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Freedom from Addiction

Addiction can harm our physical and spiritual health and deeply affect those who love us. But people who struggle with dependencies are finding new hope through the calming and centering effects of yoga.

By Stacie Stukin

Jen Levin started smoking cigarettes when she was 15. "I always used to say that my favorite cigarette was the cigarette after yoga," says the 32 year-old playwright from Los Angeles. She practiced hatha yoga sporadically and continued her pack-a-day habit until she made a commitment to try Kundalini Yoga at the Golden Bridge yoga studio in Los Angeles. There, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa pushes her students to their physical and mental limits with vigorous breaths-of-fire and her propensity to teach one asana for up to 11 minutes. "As I saw my body and mind get stronger, smoking began to make me sick, and it no longer made sense," Levin says. "I realized that if I could endure the pain in my body, then I could deal with the pain of not having a cigarette."

Levin used yoga as a tool to help rid herself of her addiction. Similarly, addiction specialists in private practice, rehabilitation programs, and 12-step recovery programs are starting to recognize that the mind-body-spirit approach of yoga is a great adjunct therapy to conventional treatments for drug, alcohol, and food abuse as well as addictive behaviors like gambling and shopping. "Yoga treats the biology and the psychology of an addict," explains New York City addiction psychotherapist Mary Margaret Frederick, Ph.D. "Addicts are profoundly out of control internally. They have knee-jerk panic reactions and tempers. The will and determination yoga requires helps people regain control over their body and their mind."

According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2000, 12 million Americans (or 6.3 percent of the population over the age of 12) used illicit drugs. The same survey reported that almost half of Americans 12 and older said they drink and that more than 5 percent of that drinking population are heavy drinkers. It is also estimated that 65.5 million Americans aged 12 and up used some kind of tobacco product. Certainly not all of these people are addicts, but the financial and emotional costs of those who do abuse drugs and alcohol are high. A study conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated the total cost related to treatment, prevention, health care, lost earnings, crime, and social welfare was $245.7 billion in 1992 alone.

And for those who do become addicts, long-term dependency on drugs and alcohol takes a physical toll. Getting used to living sober is equally challenging psychologically. "Yoga is hard for addicts who worked very hard to get addicted and stay addicted," observes Kaur Khalsa. She speaks from personal experience, having spent eight years of her early adulthood addicted to a variety of illicit drugs. "The minds of addicts are shattered and scattered. They have a lot of pent-up emotions that the drugs pacify. To stay sober they have to work 10 times as hard."

Quieting Compulsion
The use of yoga in addiction treatment centers is certainly not part of mainstream therapy. "Yoga isn't a favorite topic among addiction specialists," explains Peter Stein, a drug counselor at the North Charles Institute for Addictions in Somerville, Massachusetts, who is a also a certified yoga teacher. There are only a handful of studies on the subject; subsequently, there isn't a large body of evidence to convince skeptics. In 1997, however, Stein did contribute to a study in the Journal of Alternative Therapies that found yoga to be useful in addiction treatment. Based on a randomized clinical trial using yoga at a methadone clinic in Boston, the study revealed that in a group setting yoga was just as effective as traditional psycho-dynamic group therapy.

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Reader Comments


Beautifully written. Exactly what I was looking for for advice and some idea of what to do.

Hannah Kathyrn

I was addicted to heroin for well over three years... I decided one day that I couldn't do it anymore, and so I went to a doctor to help me detox. After detoxing from all drugs and clearing my body of the toxins, I decided to take a yoga class at my gym. I go every day at 10:30am. When I wake up, I meditate, and practice breathing techniques for thirty minutes. If I miss a day of practicing yoga, I don't feel good about myself at all. It keeps me sane, and has helped me recover from my scary thoughts and life threatening addiction.


a usefull article

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