Yoga and mindfulness are well-known practices traditionally used to calm the mind and foster inner peace. But many recovery programs use these practices as alternative therapies to help treat addiction challenges. In addition to strengthening the mind, yoga and mindfulness can improve emotional regulation, teach self-discipline, boost impulse control, and better physical health. In addition to that, yoga and mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, lessening the risk of relapse. Recovering from addiction and changing long-term habits can be a difficult, challenging process, but alternative therapies like yoga and mindfulness can help individuals find inner peace and develop healthier habits while they recover.
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice that seeks to create harmony between the mind, body, and environment. Even though the practice is based on ancient Indian philosophies, yoga remains a popular form of wellness today, teaching people to develop healthy control of their mind and body. Modern yoga practices combine low-impact physical activity with postures called “asanas,” breathing exercises called “pranayama,” alongside relaxation and meditation. But the ultimate goal of yoga is unity between the mind, body, and energy in order to produce a sense of equanimity or calmness.
Even though modern yoga practices are primarily used for physical and emotional health benefits, ancient yoga practices emphasized wisdom and provided guidelines on living a meaningful and purposeful life. These principles, which are similar to philosophies shared in 12-step recovery programs, include:
- Nurturing physical and mental balance
- Managing a healthy life
- Living successfully in society
- Living a life of integrity and honesty
- Being content and grateful for what you have
- Living a disciplined life
- Having a purpose and a positive life plan
Mindfulness is focusing on the present by paying attention to your experiences moment by moment. When you’re mindful, you’re fully aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. You aren’t trying to interpret, understand, or judge your thoughts and feelings, you’re simply acknowledging them. Despite being based on ancient Buddhist philosophies, experts today use mindfulness as a type of behavioral therapy that teaches individuals to pay attention to their day-to-day experiences. By practicing mindfulness, individuals learn to focus on the “here and now” instead of obsessing over the past or agonizing over the future.
6 Ways Yoga and Mindfulness Promotes Addiction Recovery
Addiction wreaks havoc on the mind and deteriorates the physical body. Yoga and mindfulness combat these effects by teaching individuals to live intentional, disciplined, grounded, healthy, and centered lives.
1. Mindfulness Encourages Healthy Emotional Regulation
Most people grappling with addiction challenges struggle with focusing on the present. Instead, they find themselves trapped in the past or overly anxious about the future. Unfortunately, this kind of emotional distress can lead to overwhelming feelings that compel individuals to compulsively consume addictive substances.
Mindfulness can ease this distress by teaching individuals to focus on the present. Without worrying about the past or the future, individuals inevitably learn to regulate their emotions better “in the moment.” Data from a recent study showed that even bereaved people were able to improve their emotional regulation via mindfulness. Instead of worrying, mindfulness encourages individuals to slow down, breathe, and accept what’s happening without trying to change the situation, increasing their emotional intelligence.
2. Yoga and Meditation Model The 12 Steps
Like the 12 steps, yoga and meditation encourage individuals to live an intentional, meaningful, and purposeful life.
- During meditation, individuals accept their honest thoughts and feelings without judgment, which correlates with steps 1, 2, 3, and 6 in a 12-step program.
- As individuals pose in yoga and focus on their breath, they learn to let go of guilt and negative emotions, which corresponds to step 5.
- Slowing down can help individuals realize their need to make amends with others, which relates to steps 8 and 9.
- Holding the asanas, or yoga poses, models self-discipline, which relates to step 10.
- Meditating with others and finding inner peace alongside them reinforces the idea of a healthy support network, which correlates with steps 11 and 12.
- The entire process is humbling and reflective, correlating to steps 4 and 7.
Despite their differences, yoga, mindfulness, and the 12 steps can work together to help individuals live an intentional, purposeful, substance-free life.
3. Yoga and Mindfulness Ground the Mind
Addictive substances like drugs and alcohol interfere with the brain’s delicate chemical balance, causing constant, disturbing fluctuations of the mind. Addiction also stimulates the default mode network (DMN), the brain region responsible for mind-wandering and critical thoughts. Also called the “monkey brain,” the DMN typically makes individuals feel unsettled, restless, confused, indecisive, and impulsive.
Yoga and meditation help ground the mind. By teaching individuals to focus on their breath and the present moment, yoga and meditation slow the racing monkey mind down. Instead of feeling constantly unsettled and restless, yoga and meditation help individuals think logically, which combats the impulsive reactions and compulsive behaviors that feed addiction.
4. Holding Yoga Postures Can Help Learn Self-Discipline
Even the physical aspect of yoga can help promote addiction recovery. As individuals learn to hold various postures, they also learn self-discipline. At first, the postures may be uncomfortable and challenging, but by continuing the practice, individuals can learn how to face a challenge the healthy way. Consistently showing up to practice builds perseverance. Breathing through the postures can help individuals remember to breathe through challenges in life. As simple as the process may seem, holding yoga postures can help reiterate life skills such as self-control, discipline, and endurance.
5. Mindfulness Helps Restore The Structure of the Brain
Research has proven that addiction originates in the brain. Newer studies suggest that mindfulness can help restore brain areas negatively affected by addiction. Mindfulness meditation helps improve the brain by:
- Enlarging the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational decision making
- Shrinking the amygdala, improving emotional control
- Thickening the hippocampus, which helps individuals memorize and learn new habits
- Increasing grey matter helps improve cognitive functioning
- Reducing activity in brain regions that stimulate worry, stress, and anxiety
By improving the brain, mindfulness helps restore individuals’ decision making ability, impulse control, and emotional regulation, which, in turn, promotes long-term addiction recovery.
6. Yoga and Mindfulness Promote Inner Peace and Calm
Recovering from addiction can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and paranoia. Yoga and mindfulness combat these distressing symptoms by promoting inner peace and calm. By participating in yoga and mindfulness, individuals learn to cope with stressors and challenging circumstances in a healthy way, diminishing their reliance on addictive substances.
Clinical Treatment Integrated with Alternative Therapies
Here at Genesis Recovery, our mission is to help restore lives broken by addiction. Yoga and mindfulness can help you find the inner peace you’ve been searching for. You don’t have to continue to rely on addictive substances as a way to cope with life’s challenges. We can help you overcome addiction challenges and live a purposeful, meaningful, intentional life instead. Let us help you get there. Contact us today if you’re looking for a rehab center that believes you can begin again.