Yoga as an Intervention in the Treatment of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Recovery
Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice
Final Research Paper
Lesley University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Addiction is a primary, complex brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences, and by long-lasting chemical changes in the brain which interfere with a persons ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control behavior, and feel normal without using drugs (Flewelling, 2009). Drug use is on the rise in this country and 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s approximately one in every ten Americans over the age of 12- roughly equal to the entire population of Texas (Boshears, 2011).
There are many reasons or thoughts to why people become addicted to alcohol and drugs, commonly it is thought of as a genetic disorder, a way to self sooth because of a traumatic experience, or living in an environment that finds substance abuse normalized. Whatever the case, only about half of the people addicted to drugs seek help and a much few percent continue to stay sober after treatment. New research shows that, application of comprehensive spiritual lifestyle interventions may prove effective in treating substance abuse, particularly in populations receptive to such approaches (Khalsa, 2008). In this paper is will be focusing on why yoga may be affective to people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Also, how society and culture influence the yoga as a recovery tool for addiction. Lastly, I will be discussing what types of yoga are commonly used in America to help treat addiction.
I chose this topic because I have been in recovery from alcohol and heroin for about six years. I luckily got sober and more important stayed sober since a young age. During my time in a residential program for girls under eighteen suffering from substance abuse, I was introduced to yoga. However, this was not part of our daily routine but more of a group every once and a while. I found yoga relaxing and helped with my mental state. Once leaving the residential program I continued to practice yoga on and off. I was not sure why practicing yoga felt important and calming to me but I knew that it helped me stay sober during difficult challenges in my sobriety. I am curious to know why yoga is helpful to people in recovery and how it is effective.
YOGA AS A TOOL FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY
According to Khalsa (2008), “Yoga and meditation have also been widely adopted as therapeutic practices for a wide variety of psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, medical conditions which have an underlying stress- related component, and a number of neuromuscular conditions (p. 68).” This is typically because of the meditation component, which is known to increase self- awareness of both psychological and physical states. Yoga and meditation have been proposed as an effective treatment for substance abuse and addictive behavior.
Yoga is thought to reduce stress and tension and, improvement of impaired mood such as reduction of depression and anxiety, and induction of a peak experience or higher state of consciousness which replaces the attraction of substance induced high and establishes of improved self-esteem and a better philosophical relationship and understanding (Khalsa, 2008). Because of these outstanding effects, several addiction treatment programs have incorporated yoga as a contributing technique in treatment programs. By providing an outlet that can satisfy their craving or urge to use in a healthy and safe way can help them cope in recovery.
Research examining mediation and yoga practices incorporated into substance abuse care suggests that there mind-body practices help to improve aspects of quality of life including improved mood, sleep quality, physical functioning, and overall well being (Bower et al. 2005, Gordan 2008). Mood flocculation and disturbed sleep during the bregining of recovery is a common side affect. Creating and having a tool to self-sooth these issues can help a person who is on the verge of using. This is an important aspect because of the commonality of these issues. Providing mind-body practices to patients is also empowering to the patients. It gives them a sense that they are in control of their recovery.
TYPES OF YOGA IN TREATMENT PROGRAMS
One study was done in a ninety-day residential treatment program using Kundalini Yoga and Meditation. Three Kundalini yoga classes were held per day and mediation and yoga practice was taught to the residence along with their families. They were also put on a mostly vegetarian diet, herbs, vitamins and spices for cleansing and rebuilding the body system the results of this study showed the people who left the program and continued their practice of yoga stayed sober compared to the people who stopped doing yoga upon graduation of he program (Khalsa, 2008).
Hatha yoga which is the yoga of postures where people hold positions for varying lengths of time as been shown to help addicts and alcoholics. Apostolides states, “ It simulates the relaxing effects in the parasympathic nervous system and removes tension from all the major muscle groups (p. 37).” Hatha yoga allows people to get in touch with themselves on a spiritual level and relesses endorphins which helps fight depression.
