The Healing Power of Yoga Therapy During Addiction and Mental Health Recovery
What is yoga? Many people believe that yoga is simply the poses people do in a yoga class, however, that is not what yoga is. Yoga is a philosophy and set of practices that you can choose to incorporate into your daily life that will lead you to peace, happiness, health, and overall well-being. The practice of yoga therapy is an ancient tradition that has been passed down for thousands of years. It consists of an 8-limbed path designed to lead the practitioner to a state of self-realization or union of mind, body, and spirit. Slowly but surely as you practice, you begin to open yourself to a higher vibration, an expansion of consciousness, a belief, and inner knowing that you are much greater than you ever imagined yourself to be.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
At Villa Kali Ma, you will be introduced to many yoga therapy practices that are referred to as “yoga” however, Hatha Yoga is the traditional from which all others stemmed. Hatha Yoga is a very commonly practiced style of yoga therapy that includes breathing and movement practices of Ashtanga (the eight limbs of yoga), which teaches how to relate better to yourself, to others, and to the world. Hatha is about coming into balance in all areas of your life, mind, body, and soul.
The result is mental clarity, inner peace, and a deep contentment like you have never felt before. Your heart will open, and self-love will come in. Fear and self-doubt will leave you and the purpose of your life will become clear. You will begin to know yourself as a spiritual being living in a temporary human body. Once you get in touch with this belief about yourself, you will no longer feel the need to self-medicate and all your wounds will begin to heal.
The first two limbs of the eight-limbed path are the Yamas and the Niyamas. The Yamas are five restraints you can practice relating with others in a way that brings peace and contentment to your mind and heart. The Niyamas are five ways you can relate with yourself to bring health and well-being to your mind and body. Becoming aware of these practices and beginning to incorporate them into the way you live your life will immediately lift your self-esteem and instill a sense of integrity in your being. These first two limbs will ignite the flame of self-love in your heart and you will begin to heal from all mental and physical suffering.
The third and fourth limb of the eight-limbed path are Asana and Pranayama. The purpose of Asana is to help you get comfortable in your body and with practice, will enable you to be able to sit in stillness for meditation. These poses include the six movements of the spine and stretching in ways that open the energy channels of the body and allow for greater comfort and ease during periods in a seated meditation posture. Pranayama is a breath control practice that is synchronized with the movement practices, creating a flow of movement with breath. Pranayama can also be practiced separately of the asana movements and is a powerful tool for calming the nervous system and alleviating stress, anxiety, and racing thoughts.
The next two limbs are Pratyahara, which means withdrawal of the senses and Dharana, which is one-pointed concentration. Pratyahara is achieved simply by closing the eyes, which closes off the sense of sight, then directing your attention to the inner body to begin sensing what is going on in there. So Pratyahara is simply practicing turning your senses inward. Dharana is a practice of directing your attention to one thing and keeping your focus there for the duration of your practice. With practice, you will learn how to calm the body and the mind and bring them into a state of complete relaxation. This is a powerful tool for recovery, giving you the ability to control the tendency of the mind to act on every craving and compulsion.
The last two limbs are Dhyana and Samadhi. These two limbs are not actually a practice, they are a gift bestowed onto the practitioner due to their efforts with the other six limbs. Dhyana, which refers to the state of meditation, is impossible to achieve without a calm mind and body. If you just sit down and set a timer to meditate for 10 minutes, most likely you will experience 10 minutes of random thoughts. True meditation is something that you will experience when you are practicing Dharana. You will suddenly realize that you have achieved an altered state of consciousness that you have never experienced before. This is the gift of true meditation. Then with enough practice you may be given the gift of Samadhi, which is the experience of merging into spirit so completely that you no longer identify yourself as the body and ego.
At Villa Kali Ma, you will be immersed into these yoga therapy practices, and you will have an experience of your conscious awareness shifting from being driven by your ego (false sense of self) to being guided by your newfound connection to your own higher self and soul. You will experience states of complete peace, calm, love, joy, and even bliss. Your troubles will no longer seem insurmountable as you begin to realize your own inner strength and step into your power to overcome all obstacles in your path.
Kundalini Yoga is an incredibly powerful practice that encompasses elements from nearly all lineages of yoga, yet what makes Kundalini truly unique is its emphasis on Kriyas. Kriyas are repetitive movements incorporated with specific chanting and/or breathing techniques that create mental and physical resistance and allow observation of mechanisms of the mind. For this reason, it is often referred to as the “yoga of awareness”. The benefits of this yoga therapy practice are exponential, both on and off the mat. The more awareness one has of their operating system (aka the mind) the easier it becomes to recognize how we respond to life.
