Yoga is a practice that has been around for thousands of years and promotes many health and wellness benefits such as deep relaxation, aerobic exercise, improved flexibility, physical restoration, and enhanced mindfulness. Yoga can also be very useful in early recovery by increasing your physical wellness, improving your mood, and helping you respond to cravings.
Getting your physical health back is often one of the biggest gifts of early sobriety, and yoga enhances your health in many important ways. Yoga has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, increase heart/lung capacity, strengthen and build muscles, and improve flexibility, all of which can help you start feeling better after the pain of addiction. Active addiction also diminishes your sense of control over your body and health, and yoga can help restore feelings of empowerment and build confidence as you take charge of your wellness and invest energy in helping your body heal.
Yoga produces endorphins and other important neurotransmitters in your brain that create feelings of contentment and happiness. Yoga also strengthens an important physical pathway in the body known as the parasympathetic nervous system. Most people have heard of the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” response that is triggered in times of heightened stress, but many people are unaware that their bodies also have a built-in system to help them relax and recover after the stress is gone. Addiction causes damage to this part of the nervous system by creating prolonged and intense states of stress which drain the body’s natural calming abilities and prevent the parasympathetic nervous system from functioning properly.
Yoga helps to restore this important system by intentionally engaging it through deep breathing and meditative movements. Building up your body’s natural calming system helps you feel happier and more at ease and also gives you tools to cope with stress without using drugs or alcohol.
Yoga & Cravings
One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it produces a stronger awareness of the mind/body connection, which is helpful in overcoming cravings. A craving is simply a sensation in your body that creates an intense desire to use, and yoga helps you gain control over how your mind responds to these triggers.
Over time, addiction creates a set of impulses that your mind starts to subconsciously follow, which is why addicts find themselves drinking or using even when they don’t want to. Yoga gives you the tools to notice these impulses without acting on them, which puts you back in control of your decisions. For example, while holding a challenging yoga pose, your muscles might start to burn or ache as they stretch, which can trigger emotions like stress or frustration or thoughts of wanting to quit. Through yoga practice, you learn how to calm and overcome your immediate reactions to these negative thoughts and feelings, which increases your stress tolerance and empowers you to make decisions based on your needs and goals instead of your impulses.
Other yoga poses will feel good physically, and you will start to notice the pleasant thoughts your mind creates when your body is at ease. Yoga teaches you to calm your mind and body through deep breathing and relaxing postures, which can help you feel comfortable and relaxed while waiting for a craving or trigger to pass. Long-term yoga practice also has the benefit of increasing your overall feelings and relaxation and peacefulness, which can help you towards the goal of achieving lasting sobriety.
In many ways, practices like yoga serve as a perfect compliment to early recovery by helping you feel better in your mind, body, and spirit as you get back to life and learn how cope without substances.