HEALTH BENEFITS OF YOGA
Research has shown that yoga provides several health benefits, including improving physical strength and flexibility, as well as help with chronic pain. It even offers emotional and mental health benefits. Yoga has been linked to lowering cortisol levels in the body for reducing stress and balancing hormones, as well as regulating mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and libido. It has also been shown to help alleviate anxiety, stress, and depressed mood.
YOGA IN A THERAPEUTIC SETTING
While yoga in a therapeutic setting provides similar results as traditional yoga, the main focus and goal of this form of yoga is rather different than what you might expect in a yoga class at the gym or yoga studio. Therapeutic yoga is loosely associated with mainstream yoga for the purpose of physical fitness, exercise, weight loss, or core strengthening. Instead, therapeutic yoga is aimed at helping you learn how to ground yourself for the purpose of improving emotional resilience, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, anxiety or stress management, mindfulness, coping with addiction cravings and urges, and general emotional stability. You will learn how to read your bodily cues and sensations to assist with mood stability, inner trust building, self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness.
While traditional psychotherapy, including modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and solution-focused therapy, are effective and common modes of treatment for mental illness and addictions, they lack the comprehensive mind-body awareness offered in a therapeutic yoga practice. Therapeutic yoga should be used as a supplemental treatment alongside traditional psychotherapy when treating addiction or other mental illnesses. Therapeutic yoga is an individualized form of treatment that is tailored to the specific needs and diagnosis of each client regardless of your body type, physical fitness, strength, flexibility, or even previous experience with yoga. The only prerequisite for engaging in therapeutic yoga is your willingness and open-mindedness to experience a life-changing yoga practice.
YOGA IN TREATING ADDICTION
Therapeutic yoga can be beneficial in helping those who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. The primary goal for using therapeutic yoga in substance abuse treatment is to assist clients with developing distress tolerance by learning how to tolerate minor discomfort without becoming easily triggered or overwhelmed. By building distress tolerance for experiencing mild discomfort, clients may eventually experience more confidence in setting limits in general to eliminate harmful or addictive behaviors, choose healthier options, set more attainable expectations, and increase access to self-care. Yoga in this setting gives us the ability to see a broader picture of ourselves instead of getting caught up in the ruminations of the past and the anticipations of the future that tend to heighten our anxieties, fears, depression, anger, and resentments.
A therapeutic yoga practice for emotional healing always incorporates grounding to assist you with finding a steady mind-body connection and building self-trust through yoga postures and breathwork. Grounding is a coping strategy aimed to immediately connect you with the present moment and to help you regain your mental focus when experiencing an intense emotional state. This method is often used as a coping tool for managing overwhelming feelings and intense anxiety symptoms in a given situation. However, grounding can be challenging and often an uncomfortable experience, especially for those struggling with addiction, because it requires that you stay in the present moment by sitting within yourself and your thoughts without external distractions. Sometimes the present moment is what you might be trying to escape due to current intense emotional or physical pain, which substances will otherwise erase for you in that very moment, well, at least temporarily. But of course, this comes with a significant price since addiction always brings about unavoidable negative consequences.
When grounded, you give yourself the opportunity to listen to the needs of your body and learn to rely on your own inner wisdom to promote self-trust. If you are more attuned to your body without judgment, then you become more easily self-aware and can immediately identify physical symptoms (such as butterflies in your stomach, tight chest, clenched jaw, increased heart rate, shallow breath, etc.) that signal emotional discomfort before symptoms worsen. Therefore, you can intervene early using learned coping skills to prevent panic attacks, anger outbursts, or even relapses from reoccurring by relying on your own self rather than on external factors. This is a skill with which many people struggle, but it is also a skill that is crucial in emotional healing. Grounding can help you increase feelings of self-love, gratitude, humility, self-empowerment, self-trust, and self-confidence, particularly through a therapeutic yoga practice that is regularly practiced.
Overall, therapeutic yoga promotes self-care and self-worth, and teaches clients to start doing things for themselves that create positive outcomes. It enhances your own sense of self-empowerment as you begin to trust your own inner wisdom and knowledge, rather than relying on external validation or substances or even patterns of avoidance. Yoga promotes new ways of thinking about yourself, the environment, and the relationship between the two. The ultimate goal is to help you become more grounded and emotionally stable not only during sessions, but in your own personal life off the mat, which is shown through making healthy life choices that nurture your mind, body, and soul.
Dr. Heather Violante is the founder of Serenity Lane Psychological Services and a licensed psychologist specializing in treating adults struggling with substance abuse and addictions, depression and bipolar disorder, and stress and anxiety. She is a certified yoga instructor and certified in using therapeutic yoga for emotional healing. If you live in the Fort Lauderdale, FL area and would like to explore therapeutic yoga as a way to promote sobriety and effectively manage emotions, contact Dr. Violante to schedule an appointment.