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The Benefits Of Yoga In Recovery

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

Many of the benefits of utilizing yoga in recovery come from treating underlying issues that generate cravings. Yoga has been proven to reduce chronic pain and stress, prevent insomnia, and treat anxiety, all issues that can contribute to heightened cravings and opportunities for relapse.

Yoga In Reducing Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is both symptom a pathway for disease. Someone experiencing chronic pain for a long period of time begins to show signs of physical and emotional stress, the deterioration of either the state of mind or a physical weakening of part of the body. This pain can also induce strong cravings for any substance that had previously reduced or eliminated the pain.

Physically, research has shown the regular practice of yoga increases flexibility, improves blood flow, lymph flow, and improves skeletal posture. Inducing a state of relaxation has been shown to slow metabolism, slow breathing and heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve muscle relaxation, and slow neural activity, thereby reducing anxiety and excitability.

The latter effect relates to the emotional state of the individual, who experiencing chronic pain, may feel an increase in anxiety, depression, and an overall feeling of hopelessness. Addiction may have resulted from a need to numb or reduce pain sensation, and lingering issues with chronic pain frequently contribute to relapse. Much pain relates to either a decrease in mobility, vascular restrictions to various parts of the body, or nerve damage.

Yoga works to improve pathways for transport of oxygen or signal, so the sensation of pain is naturally diminished. Studies have also shown physical markers of inflammation in the body and bloodstream are greatly reduced with routine yoga practice, even if for only minutes each day.

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Yoga And Preventing Insomnia

The links between yoga and insomnia have been studied with specific populations in mind. In the majority of research, regular yoga practiced for at least three months is associated with the reduction in insomnia symptoms and improved quality of sleep. The underlying mechanism is thought to relate to increased blood flow throughout the body, as well as a reduction in anxiety-related symptoms.

For someone newly in recovery, insomnia is a common side effect of drug or alcohol detox. It can also double the risk of relapse, regardless of whether insomnia had been an ongoing problem, or related directly to the detox period.

Recent studies also link regular use of yoga postures with an increase in available gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Gamma-Aminobutyric acid is a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter; studies suggest GABA may regulate levels of melatonin. While research does not support the use of melatonin supplements in the treatment of insomnia, increasing melatonin naturally by promoting GABA availability does have a positive effect on improving sleep cycles.

Yoga In Stress Reduction

Current research suggests yoga reduces the release of stress hormones originating in the hypothalamus of the brain, thereby decreasing the adrenal response to stressful external stimuli. Yoga is a powerful ally for someone suffering from chronic pain, anxiety, depression, paranoia, fatigue, and even high blood pressure, in reducing the physical and emotional stress caused by these conditions.

Gamma-Aminobutyric acid is one of the most active inhibitory neurotransmitters in mammals and a key mechanism in stress reduction. Gamma-Aminobutyric controls smooth muscle tissue and inhibits the release of excitatory neurotransmitters relating to the fight or flight and other stress responses. Increasing GABA naturally, through the regular practice of yoga,  especially after long-term exposure to drugs or alcohol, can help the body cope with external stress more efficiently.

Yoga In Treating Anxiety

Yoga’s ability to increase GABA can also reduce anxiety. One study measured GABA levels in the blood before and after a one hour yoga session. The study produced an increase of GABA approaching 30 percent, when compared with the control group.

When GABA is reduced, as often occurs in someone who has suffered from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, excitatory neurotransmitters firing unimpeded can result in serious insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness. Many substances decrease natural GABA levels by reducing the number of GABA receptors available for GABA uptake. Increasing GABA naturally through regular yoga practice is one way to reduce the symptoms most often linked to relapse.

Yoga And Reducing Cravings

Yoga naturally reduces the negative symptoms associated with drug use cessation. Drug cravings are increased by external stressors and chronic pain. There have been many studies evaluating the effectiveness of yoga on reducing the reducing the adverse complications stress and pain generate. Addressing these underlying factors in drug cravings, reduces the severity and duration of cravings, thereby reducing drug-seeking behaviors and opportunities for relapse.

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