By Andy Macia
“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down.” -Jigar Gor
Maybe I’ll just have one more hit. Maybe one more drink; just one more. That was the thought that I repeated in my head over and over around nine years ago before I was thrown in jail on drug and alcohol-related charges. I hadn’t stooped any lower than that before so there I was, saluting the oh-so-well-known rock bottom.
Wind the clock back to when I was around nine years old at a typical Colombian family party. Being of Colombian descent, I was used to the usual soirees we’d have with our friends; people dancing and singing barbecues, and lots of liquor.
I didn’t know much about the drinking culture at the time, but I knew I wanted to fit in. The way people relaxed and laughed and sang together obviously made me curious about trying alcohol. So I did. I sneakily lifted one of the bottles of Aguardiente (Colombian spirit) lying around and had a few sips. The first sip made me gag. The second one wasn’t so bad. The third was smooth.
I was eventually caught in the act that night, but my endeavors didn’t stop there. Alcohol turned to pot at thirteen and pot turned to cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin at nineteen, then, jail time. My drug detox while in my cell was one of the hardest parts of being in prison. Fighting off drug addiction is tough, to say the least. Alcohol addiction is also difficult, but imagine facing both at the same time. There were some nights where I truly thought I wasn’t going to make it through.
Once I got out, I had a newfound determination that was quickly trumped by relapse. The thing is, relapse rates are huge. Between 40% and 60% of recovered drug abusers eventually relapse.
I knew I needed extra help, so I looked into drug and alcohol rehab centers. I was shy at first, but I integrated quite well with the crowd there once I opened up. One of my closest friends while in rehab taught me a lot about using yoga to empower your recovery. Before he showed me the practice of yoga, I had no idea how many benefits it had. Benefits such as cardiovascular health, weight reduction and improved energy, mental stability… The list goes on.
Many people use yoga to better their lives, but I had never heard of it being used to aid addiction recovery. I started with little faith, but now nine years sober, I still practice yoga on a daily basis. Here are 5 ways it helped me recover from my addiction:
1.Yoga Helps Tolerate Unwanted Emotions
It’s no secret that feelings which are difficult to cope with are among the top reasons for relapse, stress being the leader. Only weeks into my rehab program did I realize that my anxiety and depression were key factors which pushed me towards using and abusing drugs and alcohol. It was made clear to me that I needed to minimize negative feelings in my life such as anger, stress, and the two aforementioned emotions. By incorporating yoga into my life and using breathing techniques, I was able to accept those challenging emotions and push them away with confidence.
2. Yoga Prevents Cravings
The same way people get into yoga to quit smoking, you can use it to quit other substances that might have you addicted, even sugar. Being aware of the present moment made me realize that it was a natural occurrence to crave highs. The way I was able to suppress my itch was that I replaced my artificial highs (drugs and alcohol) with natural ones (breathing, meditation, clearing the Nadis). There are even yoga poses which are aimed directly at reducing cravings.
3. Yoga Aids Detoxification
Many yoga poses such as the downward dog use gravity to increase blood flow to certain parts of the body. By practicing poses for blood flow, you are activating the organs that facilitate detox. The triangle pose and the bridge pose aid digestion, and in turn, detox becomes easier. The same way certain poses are aimed at reducing cravings, there are others which target detoxification.
4. Yoga Is Physical Exercise
Among the most recommended practices for drug addiction recovery comes in the form of physical exercise. Exercise fights off stress, helps you gain self-confidence, makes you feel and look healthier, and allows you to sleep better (one of the toughest things to do while detoxing was trying to get some shut-eye). However, a lesser-known way that it impacted my recovery was that I needed something to keep my mind occupied. That way I wouldn’t think about getting back on the bottle again. I made yoga my religion, and as such, it fully replaced my thoughts about having one more drink.
5. Yoga Is Introspection
I’ve made many mistakes in my life. I have many memories that make me wince and grind my teeth when they periodically flash in my mind. I’m aware, and being mindful played a huge part in being able to accept my past and move on instead of dwelling on it day and night. In my opinion, one of the most quintessential stages of recovery is moving on from the person you used to be and focusing entirely on the person you are right now in this moment. Not only that but the person you would like to be. A second chance at reinventing yourself is rare, so take advantage of it.
In short, those are the ways that yoga helped me recover. It began with being able to push negative emotions out of my mind, and then I worked my way to fight off cravings. By turning yoga into a daily exercise activity and taking it seriously, I was able to detox and really think about how much my choices had impacted my life. Being aware of the present, I’m now able to enjoy my life and my anxiety and depression are manageable. I hope that with these steps, you’ll be able to incorporate yoga and better your body and mind as well.
How has yoga benefited your life or changed you? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Andy Macia, a recovering drug addict/alcoholic with over 9 years sober. He was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles California. He is an avid rehab blogger and digital marketing entrepreneur.