Written By: Courtney Strong, LMHC, CDP- Director, Clinical Manager
Yoga is a practice of many elements focused on the physical, mental and spiritual. In EHN Seattle’s Yoga Therapy group, clients cultivate both a sense of integration between physical, mental and emotional experience. In addition, clients learn how to differentiate between one’s self and an experience.
The Connection Between Yoga & Recovery
Yoga offers several benefits towards recovery. Practicing yoga allows you to be present and attentive to an experience while simultaneously providing you the ability to observe, not react to or feel controlled by the experience. Often with addiction people become adversaries to themselves. Individuals can physically and emotionally become disconnected. Yoga can give you the opportunity to create a connection using mindfulness, breathe awareness and body awareness.
Mindfulness is a foundation to yoga and essential to the yoga groups at EHN Seattle. By using mindfulness, a person can observe experiences, thoughts, emotions and sensations in real time, as they happen without judgment or reaction to them.
Author and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron describes this experience as, “You are the sky, everything else is just the weather.” Individuals often forget that they’re not their thoughts. Thoughts are just a part of them. People tend to get caught up in a thought or a feeling and lose perspective beyond it. When it comes to addiction, cravings are an example of that. It’s a sensation and a series of thoughts. Part of the work in recovery is to observe cravings as they arise with the perspective that they are an experience that will pass. When individuals get caught up in the experience itself they react impulsively. People will use behaviors that are automatic instead of responding with a sense of perspective and understanding for what’s really need.
In EHN’s yoga therapy groups, the practice of mindfulness is developed through breath and body awareness. We observe the quality of how we breathe and realize how we feel in our own skin, taking note of where there is physical tension or pain. Our bodies carry memories of experiences from our history and impact our choices about how we treat ourselves.
David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD, authors of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body, wrote about the effects of movement and breathing practiced in yoga and how they facilitate the healing of physical trauma that has been stored in our bodies as physical tension, restriction or pain. According to this book, individuals become physically and mentally hard, increasingly restricted and judgmental over time, because instead of compassionately paying attention to their experiences they run from themselves through addictions.
Practices of breath and body awareness create the possibility for softening, releasing and healing because they cultivate space in our experience to observe and pay attention to experiences without collapsing into judgment or reaction. Out of that space of attention and observation we come to a sense of connection, of care for ourselves, and find ways to address what we really need in order to heal.
The Unexpected Benefits of Yoga
Often what initially draws individuals to explore yoga is the physical side of it, increasing strength and flexibility. Yoga has a profound physical impact. It can increase flexibility after a single class, decrease chronic pain and improve strength within a few months. Yoga philosophy conceptualizes the self as composed of layers (physical, psychological, breath, spiritual) and therefore has a profound impact on all aspects of our experience.
Harvard Medical School has been studying the impact of yoga on physiological and mental functioning since the 1970s. They have produced studies on Yoga’s ability to improve cardiovascular health and significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression resulting from a consistent yoga practice.
Yoga groups at the Edgewood Health Network involve two parts. First, a gentle yoga practice that includes stretching, mild strength-building, breathing practices, mindfulness and meditation. The second part is to provide a time to process. Following the yoga practice group members are invited to reflect on their experience and discuss insights into their recovery process.
Paramanhansa Yogananda, one of several teachers to introduce yoga to North America in the early 1900s, describes the purpose of yoga to condition the body to be able to sit and be still. Yoga therapy groups at EHN Seattle features a combination of movement and stillness, self-reflection and group processing with four goals in mind:
- Cultivate a sense of integration between body and mind;
- Build a sense of compassion and acknowledgement of our experience that will allow one to reflect on judgments and reactions;
- Develop a healthy sense of differentiation between our deeper selves, our thoughts and emotions;
- Encourage a positive relationship with our physical selves while giving gracious attention to areas of tension and physical restriction.
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, give us a call at 206-402-4115. Our Yoga Therapy Groups currently run on Tuesdays throughout the day and evening.
A part of Edgewood Seattle since the summer of 2012, Courtney Strong specializes in the treatment of trauma and addiction, as well as other related mental health disorders. Courtney is passionate about the opportunity Edgewood offers individuals in the Seattle area, regularly revamping services to provide the highest sophistication in treatment of substance use disorders.