Yoga poses can aid recovery from addiction.
Yoga is a word derived from the Sanskrit, an ancient language from India. The word ‘yoga’ means union with the divine in oneself.1 Yoga is practiced for two pursuits: spiritual self-realization and physical wellbeing.
The physical branch of Yoga that involves striking a variety of body postures or poses, known as asanas, is broadly defined as ‘Hatha Yoga.’
Yoga is not only an art but a science too. As a science, it provides practical methods and solutions for normalizing the body and mind functions, thereby making deep meditation possible. Yoga is considered an art because it needs to be practiced intuitively and with sensitiveness to yield tangible results.
Pranayama, or energy-control through breath modulation, is a significant component of Yoga.2 ‘Prana’ means life or breath, and Yoga leverages breath-control techniques with physical poses and movements to calm the mind and strengthen the body.
Yoga, especially Hatha Yoga, is gaining increasing popularity as a complementary input for helping relieve suffering from drug abuse and substance dependence during withdrawal.
The potential benefits of practicing yoga asanas include:
Stress reduction and relief
Better physical stamina and strength
Higher energy levels
Healthy living and eating habits
Yoga is an ancient science with its origins in India, steeped in antiquity. In the early stages, the nuances of this discipline were orally conveyed from generation to generation. Later on, they were recorded on palm-leaf manuscripts. Because of the fragile nature of these transmission modes, the exact origins of Yoga are unknown. However, archeological findings indicate that Yoga is at least 5,000 years old and may reach back as much as 10,000 years in time.
The Classical period is marked by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, deemed to be the first systematic compilation and presentation of yoga asanas. Patanjali is considered to be the father of Yoga, as the practice is known today. His ‘Yoga sutras,’ penned in the second century, systematically list the various yoga poses and the procedures involved therein. The majority of the yoga asanas described in Patanjali’s yoga sutras continue to be the basis for the physical yoga disciplines that are practiced across the world today.3
For centuries, until the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, Yoga remained largely confined to the Indian subcontinent and some parts of the Far East. During colonialization, yoga masters from India began venturing to the West and propagating yoga practices.
Hatha Yoga involves physical exercises that are codified for strengthening specific regions or organs of the human body.4 Hatha Yoga comprises of several asanas or poses that call for physical activity along with breath modulation. It’s necessary to note that Hatha Yoga is just one component of the Indian or Hindu Yoga system that promotes union or oneness with one’s inner self and consciousness. However, the western adherents and modern proponents of Hatha Yoga focus more on teaching and learning the physical aspects of Yoga to improve physical health and strengthen the body.
In comparison, Buddhist Yoga centers on the meditative aspects of focusing upon the inner self and developing a sense of mindfulness. Buddhist Yoga deals primarily with strengthening the mind through meditation.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the asanas that are taught in modern-day yoga schools and classes did not figure in the original texts that are considered as classical yoga textbooks. In fact, yoga poses were not a prominent feature, but they played a secondary role to practices such as pranayama or breath modulation in the ancient Hindu system of Yoga.
It was not until the early 20th century when the national independence movement was beginning to trigger popular imagination in India that Hatha Yoga was developed as a physical health enrichment mechanism by a few homegrown yoga gurus in the country. Many activists against the British colonial rule in India crisscrossed the country, imparting physical training through exercises disguised as yogic asanas or poses.
In the 1920s, a leading teacher named Swami Kuvalayananda combined local physical culture systems with the techniques of European gymnastics prevalent than to evolve a potent system of physical strength enhancement.5
However, it was a student of Kuvalayananda’s yoga institute, T Krishnamachari, who is credited with shaping the future of modern yoga training. Under the patronage of the king of Mysore kingdom in British India, Krishnamachari developed many of the poses that people are familiar with today.
Vajrasana is a combination of two Sanskrit words: vajra (diamond or thunderbolt), and asana (pose or posture). In English, the vajrasana is variously known as the thunderbolt yoga pose, diamond yoga pose, and the sitting mountain yoga pose. In India, where Yoga originated, it is believed that regular practice of this yogic pose imbues the person’s body with the strength of a diamond and the vitality of a thunderbolt.
