Alcoholism usually stems from the desire to escape emotional pain or to temporarily fill a spiritual void within. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 21 million people in the U.S., or one in every 12 adults, has a substance abuse problem. This amounts to a virtual epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction. But why is substance abuse such a pervasive issue these days?
According to Sat Bir Khalsa, director of the Kundalini Research Institute and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, “When people take substances, they're seeking a certain experience, whether it's escapist or transcendental or just wanting a different psychological state, to get away from whatever is making them unhappyYoga is an alternative, a positive way to generate a change in consciousness that, instead of providing an escape, empowers people with the ability to access a peaceful, restorative inner state that integrates mind, body, and spirit."
Because of the powerful healing effects of yoga on the mind, body, and soul, it is now used by almost all drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in addition to traditional, 12-step recovery programs. But how exactly can yoga help in the recovery process? Below are four ways that yoga can help you to put down the bottle–-for good.
1. Yoga heals the body
In the haze of alcohol consumption, people often neglect their bodies by not eating properly or even sometimes forgetting to eat at all, not getting sufficient exercise, and harming vital organs such as the liver. Yoga is a great way to gently heal the body and relieve physical pain and discomfort.
People are often shocked at the power and speed of a regular yoga practice to heal the body completely. Having a healthy, fit body provides the groundwork for a balanced mind. The Big Book, written by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, says: "In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out [the] physical factor is incomplete."
In reality, we are holistic beings, with deep connections between our physical body, mind, emotions, and spirit. When we heal the body through yoga, we can begin to heal our hearts and minds and walk the path of recovery on stable footing.
2. Yoga teaches you how to deal with pain and discomfort
A person’s inability to deal with painful or uncomfortable emotions usually is the heart of addiction. People often resort to alcohol as a coping or escape mechanism. However, the practice of yoga teaches us how to be present with the pain: Yoga postures can sometimes be uncomfortable or even painful, especially at first.
Nevertheless, yoga teaches us how to be present with and breathe through the difficult or uncomfortable situations on the mat, eventually enabling us to handle better the difficult situations or painful emotions that arise in our daily lives, situations that might have otherwise caused us to relapse.
3. Yoga heals and balances the mind
Studies have shown that yoga relieves stress, reduces anxiety, and helps with depression, which is common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, as well as common causes of consumption in the first place.
Recent studies have shown that yoga increases the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a naturally occurring chemical that manages our anxiety and stress levels. High levels of GABA in the brain cause a person to experience lower levels of stress and anxiety, while low GABA levels are usually associated with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
In addition, the practice of mindfulness, which is cultivating one’s awareness through meditation, acts as an effective complement to yoga practice. Through mindfulness meditation, we become more aware of what we are thinking and how we are feeling, and thus we are in better control of those negative thoughts that stress us out, make us anxious, and leave us feeling sad and depressed, emotions which might otherwise have us reaching for the bottle once again.
4. Yoga creates connection
Beyond using drugs and alcohol to escape painful emotions, people also resort to substance abuse to fill in a feeling of spiritual emptiness inside. The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit word meaning “to yoke” or “to connect.” This not only means the connection between the body and mind that is created through postures and breathing techniques, but also the connection that is uncovered between the individual soul (“Atman” in Sanskrit) and the collective soul, universe, or God (“Brahman”) through yoga practice. Regardless of your own personal religious or spiritual beliefs, the point is clear: Yoga connects us with something beyond ourselves.
The 11th step of the 12 steps of AA explains the need for recovery to connect with and surrender to a higher power. This principle, called “Ishwara Pranidhana” (surrender to God) also exists in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the earliest written philosophical texts on yoga. Also, by attending group yoga classes, we can connect with a community of people (a “Sangha”) leading healthy lives: many yoga practitioners do not consume alcohol, and thus are natural allies in the battle for recovery.
The fact that there are 21 million people in the U.S. alone suffering from some form of addiction is a testimony to the fact that we, as a society, need to be looking beyond the surface of addiction to address its root causes.
Usually residing in emotional or psychological pain, the roots of addiction can be addressed by replacing alcohol consumption with a different system of behavior that is positive and healthy, such as yoga. Yoga can help us quit drinking for good by healing our bodies, minds, giving us the tools to deal with painful emotions and experiences in our daily lives, and by creating connections within, among, and beyond ourselves.
Wondering if yoga could help you give up alcohol for good? Do you have comments or concerns? Leave us a message below.