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Embracing Alternative Therapies on the Road to Recovery

More than 22 million Americans struggle with substance dependence or abuse. In addition to causing emotional, psychological, and financial trouble for individuals with additions and their loved ones, it is also a significant public health problem. As substance use continues to take its toll, treatment specialists are beginning to incorporate different methods, like yoga and meditation, into recovery plans. These alternative supplemental therapies can provide the skills needed to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that can lead to a relapse.

Mindfulness meditation is a practice in which you focus on the physical feelings of what you are doing and maintain a moment-by-moment awareness. For example, while walking, you focus on what you are feeling and seeing. You focus on the feeling of your feet touching the ground, the air on your face, and the sights in front of you. Some people find mindfulness easier than other forms of meditation because it does not require that you “clear” the mind. Instead, you have something to focus on and that focus can take you out of feelings of anxiety and put you in a calmer state.

Many people who drink excessively or use drugs do so to escape feelings or pain. Yoga can serve as an effective substitute as it relaxes both the mind and body. For those working through addiction, it is important to develop a positive relationship with their body. Yoga can help reestablish that connection while reducing stress and anxiety.

A small study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2007 showed that yoga may be able to change brain chemistry and help those struggling with substance use. The study compared a session of reading to a session of yoga and concluded that the yoga session resulted in increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, while the readers experienced no change. Low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression, which are often connected to addiction.

Developing strong resiliency is essential during recovery. Both mindfulness and yoga can encourage resilience. Building strong and positive relationships is vitally important to your health, well-being, and ability to handle adversity. Don’t ignore a problem you are experiencing or try to use substances to mask pain. Instead, reach out for help and try a variety of methods on your road to recovery.



This blog post has been updated to keep links active, to use MindWise Innovations’ new branding, and to reflect current usage of the term “behavioral health” over “mental health.” Behavioral health is a more inclusive term that covers mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders, problem gambling, disordered eating, and more.