Addiction and Yoga

By Bob C.

My wife and I did our first date at a yoga class. It was a great idea I guess because we eventually got married. Doing a class five minutes after we met was a wonderful way to meet. We did not have to rely on each others, “verbal interface.” We met, said hi, then proceeded to do something that was non-verbal for almost an hour and a half.

I love that. I also love bringing people to their first yoga class- especially men, since men tend to be a bit uncomfortable taking a class. Out of all the people I love bringing to yoga, though, my favorite is a recovering addict. Yoga is in my opinion one of the most beneficial things a person in recovery from an addiction can do. It brings a sense of strength, enthusiasm and freedom.

The yoga process is very similar to the process of recovery, especially those found in 12-step movements. I would like to encourage anyone who is in recovery to try the wonderful practice, as a way to boost their recovery. I guarantee that giving a little dedication, yoga will give you back a lot.

What do recovery and yoga have in common? Yoga increases a sense of clarity, and so does the 12-step recovery process. I’ve taught a lot of yoga, and taken thousands of classes, and one of the most common things I hear talking to people is that yoga induces mental clarity. When I practice regularly, my focus is strong.

What does clarity have to do with recovery? Perhaps only a person who never struggled with an addiction would ask, as subjectively, addiction is a confusing illness to have. You crave using substances that have brought you devastating suffering in a way that overwhelms the sincere desire to not. I came into recovery because I’d had enough, and addiction followed me like a shadow. It was maddening. By then end of it, I didn’t know up from down or right from wrong. Clarity brought me into a relationship to the truth about what I really wanted, and I wanted to get and stay sober.

There is more to the relationship between clarity and recovery. Addicts have a difficult time remembering the nasty things that happened because of their using. Memory is an important element of our choice, or “executive function,” since we learn by making mistakes. Well, addicted people keep doing the same damn thing in part, because they quite actually forget what they just did. An addict’s memory is as impaired as he often is. Or she.

It is not surprising that there is an old AA cliché about a “moment of clarity.”

Yoga also strengthens body and mind. Through the practice I have developed a sense of comfort with myself. It gives me a quiet confidence. Through yoga I began to have slightly more meaningful conversations, interactions, and thus relationships. I listen to others more carefully and to care more about what people say.

Listening became an inward process as well and yoga and recovery gave me back my intuition. One of the results of this was that I became more sociable. I wasn’t social? After about two months of dedicated, three- times- a -week yoga, I noticed this peace and comfort with myself more, which was abetted by noticing that people liked me. (This is news to many addicted people in early recovery). Yoga has assisted me, in short, to be able to receive and to simply take part in other people’s lives.

The sense of strength and clarity wrought from regular yoga has also changed the way I perceive the world in general. It was small, simple things that my addicted mind did not really notice, value or enjoy. For example, in early in recovery, I was overwhelmed with stress in many situations that seemed very easy for others to negotiate. My mind raced all the time. Ironically, my angst was most acute in mundane social situations: Riding the bus, working at a job and even going to AA meetings.

The meetings were places that I could at least feel that others kind of “got” where I was coming from. Though 12 step fellowships have helped a great deal, a regular yoga practice has been indispensible for me to “reset” my confidence and resilience to stress in simple, everyday situations.

Yoga has revealed, much like formal 12 step work, strong and erroneous ideas about my own weakness, loneliness and lack of value. I lived in a fantasy that was often very much more like a nightmare. And all I had to do to confirm these poor beliefs was to look up and see myself addicted. What could be more of an expression of human aloneness than addiction and its general retreat from life?

Yoga, along with other recovery tools, gives me a feeling of excitement about life that is an antidote to poor beliefs about myself.

What is yoga? When I started, I thought it was a series of poses that I had to get right. Men often say to me that yoga is for women who want to be fit. They say, like I did, “I don’t know the poses and I’m not very flexible.” This relegation of yoga to mere physicality is interesting, since yoga is also a method to achieve freedom from what The Yoga Sutras call “samskaras.” The rough translation of the ancient word samskara is “a deeply ingrained, negative attitude and habit of the mind.”

How close is that to the definition of addiction? Yoga- along with fellowships like AA- are part of the long human tradition of creating systems, designed to free ourselves from suffering mind. In this sense, yoga predates (and predicts) fellowships like AA and other addictions healthcare practices by a couple thousand years. And here we in the West thought that we had cornered the market on addictions recovery!

Simply put, yoga means “to yoke” or to connect. The process is very similar to what one experiences in AA.

About the Author

Bob C. 39, is a happy member in AA who just celebrated six years sober. He has a regular yoga practice, a cat and a beautiful wife named Lisa. He writes regularly on addiction, mental health and recovery, as well as poetry and short stories. His cat co-wrote most of his stuffy university papers while drinking feline energy drinks such as Red Tabby and Catnip-Star. He has also written an article for AA Agnostica called, The First 164 Pages. Bob spends an inordinate amount of time in his car and often resorts to listening to country music on the drive home. He is a social worker practicing in addictions and mental health, and is interested in research about how the human body plays a key role in healing from mental health disorders. He lives in downtown Toronto.

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3 years ago

That’s a good one, Man, “Five minutes after meeting my future wife for the first time, we proceeded to do something non-verbal for the next hour and a half.” Hey, that’s great. I’d call that love at first sight 🙂 Well, I haven’t got on the yoga mat yet, but I see from your bio that we share an interest in the physical side of recovery. Like you talk about here, our memory doesn’t work right; we just don’t think right. Well, the Big Book calls it insanity. I think the 12&12 uses the word “mentally ill” at least once.… Read more »