By voluntarily inducing resistance and encouraging observation of the experience, the goal is to deepen the understanding of one’s inner world and learn to pause and notice any discomfort and breathe. The power of choice lies within this pause, so learning to harness that power takes discipline and commitment but will fundamentally change your life. Experiencing that you have the power to choose in any given moment how you respond to life is a necessary tool for overcoming any kind of addiction or challenge. Embodying this through continued practice, trains us to become active participants in our own lives, which leads to a cascade of better choices and a more empowered and mindful way of living.
At Villa Kali Ma, we focus on the “beyond addiction” method, which is a Kundalini-based recovery program created in collaboration with Canadian Psychologist and Addiction Specialist Gabor Mate, with the aim of providing an alternative approach to the treatment of addiction, through a process of tools, practices, and self-study. The program is a wonderful compliment to the many healing modalities offered at Villa Kali Ma, which includes (but is not limited to):
- Yoga therapy
In a Yin Yoga practice, poses are held for long periods of time in order to allow a deep stretch of the connective tissue and open the body’s energy channels and allow the energy to flow freely without being blocked. Yin works with the same philosophy as Chinese medicine and acupuncture which teaches that the body has a system of meridians that connect our different body parts and body systems and that these energy channels need to be kept open so that the flow of chi in the body can maintain health and vitality.
The practice of Yin also has a second and more important benefit in that it trains the mind to withstand discomfort and resist instant gratification. By focusing on the breath and watching the mind “talk” but not reacting to what it’s saying during the holding of the poses, we come to realize that we have power over our mind and that we don’t have to listen to and react to everything it’s telling us. As we continue practicing this type of yoga therapy, we build our “will power” because our will is in control, not our mind.
We begin to see that we are not the mind, but we are aware of the mind. This is a very important and powerful realization! This helps us take back control over our actions. As we begin to watch the mind talk and complain and judge, we realize we still have the final say, we do not have to let the mind have its way. The long holding of these poses becomes very uncomfortable and the mind starts to complain and come up with all kinds of reasons why we need to adjust ourselves so that we can be comfortable again.
The practice of Yin teaches us to resist this urge and stay in the pose for the duration of the indicated time, usually about 5-10 minutes. Some practitioners call this a form of “psychic surgery” because it cuts right to the root of our problems. Most of our problems begin in the mind. Most of our problems are considered problems because the mind judged it to be a problem, and the mind can have a problem with almost anything! With continued practice, Yin Yoga teaches us courage, acceptance, patience, and builds our self-confidence and self-esteem. Cultivating these qualities can help us to maintain long-term sobriety and create sustainable recovery.
Restorative Yoga is an amazing way to let go and totally relax. This practice entails long relaxing passive postures to tap into a deep state of restoration. All postures are done on the floor with props such as bolsters, blocks, and blankets with an emphasis on comfort and support. Gentle breathing techniques are paired with postures that lead to a state of deep meditation. This restorative class will nourish and awaken all layers of life – environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. This yoga therapy practice will assist in awakening you to your own divine nature.
Studies have found that Restorative Yoga practice is equal to or better than exercise for decreasing cortisol, which is the stress hormone that is released into the body during the fight or flight response. High levels of cortisol in the body can affect blood pressure, sleep cycles, inflammation, weight gain and cause irritability and mood disorders. Yoga therapy practices that involve maintaining postures mindfully and with breath awareness can reduce stress levels, improve immunity, decrease blood pressure, and heart rate, improve sleep, and reduce body aches and pains.
Restorative Yoga has also been found to improve the quality of life for people with chronic illness, reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, and improves symptoms of anxiety and depression. There have also been studies that show that restorative-based yoga practices reduce cravings and help addicts maintain sobriety. A study determined that addiction relapse is sometimes a never-ending cycle because of the disconnect between mind, body, and spirit that most addicts experience. The study showed that the yoga therapy practices forced the mind and body to work together holistically to help moderate the stress response.
This, in turn, reduced the instance of relapse in the group that was studied. Other research has shown that yoga therapy increases levels of Gaba in the brain. People who suffer from depression, anxiety, and mood disorders, which go together with addiction, often have low levels of Gaba. Restorative Yoga practice also regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which in turn was shown to reduce cravings in those suffering from addiction. The bottom line is Restorative Yoga practice has so many documented benefits which make it a perfect therapy for recovery of your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
It soothes the nervous system, encourages mindfulness, cultivates body awareness, and strengthens your ability to detach from your bad habits and accept life on life’s terms. Best of all, it is easy, and makes you feel great! To learn more about our yoga therapy program or any of our other amazing healing modalities included in your stay here at Villa Kali Ma, contact us today.