Yoga and Addiction

Something I have been interested in for a long time is how yoga can be used to help us who need it, to recover from addictions. Anything from drugs, gambling to alcohol, I truly believe that yoga should be added to all programmes that are helping people to recover and live a life full of more peace rather than the destruction and chaos of living life in a constant, dangerous, often fatal cycle. One could argue that yoga itself is addictive (I know I’m certainly hooked on it) however, I would so much rather spend my money on yoga than the endless pursuit of looking for meaning where really there’s nothing there but darkness. But how would it, how could it help? What’s the science behind it?

Before we delve into this, here’s one of the biggest benefits. It’s relatively inexpensive and can be done just about anywhere. I personally do spend a lot of money on Yoga classes around Auckland but that is only because I love the camaraderie, encouragement from teachers and occasionally the giggles when someone lets out a fart in class.  Coming from the Sanskrit work yuj, which we believe today, means “union,” yoga is an ancient practice designed to bring mind and body in sync with the use of exercise, meditation, and breathing.

This morning I had an experience in class that I hadn’t had for a while. Instead of doing it just to sweat and get my heart rate up, it was slow, deliberate and for the first time in a while I felt like there was ‘something else’ (I’m not all that religious btw, but yoga can do that to a person). While yoga is not a religion, it can be spiritual as individuals may experience spiritual growth through practicing yoga regularly. Yoga can be practiced by anyone on an as-needed basis and is thought to increase the bond between mind, body, and soul. Like this morning when I walked out of the class and haven’t been able to stop thinking about how good yoga is since. That’s when you know. That’s when you fall in love with it all over again. And nothing else, no drug, no booze, no shopping can ever give you this true peace and satisfaction. Once you find this space, you’re hooked.

After a period of time without the influence of drugs or alcohol, brain chemistry and circuitry can heal and rebuild itself. Yoga may be able to help with this as well. Yoga has long been used to help relieve stress, and scientific evidence has provided a link between practicing yoga and the reduction of stress by modulation of the stress response. When a person feels stress, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature increase. Yoga may actually act on this system by regulating and balancing some of the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, burning those chemicals off, bye, bye! Grey matter and regions of the brain active in controlling stress, like the hippocampus, may also be enlarged with the regular practice of yoga. So we get better, inside and out.

There have also been studies that suggest an increase in the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) with the practice of yoga techniques. GABA is a kind of natural tranquilizer produced by the brain to help manage anxiety and the stress response. Higher levels of GABA usually mean less anxiety and less stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common side effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal, and the use of yoga in recovery may actually work to improve these symptoms.

While treating addiction is a combination of things and what works for the individual. Those of us searching for something outside of our body, that high, that numbness, that release from whatever it is that causes us pain, can find what they are looking for in a yoga class. You’re also safe, so safe with your teacher and in your space. The hour or so I do yoga, once sometimes twice a day allows me to travel. Right inside, feeling my body. Treating it right, making it move, and burn and making my brain work in the right way.

If there’s one addiction I’m happy to have, this is it.