Yoga, a Road to Recovery
Yoga is a popular and beneficial practice for individuals in recovery to connect to a higher state of consciousness. It can also open the door to a peaceful, calm and restorative experience. Yoga actually means union, a synchronization of movement, breath and mind. It can become a positive addiction, which empowers people in recovery to feel they are doing something beneficial to offset the negative tendencies of their mind.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 22 million Americans have a problem with substance abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates a cost of more than $484 billion a year. Those in recovery are now looking toward adjunct therapies such as yoga as a way to supplement the traditional 12-step program. Yoga is a very effective tool for regulating the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline which are used excessively in our culture.
Yoga and meditation teaches those in recovery to sit quietly while calming their mind and relaxing their body. One must learn to become comfortable not thinking and begin to become the observer of their thoughts. Not to ruminate on those thoughts that lead to using. Addicts who practice yoga can achieve the mental skills needed to become comfortable with the thoughts that can lead to using. They become less reactive and more proactive while developing will power. One addict put it this way. “This control has been crucial in my recovery. I literally have created strength of mind that I have never had before in my life, and further, repaired the parts of my brain that were directly compromised by my addictions. What we think about, we bring about.
Yoga is a gentle and relaxing way for individuals to experience their body. It reduces anxiety and temporarily disconnects the practitioner from the stresses of daily life. It also makes the connection to their spiritual nature. Perhaps this lack of connection is what leads to the addict using. My theory is that the farther one is away from their spiritual nature the more psychological and physical problems they will experience.
Meditation is yoga for the mind and exercise for the brain. Specifically, it aids in the development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for choice, and also, the area that is most compromised by alcohol and drug addiction. Having practiced meditation for over 30 years I clearly see the many benefits. A 2009 study from UCLA researchers showed that MRI scans of long-time meditators revealed that certain parts of their brains were larger than those of a control group, particularly in regions known for emotion regulation. Another study published in 2011 in the journal Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging showed that an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program resulted in increases in the gray matter in the hippocampus and areas of the brain tied to compassion and self-awareness.
Some research studies have shown that yoga can change brain chemistry, lowering the conditions associated with anxiety and depression which can underlie addiction. The practice of yoga can also help regulate moods that lead to relapsing. I remember the first time I did yoga. It was on the west side of Manhattan at the Integral Yoga Institute. Swami Satchidananda was the founder and teacher. After my first class, I left the building feeling so relaxed and peaceful that I had a difficult time holding up my hand to signal a cab. I was experiencing a natural high which brought me back to learn more about yoga and eastern philosophy. This practice of yoga and its spiritual awareness shifted me from seeking deeper experiences using drugs, to looking inside for the answers I was seeking. About six months later I was initiated by Swamiji into his yoga lineage. I eventually wrote my doctoral dissertation on meditation.
Practicing yoga has significantly changed my life forever. That’s why I continue to take yoga classes. I am fortunate because my wife is my yoga teacher.
Dr. Jeff Gero is a meditation teacher, psychotherapist and stress management specialist. He was the first yoga teacher at the Santa Rosa Junior College. Over the years thousands of people throughout the world have benefited from his programs. Jeff is also a personal and corporate coach as well as helping people achieve more success with less stress. In his book, Secrets to Success at Work, Dr. Gero uses his unique ability to weave vital success principles into a delightful story. Jeff also coaches athletes to enhance their performance. He can be reached in Agoura Hills, CA California at 818-640-2047 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org