How to Use Yoga as a Coping Tool in Addiction Recovery

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It’s an admirable achievement to take the brave step of admitting you have a substance abuse problem and entering recovery. During this time, it’s important to find effective coping tools to use in your sobriety plan, which often includes group meetings, individual therapy, and even medication. Another helpful strategy for many recovering addicts is adding yoga to their daily or weekly routine, thanks to its holistic approach in addressing the physical and emotional toll substance use takes on the body and mind. For those considering making yoga a part of their recovery plan, our guide explains how to maximize the benefits of this ancient practice in order to begin healing and embark upon a path to long-term wellness.

Use Yoga as a Natural Form of Pain and Stress Relief

For some people, addiction begins when the individual uses drugs (even when they’re legally obtained) or alcohol as a means of easing physical and emotional pain. Unfortunately, many prescription pain pills are highly addictive, and drinking alcohol to relieve stress can be a slippery slope for those who find they need more and more to feel relaxed. Yoga is a healthy way to relieve physical pain, thanks to poses and moves that gently stretch muscles. Yoga also has proven mental health benefits, making it an ideal way to combat stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s a naturally-effective, pain-relieving solution for all practitioners, but it can be especially therapeutic for recovering addicts who want to avoid putting chemicals in their bodies for fear of relapsing, so use this perk to your advantage.

Breathe Deeply

Throughout your session, take slow, deep inhales and exhales. In addition to improving your practice and the benefits of each pose, you’ll also lower your heart rate and instantly reach a calmer state. This will be incredibly helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed or are craving your substance of choice.

Focus on Your Mind-Body Connection

Feeling disconnected from one’s emotions and body is both a short-term and long-term effect of using substances. When under the influence, an individual feels a sense of detachment from their sober self, and even after coming down from their high, it can be difficult to fully regain ownership of how they feel physically and emotionally as well as how the mind and body are working together.

Yoga is a practice that focuses on mindfulness, physicality, and how these two elements work together. Understanding this relationship can help you face stressful situations on and off the mat without turning to harmful substances to cope. As a bonus, you’ll learn to pay attention to the physical and psychological cues that contribute to cravings, which will be an essential tool in your sobriety.

Add a Meditation Element

You can boost your mind-body benefits by adding a few minutes of meditation to your week. Many yogis find it helpful to spend five to 10 minutes meditating immediately after their practice, but you can incorporate it into any part of your day to reap these rewards.

Increase the Intensity

Exercise has all kinds of physical and mental health benefits that can be especially beneficial for individuals with substance abuse disorders. Incorporating some intensified power moves into your session that increase your heart rate and build muscle strength will amplify the perks of your practice. If you prefer gentler forms of yoga, adding a few traditional cardio- or strength-based workouts to your week (like running and weight-lifting, respectively) will have the same positive effects.

Find the Right Practice

There are all sorts of combinations of movements, poses, and breathing exercises that make up the many styles of yoga. While there’s no wrong practice to choose, you may find it helpful to choose one that helps you based on your unique needs and goals. For example:

  • If you’re in the early stages of recovery and still detoxing, a routine with lots of twists and stomach compressions can help aid in eliminating harmful toxins from your body.
  • An upbeat morning routine will start your day off on a positive note, which will be helpful for those who feel anxious upon waking.
  • Add a gentle yoga session to your evening wind-down routine if you’re suffering from insomnia. This may help improve your sleep quality, which will aid in warding off cravings during the day by giving your mind and body the adequate rest it needs to avoid feeling physically and emotionally stressed.
  • Find a stress-relief routine that you can practice on especially-difficult days. It may also be beneficial to create a five-minute practice that you can use as a coping tool during the day if you start to feel overwhelmed.

Practice with Fellow Survivors of Addiction

Group therapy has long been a source of support for those seeking sobriety, so inviting other people in recovery to join your yoga sessions may be helpful for you and your confidantes. Consider hosting other experienced or beginner yogis to practice with you after meetings or any time you feel overwhelmed. Sharing this time with your peers gives you all of the benefits of yoga and establishes meaningful connections with fellow addicts.

Think About How Far You’ve Come

When you’re winding down from your practice, take a few minutes to think about the progress you’ve made not just in your yoga journey, but also in your addiction recovery. It may not always feel like it, but you’ve come a long way. Every moment you’re not drinking or using is an accomplishment, and you’re paving the way for new milestones each day. Allow yourself to spend some time actively feeling proud of yourself, especially if you’re still struggling with feelings of guilt. This type of healthy reflection and self-love will help you find the strength to push forward even on dark days.

Whether you practice alone at home using online yoga classes, in a studio with the guidance of an instructor, or with fellow addiction survivors, yoga can be a wonderful complement to your sobriety plan. You’ll reap physical and mental health benefits that will play an important role in your recovery, and you just may discover a new and meaningful passion.