Learning to Fly – Finding Yoga in Addiction Recovery
Yoga has been a powerful tool for me in my journey of staying clean and sober. It is an integral part of my daily life, and it gives me a peace and a strength that supports me in my recovery. I was initially attracted to yoga for the physical exercise, and I’m happy to find it was so much more than I expected. Here are some of the reasons why I love yoga and how it has helped me in my recovery and emotional sobriety:
1.) Yoga is for everyone. There are many different levels and schools of yoga. Some are more physically challenging than others. Yoga can be modified for those with physical limitations. I can practice gentle yin yoga with my mom or meet up with a girlfriend for a more rigorous vinyasa class.
2.) Yoga is meant to prepare the body for meditation. Linking the breath with the movement brings my mind into the present and allows me to clear away thoughts of the past or worries of the future. It allows me to just be still, an ability unknown to me in active addiction and fundamental for my peace in recovery.
3.) Yoga is practiced in a community. I’ve found so much love and support through my sober friends. In the extensive yoga community, I have another opportunity to connect while giving and receiving support.
4.) My yoga practice is a barometer. It shows me where I am emotionally and how well I’m doing with self-care. Whatever is going on with me will be reflected on the mat. If I’m stressed or angry, I have an opportunity to look within and see if I need to take action or reach out for support.
5.) Yoga is transformative. Many addicts have old wounds which can be healed through yoga practice. I’ve learned to embrace and be gentle with myself, make friends with my pain and create room for joy and gratitude.
6.) Yoga teaches me patience. The nature of an addict is to want immediate gratification and relief from any discomfort. Coming into recovery I had zero tolerance for uncomfortable emotions. I needed to learn that feelings aren’t facts. Yoga teaches me to lean into the discomfort, breathe with it and as I do I find it moves. I have an experience of my own innate healing abilities.
7.) I’ve learned to become aware of and grateful for my body. I grew stronger and began to have an appreciation of all I am capable of. Yoga brought me back to the joy and play of childlike wonder.
8.) Yoga is a natural high. It triggers the relaxation response and relieves anxiety. As an addict I wanted to feel good all the time. In recovery I’ve found new, healthier ways of achieving that sense of calm.
9.) Yoga teaches me discipline. Addicts typically have trouble with discipline. In order to make the changes necessary for long-term recovery, I needed to strengthen my ability to consistently participate in a healthier lifestyle. Developing a regular practice has given me the positive discipline and it has expanded to all areas of my life. As the saying goes – the way we do one thing is the way we do everything.
10.) Yoga helps me connect. One of the primary characteristics of addiction is disconnection. My practice allows me to heal and rebuild connection – with myself, with others and with my spirituality. Addiction feeds on disconnection. Recovery builds with connection.
I have had several experiences where yoga had a profound impact on shifting my state of mind. One last year especially stands out to me. I was going to a class and had just received a text from a friend that I found very upsetting. I was confused and scared. For the first 5 or so minutes of class, I debated getting up and leaving so I could talk to my friend about the situation. I finally decided to surrender and stay in the class and let the matter go while I focused on my practice. By the end of class, I realized I had been upset over nothing. I was so happy and grateful that I had stayed for the class. Connecting the movement with my breath had brought my focus into the present, shifted my perception, and allowed me to see something I was unable to previously see. So most of all, yoga helps me to laugh at myself. And when I can laugh at myself, I know I’m definitely on the right track.
Written By: Stephanie Ramos