In recent years, Silver Ridge has incorporated trauma-sensitive yoga sessions into comprehensive drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs. When used in conjunction with traditional treatments and therapies, yoga can help relieve symptoms of stress and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
What Is Trauma-Sensitive Yoga?
Originally developed in 2003 at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, trauma-sensitive yoga was used as an alternative treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of psychological trauma. The program was developed as a way to provide trauma patients with natural alternatives for coping with symptoms aside from just therapy sessions.
Since the discipline began, the use of trauma-sensitive yoga sessions has been expanded to treat people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Research is also currently being conducted to gauge whether practicing trauma-sensitive yoga can help prevent women and adolescents from becoming addicted to opioid drugs later in life.
Chronic pain, whether physical or emotional, is often at the heart of opioid abuse. Some people choose to self-medicate with prescription opiate painkiller medications. Others may choose to use illicit street drugs, such as heroin, as it’s often more readily available and more affordable in many locations.
How Does Yoga Work?
Yoga uses a combination of carefully controlled poses and postures with specific breathing techniques. On the surface, it can appear as though the slow, gentle movements don’t achieve a great deal. However, the act of working through each pose while focusing on controlled breathing has a number of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.
Direct Attention Inward
One of the primary objectives of yoga is to direct the person’s attention inward to contemplate inner health at the same time as acknowledging the spiritual aspects of a person’s nature. Even while the mind is focused solely in the present moment, the body is being led through a series of poses designed to improve self-control and discipline.
At its core, yoga comprises a range of different elements that encompass various principles and practices for living a meaningful and self-disciplined life. Not only do people who practice yoga have the opportunity to relax and unwind mentally in a calming environment, but there is also the advantage of building physical strength and flexibility using gentle exercises.
Concentration & Determination
For many people, moving through the poses and postures in a yoga class takes concentration and determination. What those people may not realize is that the yoga instructor is also leading them through a carefully guided mindfulness meditation session, and at the same time, directing breathing to elongate breath.
Detach from Negativity
The simple combination of movements, breathing, and guided meditation begins to make it easier for recovering people to view negative emotions and feelings associated with addictive substance use in a detached way. When urges and cravings are viewed from an emotional distance, it’s much easier to control them and work through them without giving in to the temptation to return to former self-destructive habits.
Throughout the session, each person is encouraged to focus on being in the present moment, which reduces the need to stress about problems in the past or fears about the future. The result is often a greatly reduced risk of relapsing back into dysfunctional patterns of behavior and reduced symptoms associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
Trauma-Sensitive Yoga for Addiction Recovery
Research indicates that yoga could play a positive role in helping to manage the effects of psychological distress. The same studies also show that there could be a link between practicing yoga regularly and a reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Cortisol is a natural hormone produced by the body in response to stress triggers. However, when excess cortisol builds up in the system, it can cause a range of physical and mental health symptoms that can increase the risk of relapse in recovering people.
Some common symptoms of excess cortisol include:
- Cognitive problems
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Mood swings and loss of emotional control
Learning to practice yoga on a regular basis offers people in recovery from substance abuse disorders a natural way to manage stress and mental health symptoms without the need for drugs or alcohol.
Deep Breathing & Meditation
In addition, the deep breathing and meditation techniques used in trauma-sensitive yoga help each person process their own individual experiences. For many people, talking through disturbing or distressing experiences in a counseling session may cause further emotional trauma.
However, having the ability to process those experiences by looking inward during a guided meditation makes it easier to work through some of those emotional scars in a positive way.
Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Class
Trauma-sensitive yoga is different from other forms of yoga. The emphasis on this particular type of yoga is focused on ensuring participants feel safe in a non-judgmental environment.
A good trauma-sensitive yoga instructor will explain and demonstrate each pose, explaining clearly that no one is expected to become a contortionist or twist themselves into impossible poses. Instead, options and choices for how to execute poses comfortably and within each person’s own physical limitations are always offered.
Work at Your Own Pace
Essentially, each participant is encouraged to work through poses at their own pace and physical level as they feel comfortable. In many cases, instructors will move through poses along with class participants, so no one should feel as though they’re being commanded or ordered to do anything they don’t wish to do.
Another aspect of each trauma-sensitive yoga class is learning to find emotionally comfortable ways to meditate. Not every person feels confident meditating with their eyes closed.
The objective of trauma-sensitive yoga classes is to encourage participants to find positive ways to change the way they react to triggers. At the same time, learning to focus on the present moment also helps build some emotional stability that results in reducing many physical symptoms people may experience during recovery.
Aside from the notable benefits of reducing anxiety and depression and helping to relieve stress, there are a number of physical and mental health benefits to practicing yoga regularly. The benefits of yoga also include:
- Improved circulation: The poses used in yoga are designed to carry oxygenated blood to internal organs, muscles, and limbs, which boosts circulation.
