Benefits of yoga in addiction recovery

When something significant happens to us, something that changes our lives, we tend to remember every detail about it: what date it was, where we were, how we were dressed… Even the smallest details stay perfectly vivid in our minds, years and years after this event happened.

One of those moments for me was the first time I drank alcohol. It’s been almost three decades since then, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday. It was at a family gathering when I was 9 years old. I was curious about alcohol, and, since my parents wouldn’t let me try it, I decided to steal a bottle from the kitchen. I only drank a few sips, but it was enough to make me drunk. And I loved the feeling.

I’m pretty sure I will remember this forever, because not long after that my life took a 180 degree turn. I was only a child, yet started craving alcohol more and more. By the time I was a teenager I was abusing alcohol. I don’t know when the abuse became an addiction, but it did sooner than later.

After being sent to prison for DUI while drunk driving, I decided I had to get sober. When they let me out of prison I enrolled in a rehabilitation program where a team of wonderful professionals helped me get my life back on track through diverse methods.

One of these methods was yoga. I adopted the habit of practicing yoga everyday while in rehab, and I still do it, 9 years after getting clean. Yoga has helped me not only through recovery but through my entire life since then. Today, I would like to share with you 4 ways in which yoga improved my life, and why I think every recovering alcoholic should practice it.

1. Yoga Helps Your Body Heal

Throughout the entire time I was an alcoholic I completely neglected my physical health. I didn’t eat a remotely balanced diet, sometimes I ate too much and other times I didn’t eat for days, I didn’t exercise at all…  All of these things added up, and when I started my rehabilitation program, my body was weak from the damage I had caused it.

Things started to change, however, when I started practicing yoga, meditating, and eating healthy. Yoga helped alleviate my lower back pain by relaxing my muscles, and it improved my muscle strength and flexibility. Through yoga I learned how to sit and stand properly, and avoid putting too much weight on my shoulders, which was causing me neck pain. And, since yoga -or exercise in general- helps your cardiovascular system, this ultimately translates into better overall health.

Yoga, however, does not change your body’s biochemical processes. You may have heard or read online that there are certain poses that can cleanse your liver or your spinal fluids, but there is no peer reviewed research that can support these statements. Still, it is a great way to start healing your body in many other ways, such as the ones I mentioned above.

2. It Improves Your Mental Health

Needless to say, as an addict, I didn’t take care of my mental health either. Whenever I felt anything strong -whether it was sadness, stress, or happiness- I just tried to numb it with alcohol. I never confronted my feelings. Alcohol was the “solution” to all my problems, and when I stopped being able to use it, I got all these feelings which I didn’t know how to deal with.

Quitting yoga

During rehab, I was able to understand my addiction. I learned that I had been suffering from anxiety and depression ever since I was a teenager. I got treated for these illnesses, and yoga was a determining factor in learning how to manage the symptoms that came with them.

According to recent studies, yoga increases the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a natural chemical that helps lower your anxiety and stress levels. This proves that practicing yoga is an effective way to combat anxiety and depression, and I can testify for it. Ever since I started practicing yoga and meditation I started feeling more relaxed, I started sleeping better, and I was able to handle situations that would usually stress me out in a more calm manner.

3. It Teaches You Discipline

In my entire life I had never committed to something or someone other than a bottle of liquor, so I didn’t know what it was like to work towards a goal, and how hard it could be. In rehab I made a commitment to myself and my health, and, since I didn’t have any self discipline, it was extremely hard at the beginning.

Taking a few minutes everyday to practice yoga, no matter how tired you are or how much you would rather do something else; staying in a difficult pose a little longer, doing a pose that might hurt a little but that you know is good for you, these things teach you discipline, and this discipline is later translated into being able to stay sober, no matter how hard it gets.

4. It Gives You a Connection

Yoga literally means “union”: the union of the mind, body and spirit. During my addiction I lost all connection with my body; as I mentioned before, I didn’t treat it right, I didn’t give it the care it deserved. Yoga helped me achieve this connection between my mind, body and spirit, and it was as simple as drawing attention to a specific part of my body while doing a pose, or visualizing what I wanted my future to look like. This helped me understand and discover things about my body and myself that were previously unknown to me.

Here’s another life-changing moment I will always remember: the day I finished my rehabilitation treatment. My parents picked me up from the center, and I remember being so nervous, I felt like I wasn’t ready to face the world on my own yet. I don’t think I would have ever felt ready, I just had to take the leap and see what would happen. At the beginning, I felt like bambi learning how to walk. But little by little I gained more confidence in myself.

It’s been 9 years since the day I got out of rehab, and I am certain that if it wasn’t for yoga my recovery process would have been a lot harder. Yoga helped me heal my body and my mind, it taught me the discipline I needed in order to get sober, and it helped me reconnect with myself. I still do yoga everyday, even if it’s just for 10 or 20 minutes, and I feel healthy and happy.

I strongly recommend you to give it a chance, then come back and tell us about it in the comment section below.