9 ways Yoga Helped me Recover from Addiction

By Frank Gallagher 11/15/17

The first time I ever practiced yoga was in 2001. I walked out of those classes feeling new, grounded, balanced, and alive, feeling like I was going to be okay. I loved it, but I wasn't ready for it at the time, and after two months of that weekly practice, I lost touch with it for a few years. Then in 2004, in my last quarter of school at UC Santa Cruz, I started to have severe panic attacks, and returned to the mat, this time practicing Bikram Yoga (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocg3InAEZMU). It turned around my anxiety entirely and within a few months not only was I was panic attack free, I was also somewhat of a new woman. I found solace and escape and calm.

Replaced artificial highs for natural ones

I was the poster child of hedonism and I chased highs and escape. I ate and drank too much, I smoked too much, I worked too much, etc. Because I felt so empty in the inside, I used an insane number of external things to fill the holes in the inside - anything that fed my senses, I was hungry for. Yoga (specifically meditation, which falls under the yoga umbrella) teaches us to draw our awareness away from these external stimuli, detach from our senses, and direct our attention inward. We are thus able to build a connection to our inner world and our higher selves.

Shri Guru Singh- “If you look for artificial heights, then you will also have to face artificial depths.”

Eliminated reactiveness

My reactiveness was out of control when I first embarked on this path, especially with my closest relationships and at work. I had absolutely no control over my reactiveness and I felt almost a victim to myself at these times. The steady practice of yoga and meditation changed all that for me. It gave me space between my thoughts. It also taught me that my power lies in my ability to control my reaction, not in the power of my words or defense.

Provided community

Because I didn't go the AA route, the community has been a bit of a rough spot for me. I have more than enough friends and loved ones, but I've missed feeling like I'm part of a tribe. Yoga has provided this for me. Through classes, teacher training, and workshops, I have made some of the deepest connections of my life within a community where everyone seems to know everyone. I can't express how extremely important this has been to me on my path. I NEED these people and many have become like family.

Developed control of mind

Meditation (which IS yoga) is for the mind what a free weight is for the bicep - it is strength training. Specifically, it aids in the development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for the choice, and also, the area that is most compromised by alcohol and drug addiction. Having practiced meditation (https://www.headspace.com/) on a consistent basis for 30 months, I have experienced a total flip. I am no longer a victim to the whim of my mind. This control has been crucial in my recovery - I literally have created strength of mind that I have never had before in my life.

Increased control over stress and anxiety levels, and reparation of the nervous system

Kundalini yoga is primarily responsible for this. Because it works with the nervous system and glandular system, there are many kriyas (sets of postures and mediations and breathing exercises that are designed to bring about a specific outcome) and meditations that go to work on the nervous system directly. Not only have I repaired a severely depleted nervous system, I have been able to overcome panic attacks and cold-fear using specific meditations and over time, I've learned to manage my stress immediately.

The ultimate healthy coping mechanism

In the early days of alcohol, I began to turn to my yoga mat and meditation pillow. If I had an encounter that shook me, I had yoga as an antidote. If I felt unsafe or deep in self-pity, I could pull myself out of it on the mat. If I had a big meeting or a presentation or knew I was going to be in a stressful situation, I alleviated the stress and prepared for these things in asana and meditation. Yoga became my pot, my alcohol, my food, my cigarette - without the downside.

Helped conquer insomnia

I'd used pot and alcohol to fall asleep at night. The thought of turning it off was naturally. To prepare for this transition, I began doing yoga sets that were meant to prepare for rest and induce sleep - specific vinyasa flows, guided meditations, kundalini practices such as left-nostril breathing, and a practice called Yoga Nidra (https://www.yogiapproved.com/yoga/7-steps-to-a-peaceful-yoga-nidra-pract...) that uses progressive muscle relaxation to take you into a "yogic sleep". It made me a lot more confident that I could fall asleep naturally.

This Yoga Nidra set by Ali Owens on YogaGlo.

Fierce Determination

Whether it's holding a terribly uncomfortable posture in Vinyasa, keeping my arms up over my head in a Kundalini posture for 20 minutes, or holding a meditation for longer than I wish to, yoga is constantly forcing me to my edge. And it's at this edge where the real transformation happens. In doing this on the yoga mat - in holding my resolve to finish the posture or the meditation regardless of the discomfort and regardless of how much I want to quit - I've learned to do it off the mat. It's translated into real life results.

Spiritual Teachers

Yoga has brought me in to contact with a number of spiritual teachers who have helped inspire and guide my path. Pushed me when I needed to be pushed, and have become my real-life role models. My Kundalini teachers at the California Ashram including Simran Kaur Khalsa, Surjeet Khalsa, and Goldy Singh Khalsa; my vinyasa teacher John Ilibriam; Ali Owens, my YogaGlo Kundalini teacher that was with me in my darkest hours (though she has no idea who I am). All of these individuals are powerhouses of knowledge and have shaped me in some form, but more importantly, almost all have come to where they are from some sort of traumatic beginning.

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