Healing the Self: Yoga as Addiction Treatment

By Jacklyn Janeksela 05/03/19

Yoga offers a healthy outlet to cope with daily stress and triggers, aids in preventing relapse, and reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

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Woman in yoga post outside at sunset, yoga for healing addiction
When we become more aware of what we’re feeling and why, suffering can shift from impossible to manageable. Photo by kike vega on Unsplash

In the classical definition of Yoga given by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, ahimsa (non-harming) has a place of relevance. It is the first of the five yamas. And its definition is clear: nonviolence. As the first yama, it also means that it comes before all others, perhaps the most important of them all, the guiding force and motivation to live a life full of serenity. 

In its most literal sense, nonviolence may be interpreted as not hurting or killing others. And it is, indeed. The goal is to practice compassion toward all sentient beings, including self. Embodying ahimsa extends beyond this literal interpretation to include not just violent actions but also thoughts, feelings, and words. We must pay constant attention, be vigilant yet compassionate. What do we do with inclinations toward hostile behavior, harmful thought, and hurtful speech?

Practice Non-Violence to Self, First

While it might feel natural to practice non-violence towards the world around us, the best way to start a true non-violent lifestyle is to start with self. When we love self, we naturally aim to remove unnecessary suffering. Non-violence doesn’t just address action, but thought. First, we must learn to speak to self with compassion.

The act of self-love says that we’re on a mission for healing. It says that putting self first is not selfish, but rather necessary in order to achieve greatness and effect change. It says that loving others cannot happen without first loving self.

By being an example of love, by committing to a practice of non-violence towards self, we’re better equipped to teach others. As a result, we learn to love others more because we love ourselves. Or in some cases, through giving love to others, we can finally begin to give and accept love for ourselves.

Non-Violence in Consumption

Food, drink, and substance are not the only things we consume. We ingest through all orifices, including the eyes and ears. Non-violent food choices promote higher vibration through connecting with the world around us. Non-violent consumption of visual and auditory stimuli facilitate a more balanced life. In today’s world, non-violence is nearly impossible, so the best option is to reduce violence as much as possible. Yoga teaches non-violence as a road to success, abundance, and happiness. Of course, these terms are not used in the conventional sense. Success is encountering a new sense of self. Abundance is receiving and giving large amounts of love, support, and compassion. Happiness is found inside and not outside the body.

Non-Violence in Design

If you know your triggers, design a lifestyle that helps eliminate them. Places and people can trigger our need to return to old, negative, destructive patterns. But if we’re well-equipped with that knowledge, we can change the entire atmosphere. That means avoiding those aspects of life that don’t allow for growth. If passing a certain street corner gives you an urge, avoid it at all costs. If seeing a specific person reminds you of former ways that you’d rather forget, take action so that you do not see that person regularly. Yoga is a powerful reminder of how much we can push into growth edges by facing uncomfortable feelings and sitting with them, fully aware that they are temporary and will eventually fade away or transform. Set up your day with yoga to reinforce positive habits, but also to fortify your brain, body, soul connection. With high vibration surging through the body early in the day, we’ve already set ourselves up for success in healing. The brain, body, and soul will recognize this and start to align with similar vibrations, thereby pulling us into a vortex of healing and possibilities.

Benefits of Yoga on Addictive Behavior

According to eastern religions, addiction is not treated separately as it often is in western religions, it's simply one of the various forms of suffering. We are all destined to suffer, however, we can reduce the amount we give and receive with the help of yoga. Yoga offers a healthy outlet to cope with daily stress and triggers, aids in preventing relapse, and reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Yoga is not a religion, but it is spiritual in nature. It requires a small space, a mat, the body, and intention. With these tools, people gain skill sets to better approach and heal from the suffering of addiction.

Trains the Brain

Meditation and yoga make the best duo. Their objective is to train the brain for optimal living. One of the biggest causes of unhappiness in today’s world is stress. It creates the need to escape from reality and keeps us in a constant fight of flight mode. Once stress creeps in, and it seems to be doing this even in young children, the desire to escape increases. Yoga regulates and balances some of the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These chronically high levels of hormones are toxic to the body and central nervous system. And they’re not only hard on the system, they are hard on our emotional selves, pushing many people to seek substances to cope. With a yoga practice, stress hormones are reduced which reduces negative behaviors that can accompany it.

Builds Better Habits

Yoga promotes stillness, mindfulness, breathing, and awareness. These are the keys for living a balanced life. When we become more aware of what we’re feeling and why, suffering can shift from impossible to manageable. In yoga, we find moments of reflection so palpable. We shift to seeing a craving as a lack of something rather than a need to fill the hole. We find space to recognize the craving rather than react to it immediately. Yoga becomes the new method for attack as it is full of slow, sustainable, steps that promote new, healthy habits built for long term success.

Accepts Suffering and Change

We cannot escape suffering, but we can diminish it. Yoga has proven itself over the centuries to be both a teacher and a best friend for those struggling with addiction. Spending time on the mat brings a sense of acceptance for what is, what has been, and what will be. Yoga embraces an “as if” attitude rather than “what if.” Suffering and change are challenges that promise healing and growth if used the right way. Yoga offers a way that may not be perfect, but it is surely a way that’s helped many achieve an addiction-free life based on non-judgement and accepting self as is, full of potential to be better each and every time. It’s a series of steps on a path towards non-attachment, the ultimate goal in rejecting suffering.

Fosters Heightened Confidence

Yoga focuses energies inward and increases a sense of ownership over emotions and actions. There’s a new sense of control and in gaining that control back, confidence is boosted. Subsequent actions then take on a whole new meaning. This promotes self-reliance which is essentially empowerment. When power is regained in the body and mind space, the need to escape or harm is reduced. Yoga is a tool for empowerment that should be used not only to battle addiction, but to live a life full of healthy thoughts and actions.

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Jacklyn Janeksela works in fields of healing arts, manifestation work, and creative conjurings at Hermetic Hare. She writes about wellness, art, culture, the body, sex, magic, meditation, plant medicine, and astrology/alchemy/the occult. She studies allopathic herbalism under Sajah Popham at The School of Evolutionary Herbalism. Certified in Herbal Alchemy and Vedic Astrology, she is an energy. She has a course on Chiron Healing Principles here.

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