Last year a student approached me after class and told me that he had been sober for three years and that his vehicle for recovery was my weekly class. He said he no longer had any desire for alcohol or pot and that his life had completely transformed. Now, I’m not the kind of yoga teacher who makes exaggerated claims or tells people to ignore advice from licensed health professionals – in fact, I’m very much a collaborator. I believe that yoga should be a key modality in integrative strategies across the continuum of care.
I had no idea this student had been using yoga to facilitate his recovery, and, had he asked me when he first showed up for class if I thought yoga would help him get sober, I would have said “yes – as long as you also attend a formal treatment program.” I had no idea what he was doing until he told me – I had just witnessed him seeming a little brighter each week.
Although this student’s recovery with yoga was dramatic, lots of other people tell me about how they have used yoga as part of their recovery process. And yoga has become a common offering in treatment centers. Personally I used yoga to recovery from an eating disorder when I was in my early twenties. Therapy helped – and yoga was also a huge piece of my personal recovery puzzle. But while there’s mountains of anecdotal evidence, there is not as much rigorous research around yoga for addiction recovery as there is for mental health issues like anxiety, depression and trauma – although, of course these are often related.
The Center for Addictive Behavior at UCLA is launching new research on the benefits of yoga for recovery. While yoga teachers can wax poetic about how yoga helped them or their students overcome their addictions, the reality is that for yoga even to be considered as of treatment protocols by organizations like SAMHSA, we need better evidence. And while yoga has been offered in treatment settings for a long time, it’s often relegated to the ancillary fitness category – along with Zumba and Pilates – and not considered essential or integral to the recovery process.
“The truth is that most treatment centers and recovery homes will incorporate mindfulness practices only as an adjunct or supplement to treatment. A newcomer will be mandated to attend two 12-Step meetings a day and encouraged to practice yoga and meditation if time permits. This logic seems a bit skewed in my humble opinion. If our goal is to restructure the neurologic landscape as rapidly as possible and create new neural pathways, which is essentially how the brain recovers, then it seems obvious to utilize tools that assist in that process.” – Anjali Talcherkar
I’m inspired to see yoga moving toward evidence based status in the recovery world. And I also think that yoga needs to be used for its spiritual and personally transformative benefits as much as for its physical benefits. A 2011 study from the journal, Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, showed that people who practiced the ethics and meditation aspects of yoga, in addition to the physical postures, had lower cortisol levels and reported less anxiety than those who only did asanas – this is hopeful because stress is a major trigger for addicts.
We are launching our first recovery retreat this fall. It’s for people who have moved on from their addictive behavior (disordered eating, gambling, internet overuse, etc.) or substance but are looking for ways to deepen their process and move toward thriving.
I’m very excited to be teaming up with some great local yoga and recovery experts including Greta Lutman, Kelly Moser-Wedell, LaBet Pritchard and Brett Sculthorp to offer an amazing experience. Everyone who is committed to the process of waking up and recovering is welcome. Click here for more info.