Surprisingly, despite being one of the simplest of poses to practice, the benefits derived from the daily practice of vajrasana are many. It is also the only yoga pose that can be attempted safely after a heavy meal.
Vajrasana begins by sitting on the floor, with legs folded, knees touching the floor, and feet positioned below the hips. The heels are pointed up and outwards with the hips touching the toes.
The knees are parallel to each other and touching each other.
Next, place the right palm on the right knee and the left palm on the left knee. Once in place, slowly inhale through both nostrils and exhale the air in the same manner. Don’t try to breathe hard or laboriously but simply breathe in and out as naturally as possible in a smooth manner.
While breathing out, imagine every disorder ans symptom is exiting or passing out through the nostrils.
Initially, it’s recommended for to sit no more than 5 minutes in the vajrasana pose after finishing the afternoon or evening meal. With practice, over time, some people stay in the vajrasana pose for time spans ranging from 30 to 60 minutes.
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Vajrasana is considered to be the best asana for mental relaxation, meditation, and improving concentration. Sitting in this pose helps the mind to stay stable and experience calm.
The asana is believed to improve health conditions such as indigestion, gastric acidity, gas formation, and constipation, which are all symptoms of the withdrawal process during drug rehab. Vajrasana also aids the digestive processes in the body.
Practicing Vajrasana immediately after having lunch or dinner is prescribed for people suffering gastric problems.
People experiencing severe joint pains or knee injuries are advised against attempting Vajrasana. It’s instead recommended to start with low time frames and increase the duration as capabilities improve. It is encouraged to practice yoga asanas and pranayama under the guidance of an expert trainer.
The name ‘Balasana’ is derived from a combination of two Sanskrit terms: Bal (child) and asana (pose or posture). As the name indicates, in Balasana, the person’s body assumes the posture equivalent to that of a child in its mother’s womb. In other words, it is the natural pose of a child.
The Balasana is practiced in the Sitting Mountain Pose: seated on the floor, legs bent, knees touching the floor, heels at the back, separated, and pointing upwards. Once in this stance, inhale air through the nostrils.
Then, while exhaling, slowly move the head down towards the floor, beyond the knees in front of you. With palms facing up, keep the hands beside the feet. Allow the neck and shoulders to loosen up and completely relax. Stay in this position and keeps breathing mindfully for around 5 minutes in the initial stages. If there is stiffness in the back, hips, knees, or ankles, pillows can be used as a support for the torso or forehead.
Paschimottanasana, also known as the Seated Forward Bend, is a great way to stretch the spine and also improve the strength of the lower back and hamstrings. When done regularly, Paschimottanasana instills a sense of peace and calm.
In Paschimottanasana, begin by sitting down on the floor, with both legs extended to the front. Sitting upright in this position, rotate the ankles while stretching and flexing them. Flexing the feet all the while, slowly inhale air through the nostrils while raising the arms over the head. The position is typically held for a few seconds. Exhale slowly while bending the body at the hips while moving the chest forward, toward the knees. It’s vital to hold the spine straight while doing this. Next, the hands are placed on the feet, ankles, or calves. Depending upon capabilities, this posture is held for 10 to 12 breaths.
As with most other yoga poses, the word ‘Matsyasana’ is a combination of two Sanskrit words: Matsya (fish) and asana (pose or posture). It provides good exercise for the spine by stretching it. In classical yoga textbooks, the Matsyasana is described as the destroyer of all diseases.
Matsyasana or the ‘Fish’ pose is usually performed with the legs in ‘Lotus’ pose or Padmasana. If sitting cross-legged is uncomfortable, it’s possible to start by sitting down on the floor with knees either bent or legs stretched out to the front.
The back is lowered to the floor, while the knees are bent and feet are placed on the ground. Inhaling normally through the nostrils, the is pelvis raised nominally off the floor. With palms facing down, hands slide under the buttocks, letting the buttocks remain poised on the backs of the hands. Forearms and elbows are tucked into either side of the torso.
Inhales slowly and press the forearms and elbows firmly against the floor. Then, with scapula pushed against the back, inhale and raise the head and upper torso off the floor. They then slowly allow the head to return to the floor. To avoid crunching of the neck, the head should be subjected to a minimal amount of weight.
