Through various types of addiction therapy, there is one central component: Finding new, healthier ways to deal with daily stresses while maintaining a clear perspective. Perhaps because this mindset is an important part of Yoga practice, researchers are testing Yoga’s efficacy in treating addiction. Medical experts are theorizing that Yoga may actually break the addictive cycle. Yoga therapy works in contrast to most therapies for addiction, which isolate either the psychological or physiological element, by treating the body and mind simultaneously. The peaceful poses of Yoga rest both our brain and body. It is here that our energy can be harnessed toward changing unhealthy habits.
Either to a greater or lesser extent, all of us have addictions. Some are minor enough that they will never impact us other than on a superficial level. Nail biting is an example. Other addictions are accommodated by society enough to be considered part of daily routine- our morning cup of coffee is one example. It is when a behavior or attitude threatens our path to a positive future, we owe it to ourselves to change. Addiction is a symptom. Often, uncovering its’ causes requires an introspective breakthrough. Until we examine our inner-dialogue, our life will feel out of balance. This is where Yoga, and its sister component of mindfulness, can help.
Mindfulness is the practice of suspending judgment. This requires holding and focusing on each thought until its emotional impact is lost. Mindfulness provides a neutral outlook that conquers the knee-jerk reactions of addiction. Dr Karel Nespor; a psychiatrist with the Department of Addictions in Prague Czech Republic, sometimes uses Yoga to treat patients struggling with addiction. He states: “Yoga teaches slow, controlled movements instead of reflexive, automatic behavior. This may be useful also during normal daily activities when coping with stimuli which triggered addictive behavior before.” (1) Mindfulness also works in this manner. This slow-motion thinking acts as a natural tranquilizer. In Nespor’s Yoga-therapy, mindfulness functions as both a component and complement to Yoga’s peaceful postures. When patients experience a craving, he asks them to observe their feelings, as much as possible, without emotional response. This is also how he ends his Yoga sessions. This therapeutic contemplation, traditionally known as yogic relaxation, is mindful thinking.
Though Nespor’s treatment is distinct, it is not unique. Experts worldwide are using Yoga to conquer even the most severe of addictions. In Rajasthan, New Delhi, former schoolteacher Narain Singh uses “light Yoga exercises” along with group therapy to ease the pain of opium withdrawal. His first detoxification camp was instituted in 1979. BBC News reports that of the 16 opium addicts who converged, all left cured. “The basis of cure here is love, brotherhood and affection,” states Singh, who reports a 70% success rate with his method. (2)This parallels the percentage boasted by the more costly of American rehabilitation clinics. Perhaps in the spirit of love and brotherhood, there is no charge for Singh’s program.
American medical experts are also seeing that Yoga may break the addictive cycle. New York City addiction psychotherapist Mary Margaret Frederick, Ph.D. states: “Yoga treats the biology and the psychology of an addict. The will and determination Yoga requires, helps people regain control over their body and their mind.” (3)Peter Stein; a drug counselor at the North Charles Institute for Addictions in Somerville, Massachusetts, uses Hatha Yoga in combination with methadone and group therapy. In 1997, Stein contributed to a study for Harvard Medical School. The results found no “meaningful differences “ between the Hatha Yoga approach and conventional group therapy. (4)
When we slow down our physical body our mind also decelerates. Through this process Yoga calms our entire being, reducing the internal restlessness that can cloud judgment. This objectivity is an integral aspect of mindfulness. Though some may practice Yoga solely for the physical rewards, mindfulness and Yoga are inseparable. Here-and-now focus is the only way we can maintain the balance and alignment needed to perform postures without injury. Mindfulness has other, far less visible rewards. By sustaining this state we activate deep-relaxation in which our brain produces alpha waves. These produce a condition known as picture-thinking. In this awareness we see ourselves act without feeling the emotions attached. As the practice of mindfulness teaches non-judgment, over time, images of past behavior can be acknowledged with a degree of neutrality. This helps us to forgive ourselves and ultimately, others. Describing mindfulness, author John Kabat-Zinn , observes: “Paradoxically, this inclusive noting of thoughts that come and go in your mind can lead you to feel less caught up in them, and give you a deeper perspective on your reaction to everyday stress and pressures.” (5) One of the benefits of mindfulness is the ability to see our mistakes in perspective. Otherwise it is like we are putting a bag over our head to hide one blemish. The pimple is hidden, but so are we.
