One of the worst things that happens due to addiction is that you become disconnected from the world around you. The purpose of Yoga, Tai Chi & Pilates at Hope Rehab is to help you get back in touch with your body and mind, so you can experience this amazing gift of life that the universe has given you. Yoga is a wonderful practice for people in recovery because it has physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Yoga’s benefits to physical health are well known, and these potential benefits range from increased flexibility and muscle strengths to improved pain management, detoxification and digestion. Consequently, many westerners only equate yoga with its physical expression, the asanas or postures. This is rather unfortunate, as a regular yoga practice offers us a sheer inexhaustible source for healing emotional distress and mental anguish.
What if I am not fit enough to do Yoga?
Yoga also invites us to reconnect with community, spirituality and principles of ethical conduct. Given these vast benefits, it is no surprise that many western trained professionals integrate yoga into their already existing repertoire of clinical interventions to help those struggling with addictions and/or mental health problems. For interested readers nevertheless concerned about not being flexible or physically fit enough to do yoga, it is important to remember that yoga practices come in a wide range. For example, while restorative and yoga therapy typically is very gentle and aims at calming the nervous system, Ashtanga and Vinyasa-based yoga practices tend to be more physically challenging and rigorous.
Yoga at Hope Rehab Center
It is understood that you might not be in great physical shape when you first come to us, so you start off with just some gentle stretches. The nice thing about yoga is that you always have control when it comes to pace and exertion – don’t worry, you won’t be expected to stand on your head. As you start to practice on a regular basis, you can expect to notice improvements to your physical health. You are also likely to walk away from these sessions feeling incredibly relaxed and energised.
Yoga combines mental, emotional, ethical and spiritual components
Yoga, therefore, is accessible to anyone, no matter what one’s physical conditions and/or limitations are. Most importantly, however, yoga’s mental, emotional, ethical and spiritual components offer an endless well of resources for those seeking refuge and healing from addiction and/or mental health challenges.
The physical postures can be a type of moving meditation
It increases mindfulness
It boosts self-esteem
It leads to improved physical fitness, flexibility, and strength
Some types of yoga are aerobic – good for physical health
It is an effective tool for stress management
Yoga in the evenings promotes sleep
People who practise experience an increased sense of inner-peace
Improved ability to deal with challenges in life
Yoga can be a spiritual path
Yoga can provide you with a community of like-minded people who are focused on a wholesome lifestyle
Yoga improves brain functioning:
Studies in addiction indicate that it takes up to one year for our brain to heal from addiction, depending on type, extent and length of substance use. Alcohol and substance misuse not only interfere significantly with neurotransmitter functioning in the brain, but longer term addiction also results in alterations of brain structure. These changes translate into difficulties in cognitive functioning such as memorising, focusing, learning, problem-solving or decision-making. Luckily, over time, our brain is able to repair itself, and it does so better when we actively support brain health, for example by using a regular yoga practice.
How can Yoga help?
A regular practice of integrative yoga (a practice that includes meditative, spiritual and physical components) has shown to increase levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters negatively impacted by substance use. These neurotransmitters are linked to motivation, mood regulation, sleep, movement, concentration and other important aspects of one’s day-to-day functioning. Done mindfully, and with awareness of the breath in the body, yoga is believed to have similar benefits as mindful meditation, which has shown to increase gray and white matter in the brain.
Yoga can actively support our brain towards increased health and healing
These regions are responsible for brain cell growth, as well as brain functioning through improved communication between brain cells. The same areas of our brain also work to counter-balance our emotional brain or limbic system, which typically has the upper hand in addiction, unfortunately prompting us to follow emotional impulses without much consideration for long-term negative consequences. It is, therefore, crucial to strengthen these areas and structures of our brain, so that over time, our behaviours reflect chosen and deliberate responses rather than knee-jerk, impulsive reactions. In summary, a regular yoga practice can be a way of actively supporting our brain towards increased health and healing, by improving neurotransmitter functioning and by promoting neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and heal itself.
It’s not all about physical flexibility & strength
Closely related to better brain functioning, a regular yoga practice can help us to challenge and change negative thoughts, critical self-talk and unhelpful core beliefs. In fact, of Patanjali’s 196 much-studied yoga sutras (a 3000-year-old text about the practice of yoga), most of these sutras speak to yoga as a means to calm the fluctuations and deceptions of the mind, while only a small number of the sutras concern themselves with the physical expressions of yoga. Yoga, therefore, is not about achieving physical flexibility or physical strength; it is instead a means to cultivate non-reactivity of the mind.
