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.