The Role Yoga Played in My Recovery from Heroin Addiction
By: Cassidy Webb
When I first got sober, I knew nothing about living a healthy lifestyle. In fact, when I got sober, I replaced my addiction to heroin with an addiction to food. To top it all off, I experienced crippling anxiety on a day to day basis. Six months into my sobriety, I found myself being miserable. I hated looking at myself in the mirror and I felt trapped in my own mind. I didn’t know how to cope with my anxiety and I wasn’t treating my body right.
I had friends who did yoga, but I never really thought it was for me. Honestly, the thought of holding my body in those complicated poses while wearing skin-tight clothing terrified me. However, I was desperate enough to try something to alleviate my anxiety that I set my fear aside and joined my friends.
During my first yoga session, I realized that when my entire focus was placed on the sensations in my body and the movements of my muscles, I wasn’t thinking about what others were thinking of me. Actually, I wasn’t thinking of much else at all. My anxiety was gone. I wasn’t obsessing over the past or trying to control the future, I was finally present in the moment. My first session was difficult, after all, I was extremely out of shape, but I felt relaxed and at ease. That was something I had been searching for since I first got sober.
Yoga Heals the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Addiction is a disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, to treat addiction effectively, one must treat all three of these aspects.
The literal meaning of the word “yoga” is “union” or “unite” and it refers to uniting the mind, body, and spirit through breathing, physical postures, and meditation. When practiced regularly, yoga is proven to be an effective way to cope with stress, alleviate anxiety, and improve overall wellbeing. As a result, it has become an increasingly popular holistic treatment for addiction.
Yoga and the Mind
When drugs are abused habitually, it can alter the pathways in the brain that regulate pleasure, emotions, impulses, and decision-making. These pathways usually repair themselves, but yoga can help support healing. Yoga can help by balancing stress hormones, regulating anxiety, and reducing depression. This is particularly helpful in recovery because nearly half of the people who suffer from addiction have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
I had suffered from depression and anxiety before I started using drugs. Although opiates allowed me to numb my feelings in the beginning, they eventually made things worse. When I got sober, I didn’t have the coping skills necessary to deal with my depression or my day to day stressors. However, after spending only one month of doing yoga three times a week, I noticed a great decline in my symptoms and an improvement in my mood.
Yoga and the Body
In addition to balancing stress levels and emotions, yoga can also enhance physical healing after addiction. Yoga allows people to become more attuned to their bodies by teaching individuals how to regulate their breathing and listen to the demands of their bodies. At the same time, it can increase energy levels, encourage healthier eating habits, and promote better sleep.
When I first got sober, I replaced drugs and alcohol with sugar – lots of sugar. I put on weight quickly and was living an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. I also struggled to fall asleep sober. After all, I became accustomed to practically drugging myself to sleep every night. Yoga did just what it is proven to do – it gave me more energy throughout the day and the people around me during the sessions started encouraged me to eat healthier. I started to meal prep every Sunday, using only lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain carbohydrates. The weight began to shed off, I stopped craving sugar, and I started to sleep through the night.
Yoga and the Spirit
Yoga can help enhance spiritual connections through the use of mindful meditation and breathing techniques. Using these practices, yoga enables individuals in recovery to quiet down external influences, promote self-awareness, and facilitate life improvements.
In recovery, you hear a lot about spirituality. Whether it is prayer, meditation, self-awareness, or energies, spirituality often plays an important role in recovery. I had never been a spiritual person in the past and I had difficulty grasping this idea. I didn’t know how to meditate, I wasn’t really into prayer, and my self-awareness was low. Fortunately, yoga taught me to form my own conception of my spirituality. It taught me how to meditate and find peace, while also gaining awareness of my body and mind. I stopped judging my thoughts and, instead, let them come and go.
Although yoga alone isn’t enough to keep me sober, it certainly plays a huge role in my recovery. Not only has it made me healthier, but it has cleared my mind and constantly encourages me to work harder, be more resilient, and be a better person overall. When yoga is used simultaneously with therapy, support groups, and fellowship, it can be a key aspect of promoting long term sobriety. I encourage anyone in recovery who is struggling to give yoga a shot – you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!
About the Author:
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who works with Clarksville Rehab to spread awareness around the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, yoga, and hiking with her dog, Bella.