Yoga can be especially beneficial for those struggling with depression & anxiety
By linking movement, breath and body, and through anchoring our mind to a calm and steady breath throughout our yoga practice, our mind becomes calmer, and our ability to focus is enhanced. Rather than allowing our monkey mind to hijack our attention by taking us from one unhelpful thought to the next, like a monkey swinging aimlessly and perilously from tree to tree, we take charge of our mind by directing our attention intentionally to the present moment, and to our mat. Such an intentional focus on the present moment has particularly great benefits for those also struggling with depression or anxiety, as typically occupied with the ‘could have/should have’s’ of the past or the ‘what ifs’ of the future. Occupying the mind with the sensations of the body in the present moment leaves little space for its usual focus on regrets about the past or worries for (about) the future.
Challenge your perfectionism with Yoga
More importantly, yoga is a tool for liberation: With the aforementioned moment to moment awareness, we can notice a longstanding need to get a pose right or perfectly or to compare ourselves to the person next to us, or the tendency to please the teacher. If we continue to act on such urges and impulses by pushing ourselves beyond our physical capabilities, we reinforce old beliefs of not being good enough unless we achieve some arbitrary and external measure of success, in this case, a perfect yoga pose.
Yoga as tool for freedom from negative and self- limiting beliefs and self-talk
If, however, we simply notice this need to be perfect, to please others, to do things the ‘right way’ in order to be deemed worthwhile, but instead allow our bodies to move into the pose to a degree that honours our bodies’ capabilities in this present moment, we purposefully liberate ourselves from these types of oppressive beliefs and the constant negative self–talk. Practised in this fashion yoga constitutes a valuable tool for freedom from negative and self- limiting beliefs and self-talk, which often form the soil in which addiction and mental health problems flourish. As such, yoga provides a wonderful and body-centred addition to conventional therapeutic tools for changing negative thoughts like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).
Yoga for mental & emotional wellness
Yoga has been well researched as a useful tool in the treatment of mental health problems often accompanying or underlying substance misuse, namely anxiety, depression and trauma. Yogic breathing practices (pranayama), commonly practised at the beginning or end of a yoga session, have been used for thousands of years to regulate our moods. For example, alternate nostril breathing, (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama), has a calming effect through activating the parasympathetic nervous system and is said to harmonise the right and left brain hemispheres. Yoga has also shown to have significantly positive effects on those experiencing anxiety or depression. For example, a study utilising yoga combined with pranayama and relaxation techniques has shown to reduce anxiety within a period of just ten days. Yoga’s benefit for those suffering from depression is well researched and documented, and range from significant mood improvement to increased ability to concentrate and enhanced self-confidence.
30 minutes of Yoga Nidra said to have the same benefits of 4 hours of deep sleep
Yoga Nidra – an ancient yogic deep meditation practice – has been shown to soothe the hyperactive and hypervigilant nervous system in war veterans with PTSD. Yoga Nidra was also shown to counter chronic insomnia, a common symptom experienced in depression, anxiety and early recovery from addiction as well as a well-known risk factor for relapse into substance misuse or renewed mental health difficulties. Practicing Yoga Nidra for just 30 minutes daily is said to have the same benefits of four hours of deep sleep, and this gentle, calming and non-intrusive practice is thus a natural and drug-free alternative to sleeping medication.
Yoga aims at lowering levels of the stress hormon cortisol
For trauma survivors, trauma sensitive yoga aims at creating a safe and supportive environment in which participants can explore re-connecting with their own body, often viewed as a source of shame or pain. Similarly, restorative yoga aims at calming the autonomous nervous system and is proven to lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released as part of the body’s stress response.
Yoga is a great stress management tool
This is important in several ways: individuals in recovery from substance use, as well as those suffering from mental health difficulties, show higher levels of cortisol in their blood stream. As a consequence, those in early recovery and/or suffering from mental health difficulties tend to react significantly stronger and quicker to even minor stressors, and they are therefore more prone to cope in unhealthy ways. Yoga practices as aforementioned, then, provide participants with helpful stress management tool and an invaluable addition to any recovery plan!
How Yoga helps you to be with difficult emotions
With a strong focus on participants’ internal experiences, yoga invites introspection and resourcing, meaning the development of participants’ own strength and inner resources. This is in stark contrast to what we tend to do when our brains and behaviours are hijacked by addiction, as we tend to look for some external ‘quick fix’ for emotional or mental states we find undesirable or unbearable, such as boredom, sadness, frustration or stress. An inability or unwillingness to stay with uncomfortable feelings or deal with difficult situations is at the core of addictive behaviours, and learning how to be crappy well is, therefore, an important part of recovery.
