Yoga for Addictions
The practice of yoga has been documented as early as 500 BCE in India and is practiced across the globe. Yoga is the tradition that combines physical and mental disciplines to achieve peace of mind and strength in body. There are several branches, or types, of yoga, including:
- Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge and contemplation
- Karma Yoga, the path of action and mindfulness
- Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion and compassion
- and finally Raja Yoga, a comprehensive method with an emphasis on meditation; the more familiar schools of Hatha and Kundalini Yoga are aspects of Raja Yoga
Various kinds of yoga include different physical postures or 'Asanas' as they are called within the practice. Each branch of yoga has several elements in common, the most important being the over-arching belief of the connection between the power of the mind and the body. When practiced consistently, yoga can tone and strengthen muscles (as well as form a lean body), but can ease stress, provide peace, and help to fight addictions.
Smoking is an addiction that can be beaten with the practice of yoga. Kundalini yoga in particular is thought to benefit smokers in their battle to quit. Kundalini is a more vigorous form of yoga than others. Strenuous and repetitive movements stetch people's limits and particular attention to heavy breathing draws people's attention to the lungs and their current health state.
The mind, body, and spirit approach that yoga uses is becoming increasingly popular in addiction recovery programs. Part of the addiction of smoking is associated with the mental comfort that a cigarette provides. If that same comfort can be provided by a different activity (like yoga), or peace of mind can be reached by the physical exertion that yoga provides, then it's one step closer to finding healthier outlets to stress than smoking. People that are addicted to a substance either have or develop a degree of spontaneity to them, there is an anxiety present that smoking alleviates. Yoga can help to modify those anxieties and stresses. In the same way that all the different Asanas will eventually strengthen muscles, the mind will also become calmer and more stable.
Other addictions that yoga can help to conquer are shopping, gambling, and drinking. According to her article Healing Addiction with Yoga, Galina Pembroke writes, "Yoga's non-competitive nature balances us and encourages looking beyond conventional definitions of achievement. Our success is dependent on effort instead of result. The philosophy of yoga is to embrace your capabilities instead of cursing your limitations. This allows us to move forward by looking at how far we've come, instead of how far we have to go." Setting one's own pace can be integral to overcoming addiction, and one of the main themes of yoga is learning to recognize and read one's own body.
Yoga is unlike other addiction treatments because it focuses on both the body and the mind. Yoga also recognizes that the addiction may be a symptom of some other, larger emotional problem. Often alcoholism is developed as a mechanism for dealing with depression, and smoking aids anxiety or insecurity. By first realizing the larger spiritual or emotional problem, the addict can better employ the serene poses and quite thoughtfulness of yoga to explore his or her mind and focus energy on quitting. The consistent meetings or classes that addicts can attend for yoga also help to make one accountable for their path of healing, as well as providing a supportive community.