How Yoga and Meditation Help People Suffering from Addiction

The benefits of practicing hatha yoga and meditation are many! It would take me quite a long time to discuss them all! I also believe it is safe to say that these positive benefits can be felt by anyone who applies them to their lives. If you have not already, try for yourself! Yes…anyone and everyone will benefit from making these practices part of a well rounded healthy lifestyle! Some of you may already be finding that to be true and if so, good for you!

While teaching yoga and meditation at a drug and alcohol recovery facility for the past four years, I have seen first hand the profound role these practices can play in general and in recovery specifically. I run mandatory groups throughout the week in both the residential and outpatient facilities of a recovery center. Many of the people in my class would not voluntarily choose to go to a yoga or meditation class, possibly ever in their lives. It has been incredibly moving to bear witness to the transformative effect both hatha yoga and meditation have played in the lives of countless numbers of people willing to try something new, as they make an  effort to turn their lives around in inspiring ways.

Yoga and meditation have been proven to reduce chronic pain, stress, insomnia and anxiety, all of which are issues that can contribute to heightened drug and alcohol cravings and opportunities for relapse. In my on-going role as a private contractor providing services at a drug and alcohol recovery facility, I must say the most prominent issue I see facing the majority of my clients is anxiety. Drug and alcohol abuse, for many, is simply an attempt to escape these overwhelming unwanted feelings. We can all relate to feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, and for some it can become debilitating for many reasons.

It is so fulfilling to be able to give people a truly affective, healthy tool to help deal with and manage stress and anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by a client, upon leaving the program, how grateful they were for my groups and that they saw them as the most meaningful aspect of their time there. So many were determined to add the practice I had shared with them to their daily lives. In my follow up groups in IOP (Intensive Outpatient), I found many had indeed done just that and were experiencing the benefits of incorporating hatha yoga and meditation into their recovery process and healthier lifestyle choices!

The warmth that fills my heart as I witness individuals over time become bright eyed with improved mental/emotional stability and clarity is something that can’t be expressed in words. It is deeply moving to see the natural expressions of peace and happiness emerge on their faces.

What is it about the ancient practice of hatha yoga and meditation that can have such a profound result? Well…we can look at this from two angles, modern science and the ancient science of the vedic literature. Each provides us with answers to this question.

First let’s look at what modern science has proven in regards to the link between the practice of yoga and meditation and reduced anxiety and tension, as well as mood stability.

Both hatha yoga and meditation practices have been proven to increase the GABA produced in the body considerably. The primary function of GABA is to reduce excessive brain activity, stabilize moods and regulate muscle tone. It also boosts endorphin production. Anxiety, tension, insomnia and epilepsy are believed to be due to an inability to produce or absorb adequate levels of GABA.

For this reason, a regular practice of yoga and meditation is an excellent way to maintain a healthy GABA level in the body. When the levels are healthy, they promote the alpha brainwave activity which is associated with relaxation and mental alertness. Increasing the GABA in this way reduces symptoms most often linked to drug and alcohol abuse and relapse.

How awesome is that! We have much more control over our mental/emotional state of being than we often realize. Modern science proves that a regular practice of hatha yoga and meditation can be life transforming!

We can also look to the Vedas for answers to how this profound effect is possible. In the ancient Vedic literature, it clearly explains the true meaning of yoga and purpose of meditation. This wisdom is of great value. This knowledge helps us to truly understand the role these practices can play in our lives, and most importantly provides us with an understanding of our true identity. It explains that we are spirit in essence. We are the life particle that animates the body, not the body itself. The body is our vehicle temporarily, but we are eternal. We do not die when the body ceases to exist.

By adding yoga and meditation to our lives, we can begin to experience this reality and truly rest. As we come to understand our true spiritual nature, it becomes apparent that we can’t be separated from our eternal loving relationship with God. This realization naturally decreases anxiety. The anxiety that once plagued us can easily be replaced with a deep sense of inner peace and happiness.

In my work in recovery I have found that teaching both hatha yoga/breath work and meditation are a key combination in allowing our clients to experience the physiological as well as spiritual benefits that make lasting transformation possible. Once you have a taste of the peacefulness and happiness readily available, you want to have it again and again. There is nothing like it in this world!

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