Recovery from Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)
It’s becoming a trend. Yoga is being studied by doctors and scientists to help people recover from everything from surgical pain to diabetes. There are lots of studies that conﬁrm the positive effects of yoga on the body, and the list includes use disorders for everything from alcohol and drugs to food.
If you already have a regular yoga practice, you may be aware of some of the life afﬁrming changes that your practice can create, like improved strength, ﬂexibility and energy. But did you know that a regular practice that includes meditation and breathing practices can reduce your cravings for food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and most anything else that a person might use to “feel better?”
How Does This Work?
First, endorphins created during asana (movement) practice works within the body to soothe achey muscles, irritable minds, stress and feelings of loneliness. The increased oxygen in the blood stream helps to create feelings of calm and wellness. Speciﬁc yoga asana can also help ﬂush toxic chemicals from the blood stream created during traumatic events and stressful situations, which are the root for all use disorders.
And that’s just the asana! If your practice includes breath practices (pranayama) and meditation there are even more beneﬁts that can modify the mind and body in healthy, integrative ways:
- Pranayama breath practices increase oxygen in the blood stream and enhances feelings of calm and steadiness in practitioners who do it regularly.
- Certain pranayama exercises help reduce food cravings, enhance the immune system, cool down anger and increase serotonin in the brains of people who are depressed.
- Meditation boosts the feel-good chemicals and a regular meditation practice has been documented to shrink the amount of gray matter in the Amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for strong emotions like fear and anxiety) even when the subject is not in the meditative state.
- Finally, the prefrontal cortex, (responsible for positive capacities like concentration, happiness, creativity, and rational thinking) has been shown by EEG to communicate with other areas of the brain more effectively when the subjects were meditating regularly, than the were prior to having a meditation practice. This is great news for those who want to stay away from use behaviors and dependencies.
Move, Breath, Meditate. Rinse and Repeat
As Dr. Timothy McCall stated in an article in Yoga International, “The more you think, say, or do something, the more likely you are to think, say, or do it again. With every activity, neurons forge connections with one another, and the more a behavior is repeated, the stronger those neural links become.” What this means for those in recovery is, as Swami Vivekananda once said, “The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits.”
There are studies currently underway to determine how effective a regular yoga practice is for people who are trying to stay sober. All the evidence so far shows that people in recovery programs who also have a yoga practice are happier, feel more connected to their fellows and have a higher chance of sticking with their recovery program.
That’s good news, especially because of the current criticism being levied at 12-Step programs in general, and the many treatment centers and recovery programs that use the 12 Steps in their format.