The knees can be bent or the legs straightened out on the floor. If the legs are stretched out to the front, the thighs must be kept active by using the heels to press out.
Remain in the position for 15 to 30 seconds and breathe evenly. During exhalation, bring the torso and head back to the floor. Then, pull the thighs into the belly and end the move with a squeeze.
Matsyasana is recommended for treating health conditions such as constipation, menstrual pains, respiratory ailments, fatigue, mild backache, and anxiety disorders.
Matsyasana is generally not advised for people suffering high or low blood pressure, insomnia, migraine, and with serious injuries to the lower back or neck.
Benefits of matsyasana include:
Stretching of the deep hip flexors and the muscles between the ribs
Stretching and stimulation of belly muscles and muscles to the front of the neck
Stretching and stimulation of the organs located in the belly and throat
Strengthening of the muscle groups in the upper back as well as at the back of the neck
Relieving stress and anxiety
Anjaneyasana is a term derived from the combination of two words: Anjaneya, the monkey god (a Hindu mythological hero with great physical powers), and asana (pose or posture). Known as the Low Lunge pose in English, the Anjaneyasana is popular among yoga practitioners because it helps stretch and strengthen several body areas simultaneously. The results are evident in a very short span of time.
This pose can be practiced in a relaxed manner, or this pose can be used to boost strength, balance and flexibility. The Low Lunge pose comprises of three steps.
This pose begins in the ‘Downward-Facing Dog’ stance. Exhale through the nostrils and bring the right foot to the front between the hands. Keep the right knee aligned above the right heel. Now, with the right knee still in this position, the left knee is brought to the floor and slid back until the stretch can be comfortably felt in the front thigh and groin. The top of the left foot should be facing the floor.
While inhaling, the torso is lifted to ensure it’s upright. The arms make a sweeping movement to the sides and upwards, perpendicular to the floor. The tailbone is pushed down toward the floor and the pubic bone is raised toward the navel. From within the protective casing of the shoulder blades, the chest is raised against the back torso.
The head is then pulled back to look up, being careful not to jam the rear of the neck. The little fingers should reach toward the ceiling. It’s common to hold this pose for a minute and then slowly exhale and reverse the process. The procedure should then be repeated with the right side of the body.
Because much of the body is stretched and strengthened while in this pose, a feeling of calmness and peace emanate when releasing the pose. In many people, tension, stress, and emotions are concentrated in the hips and groin. When deep attention is paid to feeling during the pose, it’s possible to release the associated tensions.
The ‘Low Lunge’ pose helps to stretch the hips, the frontal portions of the leg, muscles adjoining the knees, intercostal muscles, chest, neck, and arms. The pose also strengthens the arms, shoulders, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. This asana also involves the deep, inner core muscles that are essential for maintaining body stability, and it strengthens feet and ankles by stretching them.
Viparita Karani, or Legs-up-the-Wall Pose, relieves pressure on the feet and legs. It helps in significantly relaxing the feet.
To strike this pose, the support of a wall is needed. It starts with sitting down on the floor, in a corner, with any one side of the body slightly touching one wall for support. Then, the knees are bent and back lowered onto the floor. The legs are then slid up the other wall slowly. It’s important to keep the buttocks pressed to the wall and feet extended straight up and parallel to the wall. It’s ok to allow the arms to rest loosely on the stomach or by the side. Any one side of the body barely touches the wall. This posture is held while there is regular steady breathing through the nostrils.
Yoga poses don’t address addiction directly during your recovery process. But, they do improve aspects of your mind and body that make it easier for you to get, and stay, sober. Sitting mountain yoga poses helps ease chaotic and anxious thoughts that are a typical part of recovery. Fish yoga poses stretch and align the spine, helping your nervous system as your body heals itself. Yoga can help identify negative thoughts and allow you to see how destructive these thoughts can be.
If you are ready to begin your journey to recovery, consider a drug and alcohol rehab facility that provides yoga instruction as part of addiction treatment. Along with conventional treatments, yoga poses may give you the best chance to achieve sobriety.