The Importance of Yoga in Drug & Alcohol Recovery

Yoga is both a form of exercise and an approach to mediation, with some people treating yoga as a spiritual practice. Yoga comes in many shapes and sizes, and yoga practitioners – many of whom call themselves yogis – embrace a wide range of philosophies.

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What is Yoga?

What is Yoga?

Yoga originated in India, and continues to incorporate elements of Eastern spirituality. Though researchers aren't exactly sure how yoga started, they believe it dates back at least to the fifth century BCE. The practice of yoga didn't make its way to the United States until the 1970s, though, and since that time has seen an incredible surge in popularity. One recent study found that about 20 million Americans regularly practice yoga, with 25% of the population trying it at least once.

Because yoga is practiced by many people from many walks of life, it can be hard to pin down a single definition. For some, yoga is simply a route to physical fitness and reduced muscle pain. Others rely on yoga to relax, and still others take their yoga practice very seriously, treating it as a spiritual or even religious pursuit.

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Types of Yoga

Types of Yoga

Numerous types of yoga exist. Some are drawn directly from Indian yoga traditions, while others are more Americanized adaptations that deviate dramatically from the “original” yoga. All types of yoga, though, share one thing in common: a focus on slowly moving the body into specific predetermined positions while controlling your breathing and maintaining a safe posture. Some of the best known types of yoga include:

  • Anusara yoga focuses less on positions and more on playfully embracing the way your body moves.
  • Bikram yoga is hot yoga in a room of about 105 degrees. Based on about two dozen positions, this form of yoga endeavors to help its practitioners get a stronger workout than other forms of yoga offer.
  • Hatha is one of the most popular American adaptations of yoga. With its focus on simple postures, deep breathing, and self-realization, this form of yoga can be highly effective at helping you manage stress.
  • Iyengar yoga offers very specific poses that demand high precision.
  • Kripalu yoga, rather than focusing on specific postures, highlights the need to deepen your consciousness.
  • Power yoga blends traditional yoga with deep breathing, weight training, and even cardiovascular exercises. Power yoga classes vary significantly, especially given that this yoga adaptation is a relatively new one.

As yoga's popularity has increased, the emphasis on purity – remaining true to the original yoga, or to a specific brand of yoga -- has dramatically decreased. Practically speaking, many beginner yoga classes blend elements of numerous types of yoga, and may also incorporate the instructor's preferences and philosophy. The key is not so much to choose a specific type of yoga, but rather to locate a class where you feel comfortable and that matches your skill level.

Yoga Journal is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the practice of yoga. You can view examples of poses on their site by following this link.

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Yoga, Addiction, and Recovery

Yoga, Addiction, and Recovery

At first blush, it might not seem like there's much connection between yoga and recovering from addiction. But research points strongly toward the ability of yoga to help people recover from a host of ailments, including both addiction and mental illness. Yoga is such a powerful weapon in the fight against addiction that many doctors now recommend yoga to their patients, and a wide variety of rehab centers – and not just those that embrace holistic medicine or spiritual practices – offer yoga courses.

Research suggests that yoga can help combat chronic pain, making it appealing to addicts coping with muscle aches and the generally poor health that addiction can yield. Some yoga practitioners claim that yoga can help flush toxins such as drugs and alcohol from your body, but research on this claim is mixed at best.

Yoga also plays a key role in improving psychological health.

MRI studies of the brain have shown that people's brains look different both during and after a yoga session. The way you spend your time can, over time, alter your brain, so this should not come as a shock. What is interesting, though, is that people who practice yoga report fewer drug and alcohol cravings and a lower rate of relapse. Researchers aren't sure why this is, but a number of mechanisms may be in play:

  • Yoga releases endorphins that can boost your mood, thereby reducing your temptation to use.
  • Yoga improves brain health, potentially blocking unhealthy urges and cravings.
  • Yoga may help restore the neurotransmitter balance in your brain.
  • Yoga encourages meditation and deep breathing. Research has repeatedly shown that meditation alone can help combat mental illness and addiction. And deep breathing can help you fight off cravings, in addition to ensuring your brain gets the oxygen it needs to make safe, intelligent decisions.

Yoga is a low-risk activity. You'll never be forced into a pose, and beginner classes move very slowly, building steadily upon basic skills. If you want to try a new physical activity, then, yoga is one of the safest ways to do so, and it may even help you chart a course to lasting sobriety.

At Northpoint Recovery we provide Yoga as part of our Boise, Idaho alcohol & drug treatment program. We believe in addiction treatment that caters to the mind, body and spirit. If you need addiction treatment in the Treasure Valley, call us today!

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The Importance of Yoga in Drug Alcohol Recovery