality. The relaxing and stress-reducing qualities of qigong contribute to better sleep patterns, leading to more restful and rejuvenating sleep.
- Boosted Resilience: practicing qigong can help you develop emotional resilience and cope with the challenges of life in a healthier, mindful way by reducing stress and promoting emotional balance.
How Does Qigong In Recovery Reduce Cravings and Relapse?
The physical and mental health benefits of qigong are much-needed supplements in recovery from substance abuse. In fact, qigong may be at reducing anxiety and restoring physical health in recovering addicts. The traditional Chinese practice can help keep you on the path to sobriety at all stages of recovery:
- Withdrawal: withdrawal is one of the most difficult stages of detox and addiction treatment, as you may be overwhelmed with symptoms like sleeplessness, nausea, and irritability. While qigong can help improve sleep quality, digestive health, and emotional regulation, it can also help detoxify the body faster by activating the lymphatic system. Qigong is proven to accelerate the body’s detoxification process, removing traces of drugs and alcohol from your system and alleviating symptoms of withdrawal quicker or lessening their intensity.
- Craving Management: cravings for drugs and alcohol can make staying sober very difficult. Because qigong releases similar chemicals in the brain as certain drugs like cocaine or heroin, it can help reduce cravings by mimicking the dopamine rush associated with using in a safe, healthy way. Individuals recovering from cocaine abuse reported a 30% decrease in cravings when they practiced qigong compared to abstaining.
- Preventing Relapse: qigong is a valuable tool that can help you stay on track. Practicing qigong in recovery is associated with higher treatment completion rates: 92 percent of individuals who practiced qigong in recovery completed treatment, compared to 78% of individuals who did not. The National Qigong Association also found that practicing qigong in recovery helped keep former alcoholics from experiencing a recurrence of use, even after completion of addiction treatment.
The benefits of the traditional Chinese discipline are remarkable, and demonstrate why practicing qigong in recovery may be the key to maintaining long-term sobriety from drugs and alcohol.