By Hank Jacobs
We are in the midst of an epidemic of addiction in this country.
A perfect storm of factors has brought us to this place:
- Massive economic, technological, and social change has left many people angry, frightened, and adrift without a sense of purpose.
- Drug companies dump highly addictive opiates into the marketplace. Policies incentivize doctors to prescribe huge amounts of those drugs, which then make their way out into the world, where they are used and abused.
- Lives are destroyed, families are torn apart, and communities are ravaged by the destructiveness of addiction.
- Add in the preexisting epidemic of alcoholism and the wide variety of mental illnesses that often afflict those who become addicted, and we have a real societal problem.
Who is there to ride into this storm and rescue people?
Those who work in the field of addiction rehab. From detox centers, to inpatient rehab, to sober living, to outpatient therapy and 12-step programs, these brave and underappreciated souls spend their days and nights in service to people who often don’t want their help, at least initially.
For the rehab client, hours are spent in talking therapy, dealing with the horrors of the past, the pains of the present, and the terrifying specter of an unknown future. Addicts are often restless, minds spinning, full of regret and self-recrimination, and they can’t get out of their heads long enough to get some perspective, breathe, and be at peace, if only for a moment.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness training should be an integral part of the rehab journey.
Being in rehab is not an easy process. Generally, a person who enters rehab has hit rock bottom. A good rehab center utilizes a variety of strategies and techniques to help the client back on their feet.
Here are eleven reasons why yoga is an ideal companion to traditional addiction rehab therapy.
1.Yoga gets the addict out of their head.
Talking is not enough. Traditional rehab processes have the addict talking, rehashing the trauma and chaos of their path to the bottom. They are wrapped up in their thoughts, spinning about all the people they hurt, the harm they’ve done, and the desire to escape all of that pain by using again. Yoga poses, or asanas, are built to put the body into challenging positions that override the noise of the mind. Distracted by the effort of the body and focused on the breath, the mind can relax, allowing an opening for healing to begin.
2. Yoga relieves bodily pain.
Deep yogic breathing (pranayama) and flowing movement (vinyasa) help to relieve the great bodily pain brought on by withdrawal. Many addicts experience powerful muscle and joint pain as the body readjusts to being free of the drugs that have been ravaging their systems. Yoga can help replace the “new normal” state of being that the drugs created.
Yoga has many styles and forms. From the low impact deep relaxation of Restorative- which is ideal during the detox phase- and Slow Flow Vinyasa that help the joints move through the stuck places, to more intense forms such as Ashtanga or Power Yoga that help promote health and strength as the addict becomes healthy and strong again. Once introduced to yoga many people in recovery continue to practice it in form or another after rehab.
3. Meditation teaches patience.
We are all impatient. We want what we want when we want it. With addicts, this impatience is magnified many times. The need for instant gratification, for relief from the pain of life and the noise in their heads, creates a state where it’s nearly impossible to sit still. Something is always wrong, and they are always looking for the answers from without.
Meditation, while challenging at first, eventually shows the person in recovery they have the ability to sit still, quiet the mind, and feel at peace without the substances. The patience required to sit still and let the thoughts leave the mind is difficult and time-consuming work (of course, what else are they going to do while in rehab, watch TV?), but the rewards in patience are great. When the addict realizes they have the power within themselves to quiet the circus of their thoughts and be patient with themselves and those around them, staying sober becomes more of a reality.
4. Conscious movement helps release trauma stored in the body.
When something terrible happens to us, we react bodily. Whether it’s an accident, physical, sexual, mental, or emotional abuse, our bodies go into fight or flight mode, storing stress in the muscles, leading to brutalizing aches, pains, and chronic illness.
The conscious movement of yoga, the union of breath and body, helps to clear those pathways, allowing for emotional release on an unconscious level. This then transfers directly into their other therapies at the rehab, which helps the therapists, technicians, doctors, and nurses do their jobs more effectively. The yoga training is a vital part of the overall recovery strategy.
5. A properly trained rehab yoga teacher has a wide array of tools to tailor the classes to the needs of each individual client.
It is important to note that a properly trained rehab yoga teacher does not push the client past their limits. If they can only bend down three inches, that’s where they stop, and breathe into that movement. The next day, they’ll be able to go four inches. The rehab yoga teacher meets the client where they are at that moment.
Yoga has a wide array of tools and techniques: poses (asana), breath work (pranayama), movement (vinyasa), meditation, mindful awareness, laughing yoga (hasyayoga), restorative yoga (yin yoga), and more. The rehab yoga teacher can tailor the classes to the needs of small groups or individuals to create the greatest probability of success.