In all of the research that I found that any type of movement yoga that is practiced in residential treatment programs for alcohol and addiction recovery had beneficial affects on the patients. Also the practice of silent medication and breathing exercises helped patients significantly throughout their recovery. Yoga, medication and breathing techniques are a helpful tool that people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction can use at anytime.
FORMATS THAT YOGA CAN HELP IN RECOVERY
Only a few substance abuse research studies have evaluated the affectedness of yoga. In one study comparing different treatment methods, yoga-treated subjects have showed normalization of their cortisol and catecholamine’s (Surahmanyam, Satyanarayana, & Rajeswari, 1986). The detoxification proccess of substance and alcohol can be one of the most difficult times. It is common for people to relapse during the detoxification process because it is so strenuous and exhausting on the body and mind. In a study of withdrawal symptoms in drug addicts, a fifteen-day yoga exercise intervention has statistically greater improvements in these symptoms than did an untreated control group (Chauhan, 1992). This being said yoga has a great strength in the treatment of alcohol and drug treatment.
In research that I have found, most programs do not recommend yoga as the sole solution to recovery. It is thought of as an extra tool to use in adjacent with the twelve-step recovery plan. Cunningham (2003) who is a gentle yoga for healing instructor states, “ incorporating the 12-step philosophy into a yoga practice participants will learn to concentrate on positive sayings while they stretch into poses (p. 7).”
SOCIETY AND CULTURAL INFLUENCE
In the West, the two pioneering researchers in mind-body medicine were Benson and Jon Kabar- Zinn. Benson focused on a Tibetan meditation practice called tum-mo this group claimed to increase their body temperature through special meditative techniques and deep relaxation. The research found that the Tibetan group were able to increase their body temperature through their mind. Kabat- Zinn developed a combination of Buddhist mindfulness meditation, yoga postures, and a body scan technique. This practice was called Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been extensively scientifically investigated in the West and is useful for helping to ease psychological and physical effects of some chronic illnesses and produces changes in brain activity and biological processes ( Davidson et al. 2003, Grossman et al. 2004, Ott et al. 2006).
I believe that society searching for a new way to heal and treat ailments is what has made yoga in the West so popular. Looking into the history of how yoga and meditation came to be a helping tool for different ailments all the tecniques began in the East. Researchers studied and practiced with these cultures to bring their techniques into the West. These teachings have become an important aspect in almost everyone’s life whether it is yoga to be healthy and fit or yoga for pain management or yoga for deep relaxation. Yoga that has been adopted by the West and has many different uses for us.
Chaoul states, “In the West, yoga is often referred to as mind-body technique from Asia, usually categorized as medication and yoga (p. 144).” This style of yoga of brief medication and the movement of yoga posses is the most common practice in alcohol and drug rehab programs. I did not find any research or past studies on rehab programs in the West using a more traditional or Eastern view of yoga. However I believe a rehab program that strictly provided yoga as a sole recovery treatment for alcoholics and addicts would not work as well as incorporating yoga with the twelve-step program.
The aspect of breath or energy-breath is a core aspect of all Asian practices. Although all of the different countries call energy something else an have there own distinct mind-energy-body practice they all emphasize the aspect of energy- breathe or breath- energy (Chaoul p. 144) Some examples of these different types of energy is called qi in Chine, prana in India and lung in Tibet. Some of the mind energy practices are T’ai chi in China, Hatha Yoga in India and Tsa lung in Tibet. According to Chaoul, “ In the West, the scientific community is more comfortable considering these practices within the area of mind-body medicine, as there is still insufficient evidence to support the realm of “ energy medicine (p. 150).” However, as we know, many studies are now being conducted and proving that these forms of medicine have a positive impact on many different populations, including addiction.
The role of mind, emotion and behaviors in health and well-being was part of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, and Ayurveda medicine and other medical traditions of the world. Choaus states,
“ Many people are now turning to these ancient practices as a way to reduce stress as there is now substantial evidence showing the negative health consequences of sustained stress on health and well being through profound psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects These psychological and behavioral effects of stress may include increased negative effect, post- traumatic stress disorder, increased health-impairment behaviors (e.g., poor diet, lack of exercise or substance abuse), poor sleep, and decreased quality of life (p. 148).”
