Editor’s Note: One of the basic challenges in recovering from addictions is developing new ways to address the day-to-day stresses of life rather than using the substances that have become a problem and that non-addicts still have available to them. Fortunately, many options exist for “stress management,” and yoga is one of the oldest of them. Patients have found this venerable discipline to be a useful tool to facilitate their recovery. At Kolmac, we have been fortunate to find experts, such as Paula, who also understands addictions, to help them in this effort.
By Paula Atkinson
I have been practicing yoga for 21 years since I was 18 years old. I have been teaching yoga for more than 14 years, and I have witnessed many miracles in my students and fellow practitioners. I am passionate about yoga as a tool for recovery because again and again, I have seen how this thousand-year-old art can be incredibly relevant in today’s world of excess. If addiction is the disease of “more,” practicing yoga can be a powerful cure.
When practicing Hatha Yoga, or engaging in the type of yoga that focuses on doing yoga asanas or poses, one is getting into these poses and then becoming aware of the sensations present in the moment. This is a type of meditation: being aware of what happens to the breath, what happens in the mind, what each pose feels like, and how it feels as the pose is held. This is a fantastic way to practice mindfulness that engages the fast and always moving mind when sitting in meditation can be extremely difficult, especially in early recovery.
More than this, when getting in and out of these sometimes unfamiliar positions, one of the most enlightening and engaging exercises is to notice where one is holding onto stress or tension, unnecessarily, and to release that engagement. This is the aspect of yoga that resonates so beautifully with recovery from addiction.
This moment to moment awareness of what and where we are gripping, and the choice to release it, can be a profoundly powerful practice as we learn that we can live without a substance or behavior. The physical act of letting go and trusting that we will be fine translates into our daily lives.
The more we practice yoga, the more this courage to let go seeps into our time off of the yoga mat. We learn to trust by trusting. And in our yoga poses we have a safe space to play with this concept of releasing the unnecessary until we believe in all areas of our life that we can and will be better without it.
Paula D. Atkinson, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a psychotherapist in private practice. In addition to being a psychotherapist in private practice, she is a registered yoga instructor trained in restorative yoga, partner yoga, Anusara, Iyengar, integral, and Vinyasa Yoga as well as aqua yoga. She is also a Reiki practitioner, who has experience with aging adults, back injuries, and students with every kind of body.