Yoga and Recovery

Yoga is for EVERYBODY.  Yes, everybody – even you!  Gone are the days of this incredible, centuries-old mind and body enhancer existing only for latte toting college girls in tight, stretchy pants, or flexible, New Age guys with odd, hippie-sounding names, or inspiring, Indian ascetics dedicated to a life of 24/7 practice and worship.  In fact, it was never really just for those folks – but unfortunately, those are just a few of the many stereotypes surrounding it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, rich, poor, flexible, stiff, healthy, not-so-healthy, fat, fit, male, female, or even currently wholly apprehensive about its actual benefits – yoga is for YOU.  And, the best part is – it can even help you on your path to recovery!

Yoga Benefits

Yoga has been around for centuries and what many of us think of as “yoga” today is actually only one part of an eight-limbed path designed to help people connect with their higher self, and to learn how to lead a meaningful and purpose-filled life.  Other aspects of true yoga also include breath control, meditation, and the yamas and niyamas, which focus on developing personal integrity and self-discipline.  However, even with these in mind, the physical yoga (known as asana on the eight limbed path) with which we in the West are most familiar is a great way to begin. Many students find this physical yoga practice to be plenty on its own to make great changes in one’s life – even if they choose not to investigate or delve into the other seven limbs at all.

The benefits of asana – physical yoga practice – are numerous and well documented by both practitioners and science.    After practicing yoga even for a short time, one will see an increase in flexibility, and experience a noticeable progression in muscle strength and tone.  Studies have shown that yoga also helps to maintain a balanced metabolism, increases athletic performance, aids in weight loss, and improves cardiovascular and circulatory health.  Further, due to the focus on the breath that is the foundation of most types of yoga, practitioners often experience improved respiration, which in turn leads to more energy, as well.  It can improve our immune systems and standing balance, can give us deeper sleep, lowers our blood pressure, and more.

And, the benefits don’t stop there!  There are even more positives of yoga beyond the obvious physical ones – there are many that cannot be outwardly seen.   People who practice yoga report increased focus, strengthened self-esteem, higher levels of happiness, and better relationships with loved ones, to name a few things.  All of these changes, physical, mental, and emotional, will certainly help anyone grow as a person, and will especially help those seeking to live and experience a healthier, drug-free life.

Yoga post Ibogaine Treatment

With all these benefits, it’s easy to see the ways in which yoga can assist with and support recovery.  First of all and most obviously, yoga is a healthy, physical and mental discipline that is a positive distraction for anyone trying to change his or her life’s focus.  Through lessons learned through regular practice, students can raise their self-esteem, lower stress and anxiety levels, and alleviate depression and fatigue, thereby helping to rewire their old reactions to various triggers.  Mindfulness practice, which goes hand and hand with participating in yoga, can aid recovering addicts in noticing and recognizing cravings and urges, accepting them, and letting them go.

A small 2007 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine even suggested that yoga can even change brain chemistry.  This study asked one group of participants to read for a period of time while another group participated in a yoga session.  The group that did yoga experienced an increase in the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA after the session, while the group that read experienced no change at all.  When brains are GABA deficient, a person may feel anxious or depressed, which may lead them down the dark path to addiction, or to relapse.

Types of Yoga

Truly, there is a type of yoga out there for each type of personality and physical type.  In the 5,000 years since yoga’s beginnings, teachers and practitioners have branched out and developed a wide variety of different disciplines.  Although many classes one may encounter may include pieces of several different styles, if you find one type that you feel is right for you, that can make all the difference.   Some types of yoga are calm, slow, and particularly introspective, like Kripalu yoga, in which practitioners hold postures for an extended time in preparation for meditation.  Others are more kinetic and focus on nearly constant movement, like Vinyasa, in which students are led through a invigorating flow that can differ greatly depending on the leader and class, or Ashtanga, which involves an ordered regimen of existing, unwavering, strenuous series, practiced sequentially and coordinated with the breath.  Bikram, a style named after its founder, Bikram Choudhury, that has become especially popular in gyms in recent years, is similar to Ashtanga in that it follows a particular sequence, but differs from other types because it is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees, with forty percent humidity.  If one has physical limitations, then perhaps Iyengar is the right choice – it’s a very pure form of yoga, founded by a man named B. K. S. Iyengar, but uses the assistance of blocks and other props to help one reach the full realization of each pose.  And, if it’s deep relaxation one seeks, restorative yoga may be the way to go; during a single session a practitioner may only move through two or three postures with the help of pillows or bolsters, and in doing so will find deep connection between their mind and body.  These are just a few of the many different types of yoga open to individuals practicing yoga.  There are many more, so if you find that you don’t like one style, simply try another until you discover the one that is right for you.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in trying yoga and incorporating it into your recovery journey, your options are varied and almost endless.  Yoga classes are available in even the smallest towns at gyms, health clubs, and community centers, and are usually quite affordable.  Taking a class can help a beginner immensely; you will see that every pose is different for each body, reminding you that yoga is NOT competitive, and trained yoga teachers are available and eager to assist with suggestions and modifications.  If a class doesn’t feel right, there are literally hundreds of classes and informational videos about yoga online that can be found with a quick and simple search, or, you can join any number of paid yoga websites to view and participate in a different class or style each day, depending on your mood, time available, or skill level.  Another great thing about yoga is that it can be practiced any time, any where; once you have a good understanding of postures and have a feel for whatever style you choose, you can put together your own sequences and practice in your home upon waking or after a long day, or in a park or other outside space of your choosing.

Yoga is an amazing thing to incorporate into your new, healthy life, and once you get started, you’ll be amazed at all the changes and benefits you’ll experience.  Without a doubt, if you stick with it, it will change your life immensely, and will certainly help support your recovery efforts.  There’s a reason it’s been practiced and developed for centuries, and there’s no better time like the present to incorporate all of that history and knowledge into your everyday life.  Try it – you’ll like it!  Yoga is for you.