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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

Divine intervention or self-discovery? Whatever the impetus, that evening Futuronsky began the quest that helped her gain sobriety and find the spiritual connection to her soul and her physical being. "I don't think I could have gotten sober on the yoga mat," she admits. Most addiction specialists agree that yoga should merely complement the therapy of choice. "But yoga is certainly a great way to reveal the contradictions of mistreating your body and to deepen the spiritual aspect of recovery. After all, what is yoga? It's prayer in motion."

While 12-step programs are the dominant approach to addiction treatment, G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, says they don't work for everyone. He points out that a 1996 study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) concluded that on the average, only 20 percent of those who had a year of treatment were still abstaining from drinking. "Half of the people never come back after one meeting, there's a high drop-out rate, and the somewhat Christian-based approach isn't appealing to some," he explains.

That's why Marlatt and his colleagues have secured a grant from the NIAAA to conduct a study entitled "Effects of Meditation on Alcohol Use and Recidivism." In 1997, the North Rehabilitation Facility (NRF), which houses nonviolent offenders of low-level felonies like drug possession, DUIs, and shoplifting, began offering a 10-day vipassana meditation course, as taught by S. N. Goenka. The curriculum already proved successful in one of the largest prisons in India, and after NRF instituted the voluntary program, they found that among those who took the course the recidivism rate was reduced by one-third.

"The inmates said they were surprised by the painful memories and fears that came up during the 10 days, but they found they could stay with them. They learned how to cope by seeing them as thoughts and learned they didn't have to act on thoughts, urges, or their cravings," says Marlatt. For Marlatt, a cognitive behavioralist, the idea that teaching mindfulness could help deter negative compulsions and behavior is compelling. "It's possible that just becoming aware of the process of enlightenment can lead to de-addiction and impulse control."

Controlling Impulses
It's no surprise that the core issue in overcoming addiction is impulse control. In fact, everyone, addict or not, can benefit from self-restraint. That's why clinical psychologist Marcie Berman, Ph.D., began introducing yoga into her sessions after she personally took up yoga to explore her own body-image struggles. "I used my clinical intuition and introduced yoga because I realized that a lot of what patients were experiencing wasn't just emotional or psychological but involved some feeling in their bodies." The latter has proved particularly poignant for Berman's patients who suffer from addictions. It helps them quell their compulsive urges by introducing the idea that comfort, or at least tolerance, can be achieved during uncomfortable physical and emotional states. A great way to achieve that is with simple forward bends because, she explains, "nothing can make your body go crazy like a forward bend. My whole focus in therapy is to help my patients bear reality. When the body stops in a forward bend, they can observe what their mind says and experience the direct physical experience instead of going to a place with negative messages like ĆI can't do this' or ĆI quit.' That requires patience and tolerance, which ultimately lead to impulse control."

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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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