For some, particularly those who have not done it before, the inclusion of yoga in our recovery program may seem a bit bizarre. The idea that some people have in their head of what yoga is may involve lots of very slow stretching, or sitting, accompanied by some strange noises and airy-fairy phrases. But anyone who has been to Moving Forward residential rehabilitation and taken part in these sessions will join me in saying that they are very helpful. But why?

The term ‘yoga’ refers to the unification of body and mind. When we are in the throes of addiction, disconnection of the body and mind is almost necessary to maintain it. After all, alcohol is a poison. To continuously and consistently drown the body in it requires a certain degree of detachment of the mind from the body which is begging for it to stop. The practice of yoga helps to reconnect the mind with the body and does so in a very positive and healing way.

Through yoga we can learn to appreciate the body again, to listen to it and to work with it. By pairing our breath with certain movements we can not only improve our strength, flexibility and fitness but also improve our mental focus, reactivity and mindfulness.

Yoga forms part of Moving Forward’s holistic approach to recovery from addiction and it can become a very enjoyable activity, a sober activity, that can support you and your growth throughout the rest of your life. Keeping pain at bay, keeping you in control of your body and mind, and even slowing down some of the processes of aging that you may be experiencing already (such as stiffness, aches and pains, mental dullness).

Some schools in New Zealand have started introducing yoga into their classrooms [1] and have found it has helped pupils feel calmer and better able to deal with their emotions. The NHS agrees that it is a safe and effective way to increase physical strength, flexibility and balance and that it is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains, depression and stress [2].  All of which can be particularly relevant to those recovering from addiction.

“Practicing in a group setting, such as a yoga class, stimulates the production of oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone,” Linda Schlamadinger McGrath, founder of YogaSource Los Gatos in California. “Practicing mindfulness through yoga and meditation also results in higher serotonin levels (the happiness hormone), and long-term practitioners have shown more mass in the areas of the brain associated with contentment.” [3].  In addition, a recent study found yoga to significantly improve sleep efficiency and total sleep time. [4]

It’s not just us who think that yoga has great potential and wonderful benefits specifically for rehabilitation for addiction. In 1987, Anna Calajoe wrote a journal article [5] about the benefits of using yoga as a therapeutic component in treating chemical dependency claiming that yoga in conjunction with treatment can accelerate the rehabilitative process.

More recent reviews have also come to positive conclusions about the use of yoga alongside other treatments in the rehabilitation process. A 2011 review by Cathereine Woodyard [6] concludes, “Results from this study show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.”

Khanna and Greeson concluded in 2013 [7] that “current findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as promising complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors.”

We use yoga to supplement our recovery process at Moving Forward as a way to reconnect with the body and improve our relationship with it; this in turn, provides further motivation and skills for a lasting recovery.

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