6. Yoga gives the rehab client practical tools that stay with them as they move from addiction to recovery.
Yoga and meditation create a state of mindfulness. Mindfulness slows things down, creating greater awareness of the present. Once in the present, alternatives to simple emotional reactions to triggering moments becomes a real possibility.
A great rehab is like an oasis, a shelter from the storm. But when the time for recovery is over, the client goes back to their lives, with all of the same people and situations that triggered them in the first place.
Addicts, as a group, tend to be highly sensitive and attuned to their surroundings. Mindfulness gives them tools– conscious breathing, repeated affirmations (mantra), present awareness– that create a moment of decision where before there was merely reaction. By creating that moment of decision, the hard work they do with the therapists and 12-step groups can kick in and help them make better choices, which improves their lives.
Many in rehab have never been taught tools for self-care and dealing with strong emotions. Yoga provides powerful alternatives to flying off the handle, falling into panic, and the other self-destructive behaviors that landed them in rehab in the first place.
7. Deeper connections to self and spirit create balance and deepen the client’s well of self-esteem.
A recent history of destructive behavior on the part of most addicts can leave them feeling guilty, angry, and scared, which could create an unwillingness to become vulnerable- a vital piece of the recovery process.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness foster deeper connections to self and spirit without needing a specific religious practice. True presence is non-dogmatic, which means there is no need for guilt. When the spirit can find peace, the individual can face the realities of their past behavior and begin the process of moving forward. Creating a safe space where they can be open and vulnerable is part of the rehab yoga teacher’s job. Once the client experiences vulnerability without negative consequence, their self-esteem begins to grow, and they begin to get their personal power back. A person in their power can truly be of service to themselves and others.
8. A well-trained rehab yoga teacher can give alternative observations that help the rehab team help the client.
A rehab yoga teacher is seeing the clients in a different way from the therapists, technicians, doctors, and nurses. In the yoga and meditation space, a well-attuned instructor can observe physical and emotional blocks that won’t be obvious in more traditional rehab methodologies.
For example, the yoga teacher can confirm through the clients’ body language that a client is off balance in a particular way. This translates directly into the therapy session. Armed with the knowledge of the physical cues, the therapist can use this to help the client open up and bring them back into balance.
This intuitive approach to client observation is an invaluable tool for the recovery team.
9. Yoga provides a deeper mind-body-spirit connection than simple exercise can provide.
Many rehabs offer physical movement as part of their programs, i.e. boxing, aerobics, hiking, or other sports. These are generally positive activities, and any type of movement is good for the client; however, they can also reinforce emotions like aggression and rage, and calcify bodily holding patterns that get in the way of opening up.
If a client is in great pain, they will not be able to participate in these sports, which obviates the benefits of these offerings. Additionally, high impact exercise by people unaccustomed to taking care of their bodies can lead to injury.
Not so with yoga. Because of the wide array of tools at the disposal of the properly trained rehab yoga teacher, the rehab can offer physical activity that any of their clients can engage in. The union of movement, breath, and consciousness provides a deeper mind-body-spirit connection that helps the client move in a positive way. Awareness of the body’s capability in the moment creates safer, more fulfilling exercise.
10. Yoga gives rehab therapists and technicians a break during their day.
Being a rehab therapist or technician is not easy work to begin with. Faced with a client who can’t sit still, can’t quiet the mind, and can’t control their emotions on a given day, their jobs become that much harder.
A yoga session at any point during the day helps to calm the client and relax their body and mind, which makes everyone’s life easier, from the client, to the rehab therapist and tech, to the client’s loved ones. A relaxed client is more open to the assistance they are being offered.
There is often a marked difference in a client before and after, which can provide the rest of the staff with great relief, and make their jobs easier.
11. Yoga/Meditation/Mindfulness is a real value-add for any modern addiction rehabilitation facility.
The presence of rehab yoga, meditation training, and mindfulness exercise among a rehab’s offerings sends a clear signal to the prospective client that the rehab takes a complete, mind/body/spirit approach to recovery. This counts as a powerful value-add for a very reasonable investment.
If you would like information about how your rehab could benefit from a professional rehab yoga program, please visit yogiroadtorecovery.com for more information and resources.
NOTE: THE WEBSITE LISTED ABOVE IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION. A LINK WILL BE ADDED WHEN IT IS PUBLISHED. THIS IS HERE AS A WRITING SAMPLE FOR HANK JACOBS.
Conversations with Emily Broms, founder of Yogi Road to Recovery, a full service yoga, meditation, and mindfulness provider for addiction recovery rehabs, from detox to sober living and beyond.
The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. John Sarno