According to the National Institutes of Health, 15.1 million U.S. adults -- or 6.1 percent of the population -- suffer from alcoholism. Recovery from alcoholism takes enormous dedication, and, in fact, only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent.
With its emphasis on harmonizing body, mind and spirit, yoga can be an extremely beneficial addition to anyone's recovery program. That's something that specialists in addictive medicine are starting to examine more closely.
In addition to providing ordinary stress relief, yoga has been shown to be beneficial for underlying issues such as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that may lead to substance abuse in the first place. A study in the October 2014 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine of 38 people suffering from PTSD, for example, found that yoga reduced PTSD symptoms and also significantly lowered risk for alcohol and drug abuse.
Here are a few of the ways yoga can help the alcoholic achieve stability in recovery.
Yoga Relieves Physical Tension
Whether you're striving to overcome active addiction or are in the early phases of recovery, chances are you're just not comfortable in your body. People use alcohol to relieve stress but inevitably the moment arrives when it no longer works. For reducing basic physical discomfort, there's nothing like yoga.
Stress is absorbed by the body in the form of muscle tension and tightness. Physical unease that results when stressors arise can contribute greatly to relapse. The postures, or asanas practiced in yoga help relieve stress by literally draining tension out of the body and lowering the heart rate. When yoga is practiced with meditation as a holistic path, it has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by 31 percent.
The Wisdom of Holding the Pose
Yoga teaches mental discipline and concentration by placing the body in a position of stress and teaching the mind to override its urge to seek release. When you've been addicted to alcohol, you've probably been more apt to avoid stress than to confront it. Several studies reviewed in a 2006 issue of the journal Addiction showed that the ability to face problems head-on rather than engage in avoidance behaviors were a major indicator of success in avoiding relapse.
Yoga teaches how to abide with difficulty until it passes. So when your psoas muscle is screaming for mercy in pigeon pose, just remember that most of life's difficulties will dissolve similarly with time.
Mindfulness Diminishes Mental Chatter
It is not unusual when striving to recover from an addiction to feel like your head is full of screeching howler monkeys. Yoga meditation and mindfulness meditation enhance sensory, non-conceptual awareness and help repair numerous brain regions that, put crudely, have gotten cross-wired in ways that propel you to drink.
Learning to keep attention focused on the breath in yoga can have a surprisingly profound effect on overall sense of well-being. It helps you stay in the moment and avoid getting carried away by the inevitable frustrations and set-backs that life metes out on a daily basis. That's one reason that yoga improves mood and diminishes negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, confusion and depression that can trigger relapses.