All forms of Yoga facilitate a balanced approach to life. It has been said that Yoga is meditation in motion. Indeed it is. However, Yoga is also moderation in motion. Consequently, Yoga is an antidote to the extremism that characterizes addiction. Yoga serves as a model for compulsive behavior, by integrating control and release behaviors; a proper forward bend starts with pushing and ends with yielding. In daily life, compulsive behavior leads to dividing these approaches. Through Yoga we can experience the control and release actions simultaneously, and is able to feel the virtue in their fusion. Yoga corrects through sensation. We risk injury if we fail to rely on subtle, internal cues for feedback. This demonstrates through direct bodily experience, how ignoring limitations can result in harm. Learning to trust this dialogue of the body is particularly useful for compulsive eaters, who aren’t attuned to hunger or healthy cravings.
Addiction works like pulling an elastic band until it snaps. We may be extremely focused while seeking our craving ; walking two miles in a downpour for a cigarettes, bottle or calorie-rich treat. However, we feel powerless once the coveted object is obtained. We tell ourselves “I’ll diet tomorrow.” This same feast-or-famine mentality also characterizes perfectionism. Unrealistic, self-imposed pressure can lead to addictions, because of the anxiety it generates. Yoga’s non-competitive nature balances us and encourages looking beyond conventional definitions of achievement. Our success is dependent on effort instead of result. The philosophy of Yoga is to embrace your capabilities instead of cursing your limitations. This allows us to move forward by looking at how far we’ve come, instead of how far we have to go.
Most addictions, in some way, are a substitute for what we really desire. How often have we reached for a chocolate bar as a substitute for touch? Subconsciously, we may not pursue heartfelt ambitions because we are fearful, either of failure or success. Perhaps, deep down, we feel unworthy of the wellbeing we truly deserve. The introspective nature of yogic mindfulness invites discovery and appreciation of authentic self. This invites peace, stability and genuine self-love. After experiencing these rewards, unhealthy substitutes lose their flavor.
Examples of Hatha Yoga Exercises for Addiction
Hatha Yoga combines active poses with mental relaxation. This results in a balancing of mind and body. Hatha Yoga differs from devotional Yoga, in its accessibility to people of various belief systems. Due to this, it is a practical complement to traditional therapy. To treat dependency, addictions specialist Dr.Nespor recommends a program that progresses from posture to breath-work to meditation. The following is an example:
1. Marjarisina (cat ): While on your hands and knees, you inhale as head elevates and your stomach drops. Pause briefly.
2. Ushtrasana (camel): Begin by kneeling. Reach back towards your calves. Gently return forward if there is too much discomfort. Those more experienced may rest their hands on their ankles. Return within one minute.
3. Full Yoga breath (complete breath): Sit down with legs seated comfortably and shoulders back. Inhale as deeply as you can while maintaining smooth breath. Note your belly expanding. As you exhale, feel your belly sink and lungs empty. Do not force-yield. Continue for five minutes. (This exercise should be performed in an area with fresh, clean air).
4. Shavasana (corpse): Laying on the floor with your legs comfortable apart and arms limp by your side. Observing your breath, your thoughts are directed towards detecting and discarding any remnants of tension. Thoughts are regarded then thoughts are released. This is the birth of mindfulness.
1. Nespor, Karel. “Yoga and Coping with Harmful Addictions “Yoga Magazine,” 2001. Also website: http://www.Yogamag.net/archives/2001/5sep01/adds1.shtml
2. Bedi, Rajul. “Rehabilitation in Rajasthan.” BBC News Online. May 16, 2000.
3. Stukin , Stacie “Freedom From Addiction.” Yoga Journal, 1999.
About the Author
Galina Pembroke is the publisher and editor-and-chief of New View magazine online. New View features a broad range of articles on alternative therapies, as well as lifestyle info. Visit us at http://www.nuvunow.ca
Source: Written by Galina Pembroke for selfgrowth.com