24 Healing Options for any Illness

Yoga

Originating in India as early as 5,000 years ago, yoga is now practiced worldwide for its physical and mental benefits, including many that are particularly useful for those recovering from an addiction. Because of this, the use of yoga as a coping mechanism and for preventing relapse is on the rise, and it is now offered at a number of treatment facilities.

Yoga emphasizes relaxation, meditation, and the connection between mind and body. From a physical perspective, yoga helps improve strength and flexibility, and thus conveys many of the same benefits as exercise, which is covered in an earlier chapter. It also helps improve sleep, which is key as many people recovering from substance abuse suffer from sleep disturbances. Recent research suggests that it may even be able to help the brain heal and recover from drug abuse.

Yoga also offers a number of mental and emotional benefits, helping to calm the mind, reduce stress, and improve mood. It is thought that this is due in part to its ability to increase levels of a chemical called GABA in the brain, which reduces anxiety, stress, and depression.

Some of the poses involved in yoga can look intimidating at first, but start small, move at your own pace, and with practice it can become a powerful coping mechanism and a tool for fighting withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Aspiring to learn increasingly advanced moves can give recovering addicts a source of motivation and, once they master them, a sense of accomplishment. Thus, practicing yoga can help boost patients' self-confidence as well as their self-awareness. Its more challenging aspects can also help to improve self-discipline.

Yoga is not a stand-alone addiction treatment but rather a form of therapy that complements more traditional ones. It is best to learn yoga from a professional before starting to do it on your own, but once you've gotten the hang of it, you can do it anytime, anywhere.

Scientific Studies:

A 1997 study investigated whether patients in an outpatient methadone maintenance treatment program who practiced Hatha yoga in a group setting every week had more favorable outcomes than those who received conventional group psychodynamic therapy. 61 patients were randomly assigned to one of the two groups and were evaluated on a variety of psychological, sociological, and biological measures over the following six months. The researchers reported that both treatments "contributed to a treatment regimen that significantly reduced drug use and criminal activities." No significant differences were found between the two treatments in terms of their effectiveness.

A study conducted in India used yoga, meditation, and spiritual and mind-body techniques in a 90-day pilot treatment program for substance abuse. Participants showed improvements on multiple psychological scales and questionnaires, including the Behavior and Symptom Identification Scale and the Quality of Recovery Index. The authors concluded that "Application of comprehensive spiritual lifestyle interventions may prove effective in treating substance abuse, particularly in populations receptive to such approaches."

A 2014 review article noted that "Overall, current findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as promising complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors."

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