How Yoga Helps With Recovery

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We’re always looking for ways to stay on the right track during recovery and prevent relapse. Some people prefer art. Some people prefer cardio exercise like running. For a less rigorous exercise with relapse prevention benefits, consider doing yoga–it’s not just for old hippies or new bohemians anymore. This technique combines stretching and meditation but there’s a lot more to it than Tree Pose. Most importantly, did you know it can help you with maintaining sobriety and relieving anxiety?

What Yoga Does for Your Brain

So what, specifically, does yoga do to support recovery? Substance abuse causes physical changes in the brain. The normal pathways that regulate emotions such as impulses, pleasurable sensations, and even decision-making are disrupted. The good news is those pathways can heal when you stop abusing drugs and alcohol.

Yoga helps by alleviating stress which reduces our stress response and supports that healing. It regulates hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which play key roles in our stress response. There’s even more evidence of yoga supporting recovery. Yoga can increase your secretion of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. Why is that helpful? GABA acts as a natural tranquilizer to calm us down, especially after a stress response. Because anxiety and depression often surge after you stop using–and depriving yourself of all the pleasurable effects of substance abuse–increasing your secretion of GABA can help counteract those withdrawal symptoms. Also, practicing yoga has been shown to enlarge the part of your brain that controls stress, called the hippocampus.

Those suffering from substance abuse withdrawal and mental conditions can benefit from reduced stress when they practice yoga, according to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The study compared practicing yoga, taking dietary supplements, or utilizing chiropractic services for wellness. The results? More than 80 percent experienced reduced stress by practicing yoga. Yoga users were also more likely to experience an emotional balance that boosted their mental wellness and they were more motivated to engage in other proactive healthy behaviors. When it came to energy and concentration, the yoga group outperformed the supplement and chiropractic groups by eight to 50 percent.

What Yoga Does for Your Body

In studies cited by the NCBI, results show that alcohol abusers have a greater response from yoga therapy than many other types of substance abuse. While they have had mixed results, one study noted that yoga participants had a major reduction in their plasma cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone levels. They also demonstrated a lower Beck Depression Inventory score. Another study showed those who did yoga had a drop in scores in the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the Drug Use Disorders Identification Test (DUDIT). The scores in those who weren’t engaging in a yoga practice didn’t decrease, but they increased.

All the science may be confusing, but the bottom line is practicing yoga reduces stress and can lead to a reduced chance of relapse. It also helps people take the time to think about their behaviors and alternative actions they can take during their yoga practice. They learn to listen to the feelings and sensations in their body and learn how to cope with the negative ones, such as cravings.

What Yoga Does for Your Spirit

We’ve talked about the physiological and mental ramifications of yoga, but what about spiritual connections? Anyone who’s been through a 12-Step program knows how important it is to try to make a spiritual connection to help keep you strong in recovery and life as a whole. Whatever religion you practice doesn’t matter. You may not choose to follow a particular doctrine and just subscribe to your brand of spirituality. Whatever works is fine–just do you.

Reflection and introspection are important qualities to modify past behavior and continue to lead a sober life. Anything you do that reduces stress is going to help you stay on track to some degree. The studies may have varied results, but it certainly can’t hurt to incorporate yoga into your daily fitness or mental health practice. It can help keep on track and give you the strength to fight cravings and your past behaviors. Not to mention it just feels good. Isn’t that a better feeling of pleasure than abusing a substance to create a fake sense of joy? 

Medications may help, but a holistic approach helps fight cravings and our past physiological responses to substance abuse. If you suffer from mental conditions, the reduction of stress and depression can boost your mood and supplement your more conventional treatments like therapy or medications. Some of the effects of yoga include increased mental focus, more energy, more motivation to live a healthy lifestyle, and increased awareness of the behaviors and thought patterns that contributed to the substance abuse in the first place. Yoga can be a comprehensive approach to health because it takes on those cravings with a threefold approach by attacking the saboteurs in your brain, body, and spirit. It can be one of the most effective tools for recovery and staying sober. That’s why at Everlast Recovery Center we’ve incorporated yoga practice into our many holistic approaches to treatment. You can practice here on campus but you can also take what you learn home to help keep you from relapsing. We understand the importance of having activities that will help you recover when you leave our Riverside, CA, campus. We provide aftercare as well as rehabilitation with a home-like feel and staff who understand you. Let us help. Call us at 866-DETOX-25.

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