How Does Yoga Help With Addiction Recovery? Trauma-Informed Yoga Therapy

The majority of individuals in addiction recovery have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. In order to address the cycle of addiction, the body and its systems must be acknowledged, including the trauma that each person has experienced. Because of this, trauma-informed care in addiction treatment becomes a key part of the healing process.

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

A number of recent studies have examined what trauma-informed physical activity looks like, and how it can be used in therapy professions. According to the summary of literature, “individuals who have experienced violence and trauma often feel unsafe with others in their own bodies.” With this in mind, standard modes of physical activity can be retraumatizing. Thus, trauma-informed yoga geared toward gentle and restorative poses is one way to help such individuals. 

What is Trauma-Informed Yoga?

Yoga designed to be trauma-informed is first and foremost an evidence-based therapy. It was developed in order to treat symptoms resulting from traumatic exposure. One recent study tested trauma-informed yoga with veterans. It demonstrated how yoga on its own can actually exacerbate the symptoms of trauma such as “hyperarousal and disassociation.” But if the yoga therapy is trauma-informed, it can be a significant factor in healing and restoration. 

According to the study above, yoga should be adapted to include the following factors that address trauma: 

  • Breath practices with the diaphragm 
  • Restorative poses
  • Avoidance poses that activate the sympathetic nervous system
  • Adapted to unconventional teaching contexts 
  • Administered by certified individuals  
  • Adapted for physical limitations

Additional facets of trauma-informed yoga include an emphasis on being in the present moment. Furthermore, it draws on attachment theory, trauma theory, and neuroscience which is why certification and proper training is recommended.

What’s the Difference Between Regular Yoga and Trauma-Informed Yoga?

Many types of yoga focus on achieving the proper forms and poses. In contrast, trauma-informed yoga focuses on the internal experience of the individual and is sensitive to how their body is responding. This sensitivity is very beneficial for those in recovery who’ve experienced trauma because they often suffer from self-loathing or feel disconnected from their bodies. In trauma-informed yoga everything is optional, gentle, and designed to help clients reconnect with their bodies.

Rather than pushing through to a physical achievement or goal, trauma-informed yoga is designed to facilitate a safe space. It meets people wherever they’re at and invites them to safely connect to themselves. Everything is an invitation rather than being forced or coerced. Ideally, trauma-informed teachers are trained in nervous system regulation techniques. These help to create a practice that supports healing, builds resilience, and empowers personal autonomy and choices. In this way, trauma-informed yoga can help people recovering from substance use disorders more directly than regular forms of yoga therapy.

How Can Yoga Therapy Help Those in Recovery?

Yoga is practiced worldwide and is increasing in popularity in the US as each year passes. The reasons people practice yoga vary widely, ranging from pure physical exercise to a devotional, spiritual practice. The physical benefits of regular yoga practice are well-evidenced and include:

  • Helps reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Provides an overall sense of well-being
  • Improves your mood and outlook on life.
  • Strengthens immune system 
  • Reduces the stress hormone cortisol

As the acceptance of holistic treatment for addiction recovery becomes more common, researchers are looking more closely at the benefits of yoga for those in recovery. Because of what the research has shown, yoga and meditation are now an essential part of many addiction recovery programs.

Some of the benefits of trauma-informed yoga for those in addiction recovery include: 

  • Improved focus and awareness: Many of the slow and deliberate actions in yoga therapy can help you focus on your addiction recovery. As you develop a deeper connection with your body, thoughts, and feelings, you may begin the process of working through your trauma and how it relates to your addiction cycle. Your sponsor, therapist, and mentors should be key parts of this journey with you.
  • Reduced intensity of cravings: For those in recovery, yoga can help restore your natural dopamine production. This is the “happy chemical” responsible for a general sense of well-being and a calm state of mind. With more of this, you may be able to control your cravings better as time goes on.
  • Stimulated prefrontal cortex: Substance abuse over a long period of time has a significant impact on the prefrontal cortex. Trauma-informed yoga practice, if practiced on a regular basis, stimulates your prefrontal cortex area and can help increase your self-control.
  • Decreased symptoms of insomnia: In general, yoga and meditation help give your body and mind a workout. This slow and steady stimulation can restore your body’s circadian rhythm, which is often damaged in many who struggle with addiction.

Where Should I Start With Trauma-Informed Yoga?

With your body and trauma, it’s always better to begin with a professional. A certified trauma-informed yoga instructor will help you set up the right parameters for your practice. There are, however, some easy places to get started with gentle and restorative yoga.

  • Start with simple movement: For trauma-informed yoga, simple is the best place to start. It allows you to begin to develop an awareness of the sensations in your body in a safe way and at a slow pace. There’s no need to rush your healing. 
  • Avoid too much silence: Too much silence may be triggering for a trauma survivor. You may find that practicing with a friend or having relaxing music in the background will help you avoid this.
  • Cultivate self-compassion: Don’t be hard on yourself in your practice. Encourage yourself with gentle words, affirmations, or an inspirational quote before each set of movements. Keep this reminder close to you as you move your body slowly and with gentle care. 

To learn more about trauma-informed yoga and how to integrate it into your recovery journey, get in touch with a team member at Seven Arrows Recovery today.

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