For nearly two decades, my mother struggled with an addiction to opiates following a botched back surgery that resulted in nerve damage in her left leg. Each day, she would rely on the harmful chemicals in pharmaceutical medications to ease her pain, though they seemed to do little to alleviate it entirely. For a long time, I did little to help my mother along her path to recovery; I simply sat on the sidelines watching her sedate her body — living each day unfulfilled. I never understood why she abused drugs, I just knew I wanted to help her stop.
When I started college, I joined my first yoga class and quickly learned how beneficial the practice was for my body. After only a couple of weeks, I felt my energy levels rise, my confidence in my strength boost, and the clarity of my mind return. It was then that I realized how great this could be for my mom as well.
That Christmas, I gave my mom the gift of a yoga studio membership that allowed her to take an unlimited amount of classes for 30 days. We started going together a few times a week, then each day of the week, then started slowly adding weekend classes to the groove. After three weeks, we had one week of classes to go, and we were sad to see it leave our lives.
My mom admitted to me that initially she was doubtful that it would be able to help her and her addiction, but after a couple of weeks, she could feel her body again — she could feel the life in her soul returning and elevating her mind and her form. She continued attending these yoga classes long after her membership and is now a frequenting yogi.
I felt so proud to know she had gone through so much for so long and still maintained the strength to break free from her addiction and find alternative methods for fighting her pain and her dependence on unhealthy substances.
Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a widely recognized form of exercise and strength training. Not only do yogis throughout the world enjoy this practice, but dancers, football players and pregnant mothers also find comfort in it. Yoga is beneficial for a number of reasons, both physical and mental.
Yoga specifically targets areas of your body that require additional strengthening and works to build up the muscles in that area while also helping you with things like posture, balance, flexibility and breathing. This is what makes yoga so impactful for substance addicts. In fact, a number of poses directly aid in recovery and have been scientifically proven to be beneficial to people seeking treatment from drugs and alcohol.
There are many styles of yoga that are popular, though hatha yoga seems to be the most favored form in the United States, as it focuses on elements like breath, flexibility and strength. It is also an excellent means for maintaining a healthy physical form at any age. My first yoga instructor was 65 years old and had more flexibility than any 20-something in the room. She also loved to hang upside down from wall ropes and do headstands while teaching.
Yoga and Recovery
Yoga has a special ability to calm your mind while challenging your body, which is one of the main reasons it is so powerful for recovering addicts. People suffering from addiction have altered the chemistry of their brain, often disrupting their sense of pleasure, emotions, decision-making and impulses. Yoga helps addicts calm those altered sensors and focus back on the connection between their mind and body.
Because yoga is so physically intense, it also offers an excellent opportunity to face some of the physical pains that might come with withdrawal symptoms. If your body has been previously introduced to discomfort and pain (though hopefully not), withdrawal symptoms could possibly be lessened.
Yoga works as powerful meditation tool and any addiction counselor will agree that meditation is an important aspect of recovery, especially recovering following severe addiction. Addicts often lose their sense of calm, their sense of tranquility and their strength of mind. Meditation can help rebuild these relationships within your body and help restore your pure self.
Stress is a big contributor to addiction, so finding means to avoid stress and ultimately avoid relapse becomes extremely vital in finding health and happiness again. Yoga is an excellent stress-reducer if not a powerful stress eraser and addicts looking for means to control their anxiety can find a solid friend in this practice.
Maintaining the Willpower
The most challenging aspect of addiction recovery often comes from the fear of relapsing and having to start all of your progress from the beginning. Many addicts actually choose not to seek treatment because of this very reason: they have lost faith in their ability to stay strong and maintain their willpower.
Willpower is a mighty force in the world. Willpower is what all decisions, actions and thoughts come from. Willing yourself to do something can be an excellent strategy for addiction recovery, and there are many ways you can go about increasing your willpower and your ability to fight the voice in your head that says you can’t do it.
My mom often told me that she didn’t feel like she could quit using opiates – like she didn’t have the strength to fight her desires and her fears. Yoga truly helped her gain that mental strength that is necessary for giving up any kind of vice, substance related or not. Yoga is not only physical, yoga works your mind and it works it hard.
You are forced to put your body in challenging positions and fight through the pain and the difficulty until you reach the end, where you feel more proud of yourself than you ever imagined. The sense of pride, of strength and of willpower you gain from practicing yoga is truly priceless.
Additional Holistic Treatment Options
In addition to yoga, there are many more holistic methods for helping your body recover from addiction. Among some of my favorite are practices like meditation, exercise, art therapy and music therapy.
Meditation allows you to slow down your mind and focus on stillness in a world that moves 1,000 miles an hour. It also helps you restore the connection between your mind and your body and become more aware of what your physical form needs to survive and thrive.
Exercise, in any form, is extremely beneficial to your physical and mental health. My mom also used to tell me that exercise was a great distraction from those pesky thoughts that pass by and try to talk you into using again.
Art and music therapy are fairly new practices, where patients and recovering addicts can get lessons in the arts and practice focusing their mind on one accomplishment, like finishing a picture or completing a song. Typically music therapy involves a musician playing specifically designed melodies for you while art therapy allows you to get involved in the art form.
It is important to remember, however, that many alternative therapies work best when used in combination with standard recovery treatments like counseling and withdrawal. Also be sure to consult your doctor before making any serious changes to your routine.
Addiction can be a very challenging disease to deal with; whether you are suffering personally or whether you are close to someone who is. Finding a treatment option that benefits you is the surest way to a successful recovery. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction (to opiates or otherwise), reach out to alternative rehab centers and learn about your options for holistic treatment like yoga and meditation.