According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individuals in recovery from addiction have a much higher efficacy if they are engaged in two or more pathways to healing.(1) As I discussed in a previous post, new research suggests that a regular yoga practice can tone the vagus nerve and help individuals struggling with addiction build resilience to stressful stimuli. This is one reason why yoga is a wonderful companion to existing treatment options for addiction. And there is more.
A closer look at yoga philosophy reveals many shared principals with existing offerings including the widely known 12 Steps. 12 Steps Programs, popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), offer a framework used by support groups for over a dozen forms of addiction. Central to the 12 Steps is that recovery is never a matter of turning addiction on or off, but of engaging in an ongoing spiritual process. This emphasis on process is especially important in yoga. Indeed, to practice yoga is to practice the art of being a body in-process. In yoga, we embody process by coming home to ourselves over and over again through the linking of awareness and breath. We embody process when we feel fully conscious of our experience only to have our thoughts wander off again. We embody process when we come into a pose that requires us to make subtle shifts in our alignment and attention. We embody process when those same shifts cause us to wobble revealing that balance is a constant state of change. We embody process when we discover something completely new about our body’s potential and when something that once was easy and pleasant becomes suddenly difficult. And we embody process even when, perhaps especially when, it is uncomfortable to be in our bodies, to witness our thoughts, or to feel our emotions, but we commit to doing so with kindness toward ourselves.
Our friends, colleagues, and loved ones who are participating in 12 Steps and similar programs are doing brave work by engaging in healing as a process especially in a culture that expects immediate results on demand. Performing steps such as “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself and “making amends” is nothing short of courageous. Yoga can help support individuals in these endeavors by offering them safe, self-directed practice in being OK with being in-process. Additionally, in yoga philosophy, the yamas (self-regulating practices) and niyamas (positive habits) have much in common with the 12 Steps. If you’ve attended a yoga class, you may be familiar with the principal of Ahmisa: nonviolence to ourselves and to others. Ahimsa reverberates throughout the 12 Steps as does the niyama of Svadhyaya which emphasizes self-study. There are many, many connections to be found. The language between the two frameworks is surprisingly similar, but even where they differ, yoga offers those in recovery another way of assimilating the 12 Steps principals into their lives.
The good news is that Portland, Maine is known as a hub in the recovery community and for good reason. In my training, I learned that there are hundreds of 12 Step meetings held every week in and around our city. At the bottom of this post, I have included resources where you can find treatment offerings in Maine many of which include yoga. Yoga teachers will also find resources to help them cultivate trauma-informed classes that are recovery ready.(2)
This discussion would not be complete without identifying the ways we all can take steps to support those who are in recovery or who may be contemplating the recovery process. One of the most important lessons I took away from my training in yoga for addiction was about how we talk about it. In yoga, the niyama of Satya encourages us to practice right speech. With Satya we acknowledge that our words can harm and they can heal. Many individuals do not seek help in large part because of the stigma that comes with being labeled an “addict.” Consider the language we use when we discuss addiction: Abuser, user, junkie, clean, dirty. Such terms carry with them stigma and shame that only makes recovery more difficult to navigate. The following is a list of things that you can do to reduce stigma and inspire support.
- Recognize that addiction is a human experience.
- Use first person-language (i.e., ‘a person with substance use disorder’ rather than ‘addict.’). By doing so, you avoid reducing a person’s identity to their struggle. We do not refer to people fighting cancer as “cancers” so we shouldn’t refer to people struggling with addiction as “addicts.” Respect that individuals may describe themselves in the terms that they wish.
- Refer to substance use disorder which is preferred over substance abuse. The latter longer term is no longer considered best practice in the medical and prevention communities.
- Emphasize recovery as a process and avoid language that establishes wellness in black and white terms such as “clean” and “dirty.”
- Identify yourself as a recovery ally wherever and whenever possible.
- Familiarize yourself with recovery resources and terminology.
- Consider doing a 12 Step program or joining a meeting for allies so that you can better understand the recovery process.
We know that addiction is pervasive and that many people struggle privately. By engaging in these steps, you make it more likely that someone in your workplace, among your friends, or in your community at large might be supported and empowered by your voice regardless of where they may be in their process.
The Family Restored (Support Groups and Scholarships) www.thefamilyrestored.org
Young People in Recovery (Advocacy Group) http://youngpeopleinrecovery.org
Portland Recovery Community Center (Yoga classes offered) http://www.portlandrecovery.org/
BARN - Bangor Area Recovery Network http://www.bangorrecovery.org/
Sea Change Yoga (Collective of trauma informed instructors) http://www.seachangeyoga.org/
Trauma Center/ Trauma Sensitive Yoga: www.traumasensitiveyoga.com
(1)Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) <https://www.samhsa.gov/recovery>
(2)Thank you to Jennie Ferrare of Arcana Yoga and Bryn Gallagher and Andrew Kiezulas of The Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC) at USM for providing me with much of the knowledge shared here.