Yoga teaches us that discomfort is temporary and not lethal
Yoga is an excellent tool to practice staying with and breathing through a challenge: rather than abandoning a yoga posture because it creates discomfort or because it is hard, we learn to surrender into the pose and breathe through the challenge of holding this pose. In doing so, and drawing strength from a calm and even breath, we learn that we can, in fact, breathe through difficult moments instead of seeking to escape from them. This is a valuable metaphor for life, as no matter what unexpected curveballs life throws our way, we can draw on our internal strength and move through it, rather than moving away from it or giving up. Additionally, we learn that discomfort –like all emotional or mental states – is temporary and not lethal, and we learn to accept it as part of any meaningful life (or yoga practice) rather than struggle against it. In doing so, and over time, we build strengths to withstand other and perhaps bigger challenges – both on the mat and off the mat.
Yoga teaches us to pay attention, and attune and respond to the physical needs of our body
Furthermore, yoga’s focus on bodily sensations is a helpful tool in recovery from addiction, considering that we tend to neglect our bodies when chasing the next high or fix. In addition to polluting our bodies with toxins such as alcohol and illegal substances, we forget to eat, sleep or attend to physical pain or illness. Practising yoga mindfully teaches us to pay attention, and attune and respond to the needs of our physical self, and this inevitably leads to a profound and naturally induced sense of physical well-being at the end of every practice. This experience of our bodies as a source of information and pleasure can translate into an invitation to be more aware, more careful and more respectful of our body’s needs, and we may, therefore, become less inclined to neglect or abuse it.
Yoga can help with a greater acceptance of the ups and downs of early recovery
Similarly, an increased awareness of our physical needs and the realisation that our needs and capabilities are changing from one practice to the next and from one moment to another may also invite greater acceptance of, and capability to respond to the inevitable and ever-changing ups and downs of early recovery. Without such awareness, we may be caught in a struggle of wanting things to be different, for example wanting recovery to be faster and easier, moods to be more even, or energy and motivation to be more consistent. This struggle with things as they are can make recovery more painful than it has to be. Our yoga practice can, therefore, be a powerful tool for practising mindful acceptance and compassionate responses to whatever we currently experience, whether it be physical sensations, thoughts or emotions, rather than struggling against what is already present.
Yoga can provide you with a healthy community outside of AA, NA or SMART Recovery
Lastly, practising yoga with others may provide us with one of the most helpful tools for recovery: a community of like-minded people interested in, and committed to a wholesome lifestyle. This may be a particularly important goal for those not attracted to fellowships commonly recommended as part of addiction recovery, namely AA, NA or SMART recovery. Far beyond a physical practice aimed at helping detox, strengthening muscles and leading to physical flexibility, yoga draws on a comprehensive spiritual and ethical framework based on ideas from Janaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. As such, yoga can provide us with spiritual meaning for our daily struggles in recovery from either mental health and/or addictions issues, and with ethical and value-based principles to guide positive actions.
Find inspiration and motivation through other yogis with similar life stories
Equally important, yoga teachers can serve as role models when it comes to dealing with difficulties, as many yogis came to the practice of yoga when seeking to heal from threats to their own physical or psychological survival. It is certainly not unusual to meet fellow yogis who use yoga as a means to overcome addiction, depression, anxiety, trauma or life-threatening illnesses or injuries such as physical trauma or cancer. Practising alongside such yogis can provide us with much-needed inspiration, and it can work to fuel our motivation, particularly when we face an unexpected setback in our recovery. Finally, because the aforementioned vast benefits of yoga are only revealed to those practising regularly, yoga fosters such life-enhancing personal virtues as discipline, patience, self-care, accountability and commitment, all of which typically fall by the wayside when we are in the depths of our addiction.
Yoga is made up of eight types of practices (aka the eight limbs of yoga) including
Yama – ethical behaviour
Asana – physical postures
Niyama – spiritual practices such as letting go
Pranayama – breathing techniques
Pratyahara – withdrawing the senses
Dhyana – developing a deeper awareness through meditation
Dharana – one-pointed meditation
Patanjali – transcendence of the self
Yoga would be a good choice for an activity to continue once you return home. This is now one of the most popular types of exercise class in the world, and you should be able to find a local class even if you live in a small village. There are also many books, DVDs and even apps that can teach you some of the basic yoga positions, but it is much better to get instruction from a qualified teacher, as this way you can get feedback (doing a yoga posture the wrong way could lead to injury).
Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan) is one of the activities you are going to get to try during your time with us here at Hope Rehab Thailand. This practice can benefit you both physically and mentally – it can also be a type of spiritual path.
