How Yoga Helped Me to Stay Sober

I doubt I would have discovered yoga had it not become so popular so I’m grateful that it’s been growing like crazy over the last 10 to 15 years.

Yet, despite it’s popularity, many people have never tried it and even when they read about it or watch yoga being done, they aren’t interested in trying it.  If you’re in the camp that hasn’t tried yoga, I recommend giving it a shot.  It truly does help relieve stress and relieving stress is part of staying sober.

I gravitated toward yoga early in sobriety

For some reason, once I quit drinking, I gravitated toward yoga.  I have no idea how it happened.  I would spend hours in the bookstore reading about health (I set out to lose weight … and did).  As I dug deeper into the bowels of the health sections of the bookstore, I stumbled upon the yoga section and started reading.

Like many people, I didn’t think yoga was tough, effective or offered any real benefit.  I was sure wrong.  Fortunately I gave it a shot.

I bought a yoga book with a fitness emphasis (there are many styles of yoga).  Since I was lifting weights and doing plenty of walking, I wanted to start with a yoga style that would be rigorous and offer plenty of fitness.

My start in yoga

I bought a mat and started yoga.  At first it was hard, a lot harder than I expected.  I thought I’d sail through yoga because I was getting fit and before my drinking totally took over my life, I was into working out.

Yoga was tough, but that’s what made it effective as a stress reduction practice.  I also felt a lot better as my flexibility improved.  In fact, I started feeling phenomenal physically.  Yoga provided physical benefits that cardio and weight lifting couldn’t and didn’t.

Deep breathing works

You read all kinds of information about how deep breathing exercises help with stress management and wonder whether it’s just a bunch of baloney.  However, because yoga incorporates deep breathing (a big part of yoga focuses on the breath), I could only conclude that deep breathing is good for reducing stress (it worked for me after a few weeks).

Can yoga help you quit drinking?

I wasn’t doing yoga before I quit, but quitting drinking is a moment … the real key is staying sober and dealing with addiction.  While I don’t think I would have stayed sober without a recovery program, it was part of my overall recovery program to deal with my drinking addiction (as well as my smoking addiction).  At the end of the day, for me, yoga helped me keep my stress levels more or less manageable, which ultimately helped me stay sober and achieve 10 years of sobriety).

I’m not one to tell you which program of recovery is best, but if you’re dealing with an alcohol addiction, in my experience, it’s a good idea to pursue a program of recovery.  However, you can supplement your program with other healthy pursuits such as getting fit and embracing mind-body exercises such as yoga and/or meditation.

Studies reveal that yoga helps with stress

Study #1

One study involved cancer survivors who started a yoga practice.  The study analyzed whether yoga would have an impact on mood disturbance and stress symptoms on cancer survivors.  The result is that after 3 months, stress symptoms and mood disturbance decreased.[1]

While cancer survivors are not recovering addicts, the take-away is that people in recovery are dealing with stress and mood swings so it’s not out-of-the-question to conclude that the study applies equally and that yoga can help recovery addicts reduce stress symptoms.

Study #2

Another study looked at whether yoga can decrease depression.  This study was restricted to women who embarked on a gentle hatha yoga program.  The study found that there was a decrease in depression over time.[2]

Study #3

In a third study, the effect of yoga was studied on different aspects of mental health, specifically anxiety, stress and sleep quality.  The findings were that a “brief yoga program may be beneficial in decreasing anxiety, somatization of stress and discomfort, improving health-related quality of life and self-rated sleep quality.”[3]

There are even yoga-for-recovery programs sprouting up

Cityoga in Indianapolis is owned by a recovering addict.  The studio started a Yoga of 12-Step Recovery program which combines the 12-step recovery model with a yoga practice.  Training for yoga teachers to incorporate recovery in yoga is available here.

Conclusion

While the above 3 studies don’t specifically study whether yoga can help people get over addiction, including alcohol addiction, the studies do suggest that yoga is effective dealing with stress, depression and sleep quality.  One can infer from these yoga benefits that reducing stress and anxiety in recovery may help people stay sober … after all stress and anxiety can and do contribute to people falling off the wagon.

While my personal experience doing yoga in sobriety is far from scientific, I continue doing yoga to this day because it does help me deal with stress and it helps keep me fit … and as I’ve suggested before, getting and staying fit offers many benefits in sobriety and recovery (at least for me).

As an aside …

If you decide to give yoga a try as part of your fitness and recovery plan, take a little time looking into the kind of yoga that will suit you.  There are many styles of yoga these days.  Some forms are extremely physical while others focus on the spiritual.  You can find styles in between.  Try a few styles at a local studio, talk to a certified yoga teacher and at the end of the day do what you enjoy because if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.  Keep in mind though, that it’s not easy … which is a good thing in the long run.

References

[1] Mackenzie MJ, Carlson LE, Ekkekakis P, Paskevich DM, Culos-Reed SN. Affect and mindfulness as predictors of change in mood disturbance, stress symptoms, and quality of life in a community-based yoga program for cancer survivors. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:419496.

[2] Kinser PA, Bourguignon C, Whaley D, Hauenstein E, Taylor AG. Feasibility, acceptability, and effects of gentle hatha yoga for women with major depression: findings from a randomized controlled mixed-methods study. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 2013 Jun;27(3):137-47.

[3] Telles S, Singh N, Yadav A, Balkrishna A. Effect of yoga on different aspects of mental health. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2012 Jul-Sep;56(3):245-54.

 

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