Addiction harms our physical, mental and spiritual health as well as deeply affecting those who love us. Yoga practitioners have long touted the healing effects and long lasting benefits of mindful movement. While traditional recovery centers have been slow to implement yoga into their programs and a little more cautious to embrace it as a recovery tool, mindfulness meditation and movement practices, such as yoga and mindful breathing, are increasingly being integrated into secular health care settings. Recent studies show that self-awareness learned through yoga and mindfulness practice can target multiple psychological, neural, physiological, and behavioral processes implicated in addiction and relapse. Overall, current findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as promising complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors.
Addiction specialists in private practice, rehabilitation programs, and 12-step recovery programs across the country are just starting to recognize that the mind-body-spirit approach of yoga is a great supplementary therapy to conventional treatments for drug and alcohol abuse as well as addictive behaviors. Sue Lauwers, licensed MFT (see bio in “About Us”) and Certified Yoga instructor, heads the Recovery Through Movement program at RRMC and has been working with drug and alcohol addicted youth and adults for more than a decade. She believes that while addiction can be the ultimate checking out of the moment, yoga is the ultimate checking back in. She likes to refer to her program that combines her knowledge of yoga, Somatics, the physical science of the brain, along with psychology, as the thirteenth step. It’s the place after the 12th step, the platform reached from which you can dive into the elixir of life. But before you can reach the platform, you must take the first step. Most clients reach out to the clinic, as Lauwers says, “in a time of desperation, when they can’t fool themselves anymore, when all the zigging and all the zagging just isn’t working; when all the lines in the sand have been drawn and redrawn so many times that the land they stand upon is no longer firm, but rather more like quicksand.” It’s that moment when they reach a crossroads: they can chose to continue on a path of unspeakable pain that often leads to isolation, loss of job, loss of family, possible incarceration, and, on occasion, death. Or, they can take a very different route: they can choose a journey down Road Recovery. And while it has many lanes, it’s a one-way street; turning around is not an option. Sue’s program at Recovery Road is one of those lanes on the information highway to a better life.
When Recovery Road introduced yoga, they decided to work together to cover all bases. Individuals who struggle with substance dependency, chronic pain, and emotional instability have a hard time focusing on anything other than the impulse to use or painful emotional experiences that lead to negative consequences. Yoga is a practice of open focus. It instructs on how to use the power of focus and the potential of harmony of body, mind and spirit. From aspects of yoga, the client can learn to master impulses of the mind and control the body. Finding a balance of mastery and self-control through yoga can greatly weaken the strong pull of the addiction or of negative thoughts. The yoga sessions at Recovery Road embody a healthy, supportive atmosphere where emotions are not only allowed, but also encouraged to surface. In this supportive surrounding, the client learns to breathe.
According to Lauwers, often when people first show up “they are very compromised. Their body hurts, their ability to sit still is really, really challenged, and their mood is dark. But once they start breathing consciously, and as I encourage them to take just a few baby steps towards moving, the body responds, the body wants to be active, it wants to bring itself back to a state of well being. The connection between the mind and the body starts to unfold and people notice a new possibility, a new sign of life. It starts out as a very small shift, but it happens as soon I introduce them to the practice of yoga and it happens almost across the board. Their attitudes shift, and their ability to stay focused in their relationship to their body awakens.“ Lauwers believes it’s a tool that they can take with them when they leave, that they can do on their own, and that they can use to modulate their cravings. When the anxiety gets too high they can remember what it was like to be in their bodies that felt good without the drugs.
“I’m teaching them how to stretch themselves in a physical way that helps them connect the dots in a way so that they don’t feel so fragmented, so they don’t succumb to the drama. The practice helps them feel connected, whole and more worthy.”
These differing realities of drug addiction, lies, detoxification, bitter truths, sexual and physical abuse, broken hearts, shattered dreams, psychology, somatics, yoga, the spirit of the human condition and the potential of life’s possibilities all come together, collide, mix, get examined, stirred, shaken up and eventually, if everything is touched and tended just right, if the right amount of poetry is added to the scientific beaker, it can be taken in and concocted into an elixir of transformation.