One of the challenges you are going to face when you return home is finding new activities to add to your routine. You need something positive to fill the time that you would normally spend drinking or using drugs. Tai Chi is a hobby that could strengthen your sobriety, and we hope you consider continuing this practice after you leave us.
If you conduct a survey of tai chi practitioners about what it is they are doing, you are likely to get a variety of answers. Some will say that they are practising a martial art, while others will claim it is a type of moving meditation. You may also hear descriptions for how it is a powerful exercise routine that improves health and increases longevity. So, which one of these definitions is correct?
Answer – all of them.
Tai Chi Chuan can be translated into English as meaning ‘supreme ultimate fist’. This martial art originated in China, and it has been around for at least 700 years. For centuries, this fighting art was taught in secret and only practiced by the elite in society. In fact, the tai chi forms were created to disguise the lethal self-defense applications of these techniques. The idea behind tai chi is to use the aggression of opponents against them.
This philosophy can be summed up by a quote from Bruce Lee: “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that tai chi started to became popular outside of China (although it had been taught openly in the US since the 1930s). This surge in interest was triggered by magazine articles and documentaries showing elderly people performing graceful tai chi forms in city parks around the world. These stories promoted the idea that this practice could be the key to lifelong health.
There have also been some scientific studies that do support at least some of the health-giving claims for tai chi. Some of the benefits supported by research would include: stress reduction, improved balance, pain management (especially pain due to osteoarthritis, lower back pain, headaches, and arthritis), increased energy levels and mental alertness, upper and lower body flexibility. Some types of tai chi can be aerobic (it gets your heart pumping), so it can improve cardiovascular health. It can treat insomnia and help people sleep more deeply.
Tai chi is sometimes described as a type of moving meditation. One of the things that is going to help you to find happiness in recovery is for you to become less influenced by negative thought patterns and uncomfortable emotions. The way you develop this ability is by becoming more mindful. One effective way to develop mindfulness is to establish a daily sitting meditation practice, but it can be difficult for some of us to sit still for long periods. If you are dealing with post-acute withdrawal symptoms, you may have a ‘fuzzy brain’, and this can make it hard to focus. Tai chi is another way to develop mindfulness, and it can be effective even for people who struggle with sitting meditation.
Tai Chi in Recovery
The secret to successful sobriety is for you to pick up a number of effective tools to help you cope with challenges and develop your potential. Tai chi would be one tool that could improve your life going forward. Practising the tai chi form outside first thing in the morning can be wonderfully relaxing, and it is the perfect way to start your day.
The current popularity of Pilates is especially impressive when you consider that few people had even heard of it up to a decade ago. There are now believed to be about 11 million practitioners of this art in just the United States alone making it the most successful fitness class around. The reason for its rapid domination of the fitness industry is not just due to clever marketing – it attracted devotees because it is so effective at promoting lifelong health.
We have found Pilates to be an excellent activity for people in recovery, and this is why we offer it at here at Hope Rehab Center. “Self-care means exercising control over your body, and to have that, you need awareness – that is, you must listen to your body and listen to what it is telling you. “The more you practice this art, the better you become at deciphering its messages.” – Brooke Siler (The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates)
Pilates explained: The name ‘Pilates’ may sound a bit exotic, but it is actually the surname of the person who invented this fitness regime.
Joseph Pilates developed these exercises in the early part of the twentieth century. To do this, he studied health promotion activities from both the west and the east. His initial motivation was to improve his own health but then he started teaching it to other people. Joseph wrote a couple of books about his art, but it never really took off during his lifetime.
There is a tendency to view Pilates as an exercise regime for women, but this misconception is just due to how it has been marketed in recent years. The fact that women and their networks have dominated the world of Pilates in recent years has bred the misconception that Pilates is a female-only activity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Joseph Pilates developed his exercise programme first and foremost for men.
It can be a path to lifelong fitness – it can be practised by people of practically any age
The health improvements from pilates can be enjoyed with just two classes per week
It is good for the mind as well as the body
You don’t need to be in good shape to start pilates – most of the exercises are gentle to begin with
Pilates is excellent for developing core strength
It is a whole body workout
It can be effective as a weight-management activity
It teaches you to move correctly
It can be a type of mindfulness practice
It can reduce the likelihood of you picking up injuries from other sports
It can make it easier to sleep at night
Daniel Lyon (The Complete Book of Pilates for Men)
If you observe a pilates class for the first time, you would be forgiving for thinking that it was just a type of yoga. These two activities do share many similarities, and yoga was one of the paths that Joseph Pilates explored when developing his own system. The main difference between the two is that pilates is less of a spiritual pursuit and instead more focused on improving health. Pilates is also said to be the more effective of the two when it comes to developing core strength and improving posture.