Five years into my teaching yoga at an inpatient rehab center, a new patient came into the cafeteria where we practiced. She told me she’d been in and out of rehabs for 16 years. She’d used heroin, crystal meth and cocaine daily. Her liver and lungs were “shot.” She just knew one morning that she would die. When in detox, she was amazed that she had no withdrawal symptoms. This was unheard of, and completely unexpected. She asked, “Is that God?” We spent the whole yoga practice that day exploring Ishta Devata, or what God meant to her. We went from one pose to another. And with every pose we did, she practically purred and said how good it felt in her body.
The disease of addiction is a holistic disease affecting mind, body and spirit. It was designated as a mental illness by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1956. NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health) defines addiction as "a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences." This compulsive behavior can apply to drinking, drug use, smoking, shopping, gambling, etc. At this time, the opioid crisis is just one manifestation of how serious addiction can be. It can negatively affect not only the person who has the disease, but the whole family and that person’s community.
Addiction weakens the body. And addicts feel alone. Many lose all societal connections when using. Many lose faith in God, if they ever had it. All of this can be overwhelming.
The ancient practice of yoga heals holistically. Though many think of yoga as only physical, it’s spiritual component is crucial. That spirituality is built into yoga. And twelve-step programs (https://12step.org/the-12-steps/) such as AA also help addicts discover or rediscover their spiritual side—connecting to “a power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity”.These programs can work alongside yoga to help by working on the mind and requiring honest self-inquiry to uncover “character defects” or destructive thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy and many other addiction therapies follow the same theories. All of them work well in combination with yoga.
In addition to its spiritual side, Yoga adds physical healing, or somatic experience, to the cognitive therapies used in recovery. I have found the methodology of the Anusara Yoga I teach (www.anusarayoga.com) particularly useful when serving recovering addicts.
We use 3 A’s (https://www.anusarayoga.com/teacher-support/the-heart-of-anusara-yoga/) in our practice.
Attitude: The first of the five Universal Principles of AlignmentTM is Open to Grace. This also is the first three steps of 12-step programs. It is acceptance, surrender, and allowing the grace of a spiritual power to restore us to who we truly are.
Alignment: This is doing the work of self-inquiry: the dreaded fourth step. It is seeing your part in actions that had adverse consequences and becoming ready to right the wrongs.
Action: This is making amends, admitting you were wrong, letting go of resentments. It also is the 12th step: Serving others as a result of your own spiritual awakening
I am grateful for the spiritual awakening I received from yoga that helped me to see that yoga’s impact on my own recovery from alcoholism is a gift to share with others.
Gail Corvette is a Certified Anusara Yoga TeacherTM and Subject Matter Specialist in Addiction Recovery. She has two addiction-related certifications: S.O.A.R. (Success Over Addiction and Relapse) geared toward teaching in treatment centers and Y12SR (Yoga of 12-Step Recovery) focused on a public 12-step meeting and themed practice.
She has taught yoga to the recovery population since 2011: in a private home, to inpatients and outpatient at a rehab center, on retreats, at Conventions, for fundraisers, and in a weekly Y12SR meeting at the rehab center for the patients, members of “A” groups and the recovery community.
She is leading a teacher training November 2 and 3, 2019: https://tiffanywoodyoga.com/yoga-addiction-recovery
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