- Boosted immune system: Stretching and contracting muscles helps to drain the lymphatic system, removing toxic waste products and improving the immune system
- Reduced muscle aches and pains: Many people recovering from long-term substance abuse may experience muscle aches and pains. Yoga actively helps to relieve muscle aches.
- Relief from stress: Yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol levels. Lowering cortisol levels in the body can reduce stress and regulate mood swings. It can also help relieve symptoms of depression and reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
- Increased muscle strength: The poses used in yoga use the body’s own resistance to build muscle tone and strength.
- Improved bone health: Drugs and alcohol can leech essential nutrients from the body, leaving many recovering people suffering from nutrient deficiencies. Calcium deficiencies are common in many people in recovery, which can lead to bone weakness and brittleness. Yoga’s weight-bearing exercises help strengthen bone density.
- Naturally released dopamine: Some people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to experience the artificially triggered release of dopamine into their systems. Yet yoga provides a natural trigger for the brain to release dopamine, so participants feel good after a class.
- Naturally released endorphins: The gentle movements in yoga may not seem like vigorous exercise, but they work to release feel-good endorphins into the system, leaving participants feeling happier.
- Increased relaxation: Deep breathing techniques and meditation promote relaxation and calmness.
- Improved self-control: Following along with guided yoga classes improves self-control and self-discipline, which is a valuable tool for learning to control impulses and cravings during recovery.
- Boosted self-esteem: Many people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction struggle with feelings of low self-esteem or poor self-image. Practicing yoga improves muscle tone and fitness, promotes weight loss, and increases self-awareness, all of which boost self-esteem levels.
- Improved sleep: It’s common for many people in recovery from addiction to experience symptoms of insomnia or other sleep disturbances. Yoga exercises help to improve sleep quality.
- Relief from digestive problems: During early recovery, lots of people struggle with digestive problems, including constipation. Moving the body during a yoga class helps to ease the symptoms of constipation
Misconceptions about Yoga
There are so many misconceptions about yoga that it’s easy to see why a lot of people dismiss it as a valid form of alternative therapy for treating addiction. Yet many people assume that yoga is more about physical fitness than anything else. In reality, yoga is more like a moving meditation class that offers plenty of physical health advantages and even more mental health benefits.
Yoga Isn’t Just for Hippies
It’s also common for some people to immediately dismiss yoga as being only for hippies or health-nuts or super-flexible young people. What some people don’t realize is that yoga is ideal for absolutely anyone of any age.
The real beauty of practicing yoga is that every person is able to move through the poses and movements at their own pace and physical capability. If you’re not comfortable standing on your head, don’t do it. There are always alternative poses available that work for your own limitations and preferences.
Yoga is for Men, Too
There are also some males who automatically assume that yoga is for women. While most women embrace the concept of yoga more readily, men can benefit enormously by learning to work through the poses and meditations of a good yoga class.
Yoga Isn’t a Religion
Another common misconception about yoga is that the spirituality side of practicing might somehow conflict with individual religious beliefs. In reality, yoga is not a practice of any specific religion, despite maintaining a slight focus on personal spirituality. It’s more about learning to cast the mind inward and focus on inner awareness.
No Studio Necessary
Perhaps the biggest misconception about practicing yoga is that it can only be done in a studio or class that costs money. Of course, there are plenty of excellent yoga studios in almost every city and town in America, but it’s not necessary to be in a class environment to practice. There are plenty of DVDs and online options available, so experiment with what works for you.
Integrating Yoga into Life after Treatment
Spending time in trauma-sensitive yoga classes during rehab treatments can introduce lots of people to the benefits of a gentle form of exercise. However, once some people leave rehab they tend to forget about some of the alternative therapies learned during treatment.
When it comes down to it, regularly practicing yoga can help manage cravings naturally. It helps relieve stress. It can reduce anxiety and depression and be helpful for managing anger or feelings of frustration.
At the same time, yoga leaves you feeling good after each class. It also helps build muscle tone and strength, so you look good and feel great, which boosts self-esteem and confidence.
You Don’t Have to Stop When you Leave Treatment
Just because addiction rehab treatments have ended doesn’t mean participation should also stop. Rather, finding proactive ways to keep participating in yoga classes and any other therapies you found beneficial during treatment can help prevent relapse.
Go ahead and stretch out on the floor in the living room. Move through some poses on the grass at the park or on the sand at the beach.
If you don’t feel comfortable trying to remember all the movements learned in a guided class, think about buying a DVD or streaming online yoga classes, or find classes on YouTube and work along with those. There are always options available for practicing in whatever time or space or budget works for each person’s needs.