13 July 2009

Yoga and addiction recovery

It is reported that one in three of us suffer from some form of addiction. Addictions break up families, destroy communities and can take on many forms: alcohol addiction, drug addiction, eating disorders, gambling addiction, sex addiction, smoking addiction, to mention but a few.

Addictions are habits that have spiralled out of control. The use of the chosen substance becomes a necessity, as the brain and the body’s chemistry changes and develops a physical and/or mental craving. Quite often the person suffering from the addiction is completely unaware that there is a problem and, even when it is pointed out to them, they will find it very difficult to acknowledge the situation is causing any problems, which is known as “denial”.

Addiction is a symptom and can be treated. By uncovering the underlying causes and taking action, one can move from the darkness of addiction back into the light of recovery. All aspects – be they mental, physical or spiritual - need to be addressed. Twelve step programmes of recovery are being used globally to help people recover from addiction.

Many people with addiction problems find it very difficult to be present and will commonly “act out” or use their substance of choice in order to change the way they feel. They may have low self-esteem and body image issues and will be looking outside of themselves to fix this situation.

The use of yoga to help break addiction patterns is growing. Body centred treatments such as yoga, acupuncture and massage; along with traditional therapy are on the increase and are being used in many treatment centres.

Yoga cultivates bodily awareness in a kind, nurturing way. It allows students to start connecting with the body and breath and learn to sit and look within. Compassion for oneself arises and a new ability to deal with stressful situations - that would have you reaching outside of yourself - start to manifest, positive change. New coping strategies and changing patterns start to emerge, bringing about change both on and off the mat.

A gentle physical yoga practice will bring steadiness to the mind and help to detoxify the body. Many of the poses have a positive effect on the areas of the body that are most often affected by abuse. Internally, organs are gently massaged and the heart and lungs can be used more efficiently. The practice of deep breathing (pranayama) fills every cell in the body with rich oxygenated blood. Poses like the downward facing dog bring about a new perspective, looking at the world from a different angle. Light back bends bring about an opening in the chest and solar plexus area, encouraging the elimination of stored hurts (both real and perceived).

Here are some poses (asanas) that are useful in recovery:

  • Paschimottanasana - seated forward bend
  • Balasana - child's pose
  • Downward facing dog - or extended child’s pose.
  • Camel pose - back bend
  • Apanasana - knees to chest or wind producing pose
  • Seated or lying twists.
  • Viparita karani - shoulder stand variation (supported)
  • Savasana - corpse pose
“As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind. If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated you are liberated.”
The yoga sutras of Patanjali.

Look within, do not look without.

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