It seems that every day I hear a new tragic story about a person falling prey to their addiction. Stories of people dying or losing friends and family due to opioid and heroin use are everywhere. This is in addition to alcohol addiction, food addictions, and others. These addictions ruin the lives of the people who get too caught up in them and their families.
I also am constantly hearing stories of hope. Peopls who were addicted to substances who have turn their lives around. Increasingly I’m hearing the word “yoga” with these stories. How it was a first step, how it saved a life, how it enabled someone to turn things around. Why would this be? How can yoga, and more specifically yoga therapy help such a difficult situation?
The beginning of this lies in the fundamentals of yoga practice. Yoga citta vritti nirodhah.”Yoga is experienced in the mind which had ceased to identify itself with it’s vacillating waves of perception”. In other words we can experience peace and clarity when we are not hijacked by our vrittis, or thoughts. This truth is just as true for a person addicted to heroine as it is for President Obama.
Yoga sees all people as addicted to something. We are all addicted to paying attention to potentially unreliable thought patterns. Yoga practice is aimed at helping us be less addicted to these thoughts, so that we can make decisions from a deeper, more reliable place.
In yoga therapy, we use many [yoga] techniques including different types of asana, pranayama, and meditation all geared to help each mind understand the nature of it’s thoughts. These practices are customized by a Yoga Therapist to work efficiently with any individual. This way of working is helpful and works for addiction because addiction to thoughts is at the root of all of our mental afflictions.
There have been many pilot studies that look at yoga and it’s effects on addiction. Some focus on the chemistry changes like increased GABA production. Others look at yoga’s efficacy with helping depression and anxiety, both of which can contribute to addictive behaviors. While studies are important for convincing the treatment world to use these ancient yoga techniques, we need to remember how imperative it is to address an individual’s imbalance as an essential key to a positive outcome.
In my yoga therapy practice, I have seen addicted individuals respond well to movement. I have also seen meditation and breathwork have strong effects. Different combinations work best based on an individual’s physical, energetic and mental makeup and are taught to help create more clarity and focus in terms of changing patterns. The common denominator is an individual understanding that they are not flawed for being addicted. We are all addicted just in different ways. Yoga was developed to reduce suffering, because we all suffer. A good Yoga Therapist can help by offering practices that make it easier to handle the mind’s voices, and in turn, act from our best selves.
May the wisdom of Yoga be available to all that are suffering.