Yoga for Addiction Recovery
by Suzula Bidon, RYT, CPRS (Certified Peer Recovery Specialist)
While yoga can be beneficial for anyone, yoga practice is especially effective as a complementary treatment for addiction. I have been in recovery from addiction since 2008, and yoga has been an integral part of my journey.
My recovery from addiction started with abstinence, inpatient treatment, therapy, and 12 Step meetings. I made progress, and my life improved, but after several years in recovery I still felt uncomfortable in my own skin. My head and my heart were on two different planets. Mentally and intellectually, I understood addiction and recovery, but emotionally and spiritually something wasn’t connecting. I “got it,” but I didn’t always feel it.
It dawned on me that what my recovery was lacking (and what is lacking in most addiction treatment models) is a physical component. I pulled out my dusty yoga mat, and discovered that yoga, particularly asana and pranayama, was the missing piece (and peace). With yoga, I could feel it – I could integrate and experience recovery in my body, my breath, and my being.
So why does yoga work so well for addiction recovery?
The essence of addiction is disconnection and dysregulation (dysregulation is the inability to regulate one’s internal state). Addiction is the impulsive compulsion and obsession to change the way we feel by relying on external sources (drugs, sex, gambling, relationships…).
Yoga is the practice of conscious awareness of experiences and emotions as they arise, without attachment, and without having to change them. Practicing asana and pranayama helps to steady attention, strengthen concentration, enhance emotion regulation, and facilitate personal & spiritual growth through self-observation. Yoga restores the mechanism of self-regulation from within.
Those of us who practice yoga are familiar with its benefits: increased physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Yoga practice is centering and grounding. For those in recovery from addiction, the skills, insights, and self-awareness cultivated through yoga practice can shift the neurobiological cycle of addiction that reduces resilience to stress and damages the brain’s ability to experience natural pleasure and innate peace.
So why do we need “Recovery Yoga”? Can’t people in recovery just go to regular yoga meetings?
I tried going to various “recovery yoga” classes, which turned out to be traditional yoga marketed to sober people. Any yoga is better than no yoga, but the benefits of practice weren’t directly linked to my addiction recovery. By developing and practicing a sequence of yoga postures that embodies the spiritual principles of recovery – by breathing and moving through the principles of recovery – I found that I was able to reconnect my head and my heart. I could live my recovery with my whole being.
Recovery Yoga Meetings incorporate the sharing and community of a Twelve Step meeting with a physical yoga practice that translates the spiritual principles of recovery into breath and movement. The Recovery Yoga Meetings format allows students to integrate their mental and psychological recovery into their bodies – on the mat and in their lives.
Suzula (Suz) Bidon is an RYT-200, attorney, recovery advocate, and the creator of Recovery Yoga Meetings(.com). You can read more about her practice in The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-schware/12stepstyle-yoga-for-addi_b_4694549.html#). She currently teaches Recovery Yoga at the Downtown YCM Studio on Monday evenings at 7:30. Class is open to everyone, not just those personally in recovery.