Although there is not much concrete evidence that yoga is capable of preventing illness and helping with many mental disorders more research is pointing towards positive effects of yoga on the body and mind. These practices have been preformed in the East for thousands of years and they have one of the lowest rates of psychological disorders and diseases. Which shows that the yoga practice and good diet have a positive influence in many aspects of a person’s life.
WHY IT WORKS
Doctors, Psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, Social workers, and other clinicians are embracing the healing powers of yoga in clinical practice to treat everything from depression to food addiction to autism. In 2010, American Family Physician published an article by Saeed and colleagues recognizing yoga as a legitimate treatment for depression and anxiety. More recent studies have shown that yoga increases the levels of the neurotransmitter gamma- aminobutyic acis (GABA) in the brain. This is significant because people who are suffering from stress, anxiety depression and substance abuse are all found to have low levels of GABA. Yoga can treat this, regardless of which came first and what is causing the addictions (Kelly, 2014).
A regular yoga practice also helps people develop the discipline needed to succeed in 12-step programs, which often are used as the primary method of treatment for many substance users. The mindfulness practice taught in yoga and the slow, controlled breathing are tools to help curd impulse control, something substance abusers struggle with. Yoga also can have a positive effect on the lymphic network, nervous system, and the immune system, all of which work together to play a role in emotional well-being and overall health (Kelly, 2014).
There are many contributing factors to why yoga is helpful to recovering alcoholics and addicts. Along with physical benefits like getting back into shape there are may psychological benefiting for patients taking yoga classes. According to Cope (2002), “Yoga helps its participants practice slow, regular breathing while stretching their muscles, lengthening their spines, and enhancing flexibility. Tests conducted on those practicing yoga have demonstrated lower blood pressure and slowed hear rates and respiration (p.253).” It is also thought that patients have control over their recovery and treatment.
In the field of complementary and alternative medicine, yogic practices can be categorized as both “energy medicine” and “mind-body medicine” (Chaol, 2010). This means that yoga can be done in many forms and can help in many different aspects of a person’s life. For instance the thought of “energy medicine” works with the energies of the body, which can help motivate a person in recovery to stay on track with the healthy lifestyle. “Energy Medicine” helps people understand the link of mind and body by proper breathing and sound exercises. According to Chaol, “ Scientific research has also shown that these practices modulate brain activity and diminish the psychological and biological effects of stress (p. 144).” Stress it a typical factor in anyone’s life but especially a person who is new to recovery.
A person new recovery is typically dealing with a lot of stress. They are now responsible for there actions and aware of what there past actions did to the people that they care about. If I person new in recovery does not have the proper tools and coping skills to deal with stress they will most likely relapse. Teaching yoga that can be done at anytime a person feels the need to distress is an important aspect to teach in programs. An easy technique a person can teach is an aspect of energy medicine, which is breathing. A simple breathing technique a patient can use on there own time could help them through a difficult situation.
In conclusion, yoga has slowly become a positive tool for people in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse. People who suffer from this disease typically have impulse control issues, depression, anxiety, mood issues, and sleep disorders during the beginning stages and throughout their recovery. Yoga has been found to help all of these side affects one way or another. Much new research shows that having yoga in a person’s daily practice can help the person stay sober. There are many different types of yoga that can be using in rehab programs. Some of the common types of yoga are modern postural yoga, which uses yoga poses through movement, meditation, and also chanting. All of these have calming affects of the body and the mind, which insure a better chance in recovery.
An important aspect of yoga being used as a tool for recovery is that yoga can be done almost anywhere. A patient can be taught special breathing techniques or poses that they can be used on their own when they are feeling stressed or triggered. This gives the person a feeling of power to be able to stop their cravings and negative thoughts and will inevitable keep them sober. It is important to note that the practice of yoga is not a sole solution to the treatment of alcohol and drugs. It is to be used in adjacent to the 12-step program and other coping tools incorporated in the program.
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