The benefits of yoga therapy

Yoga certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. But there are elements of it that can provide a significant boost to those dealing with such struggles, including peace of mind, stress reduction and a more calm approach to life.

Here’s a look at some of the benefits yoga can provide.

Reducing tension

The anxiety that can go along with addiction can add to the problem itself. Those who are dealing with substance abuse can attempt to minimize such tension and aim for a more serene state of mind. Yoga can provide a quiet sense of peace, as Seth J. Gillihan writes for Psychology Today.

“In times of high stress and anxiety, our bodies tend to constrict,” he explains. “We start to hold tension in our shoulders, necks, jaws, or elsewhere. Excessive muscular tension can then feed back to our minds and perpetuate the feeling of unease. When we experience the relaxation benefits of yoga, we can lower our physical tension, which helps release the grip that anxiety can have on us.”

Battling cravings

The moments when addicts feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol can be terribly difficult to get through. There are physical, mental and emotional aspects to those urges. As Stacie Stukin writes for yogajournal.com, yoga can “alter brain neurology and help reduce cravings, anxiety, and fear all responses that can lead to destructive behaviors.” She references research by Roy King, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford.

“He explains that a neurotransmitter called dopamine is elevated in the basal ganglia of the brain when drugs are introduced to the body and during other pleasurable states like sexual arousal and romantic love,” Stukin writes. “One physiological reason addicts go back for more is that their brain begins to crave that dopamine surge even when they just think about drug use. King explains, though, that yoga and meditation may actually dampen dopamine activity in the basal ganglia. ‘This is the part of the brain that’s involved with control over motivation and attraction,’ he says. ‘By inhibiting that dopamine impulse, yoga helps inhibit cravings and negative emotional states that trigger drug use.’”

Enhancing moods

It may be natural for anyone dealing with addiction, regardless of age, to feel an overwhelming sense of negativity — for the position they have put themselves in, any troubles they’ve encountered or relationships they’ve damaged. This is another area in which yoga can serve as a path to a sense of peace. Author and psychiatrist James E. Groves examines this for The Huffington Post.

“Negative moods and the resulting desire to avoid these feelings can play a significant role in relapse,” he writes. “Different forms of yoga, including regular breathing exercises, have been shown to improve mood in people going through addiction recovery. One study found that a specialized set of breathing exercises called Sudarshana Kriya Yoga (SKY) helped people who had completed one week of detox for alcohol dependence. SKY uses three types of seated breathing skills led by a teacher: victorious breath (a slow deep breathing), bellows breath (a forced inhalation and exhalation) for 12 to 15 minutes, and cyclical breathing of slow, medium and fast cycles for 30 minutes. These exercises were followed by 20 minutes of yoga nidra, a deep relaxation state. Researchers found that people who practiced breathing exercises had significantly less depressive symptoms and lower stress hormones after only two weeks of breathing practice every other day.”

Reducing self-judgment

Many teenagers face significant hurdles in self-esteem. Related to that is the idea of being judged — by their friends, family members and classmates. For those dealing with the additional stresses and strains of substance abuse, this can be amplified. In a story for Psychology Today, Constance Scharff writes that judgment is constant for addicts, and though some portions of that may be warranted, “That doesn’t mean that they are, at their core, bad people, which is how most addicts view themselves.”

“In yoga, because it is so difficult for most of us to get into the poses, we are faced with meeting ourselves where we are,” she explains. “Yoga teaches patience and self-compassion. It teaches that we are people struggling to do the best we can and that each improvement is a small triumph. We feel our bodies fully and completely, inside and out, and learn that to feel better, we must treat ourselves better. Although this is not an aspect of yoga that is heavily researched, it is one of the more valuable reasons for using yoga in an addiction treatment center, and for practicing yoga even if you don’t have an addiction problem.”

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