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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tip of the Week: Yoga for Substance Abuse

By Sangeetha Saran
Although scientific research has been limited, there is strong anecdotal evidence to support the practice of Yoga in the treatment and management of addictions. In one randomized study done at a methadone clinic in Boston, studies found that Yoga was as least as effective as traditional group therapy.

Although more evidence is needed for substance abuse, there is comprehensive data to support its effects on stress-related illnesses. The link between stress and addictions is well known, and scientists have documented the effect of Yoga on good mental health. Others have observed similarities between Yogic philosophy and 12-step programs, and there is little doubt that Yoga complements traditional treatments for many conditions.

Potential Benefits of Yogic Methods for Treatment of Substance Abuse

• Reduces stress
• Increases self-esteem
• Improves physical health
• Provides social support
• Enhances mental health
• Complements other recovery programs
• Encourages spiritual growth and beauty

Yoga teaches practitioners to live in the present moment: to examine the inner self, to be aware of the breath, and to notice physical sensations. This alone is helpful for battling compulsions and panic attacks. Addicts, like others, hold emotions in their mental and physical bodies. Yoga clears blockages in the energy system, promoting recovery from past trauma.

Yogic Techniques for Substance Abuse

• Asana
The physical practice of postures, such as Forward Bends and Warrior Poses, keeps practitioners in the moment, reducing compulsions and negative thinking. Exercise also contributes to better self-control and a sense of overall wellbeing.

• Pranayama
When people are tense and worried, their breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Controlled breathing brings the senses to the present moment, reduces anxiety, and stimulates the circulatory system with an oxygen-rich flow of blood and lymph.
When working with students who have a history of substance abuse, it has been my experience that they never realized the feeling of euphoria that pranayama can bring. In Yoga classes, students should be made aware of how prana is similar to candy, but they do not have to be concerned with gaining weight or tooth decay. Pranayama does not cost a dime, makes you feel fantastic, and it is calorie free.

• Meditation
Meditation has always been a part of spiritual and healing practices, and some of the world’s most prestigious universities have endorsed its benefits. Whether labeled as prayer, mindfulness, or one of its many other names, meditation is an ancient art recognized by both the traditional and the holistic care system.

The eight limbs of Yoga, like most timeless teachings, promote a healthy lifestyle that unifies the mind, the body, and the spirit. Unless otherwise indicated, Yoga is recommended as a complement to treatment for substance abuse, not as a replacement for more traditional programs.

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