Yin Yoga for Recovery from Alcohol Addiction
It is a frequently uncomfortable world we live in, and we have all been conditioned to a certain degree to reach outward for something to soothe ourselves when the going gets rough. Watch any television sitcom or movie, and if there is a quarrel or stressful situation, the actor will quite often be drawn to his table of assorted bottles of alcohol for a quick shot or a glass of wine. It has become such a common occurrence that most of us hardly think twice when reaching for that drink, or going out to socialize at the pub. It only comes under the radar when it becomes too much, too often and when we know we have a problem – an addiction.
There are certain beliefs that once an addict, always and addict. I hold the belief that we are who we ARE, and our addiction is but a result of what is going on for us. It is a reaction to the symptoms we are experiencing, which are usually very uncomfortable, resulting in us feeling a dis–ease in our bodies. We are not at ease, our nervous system is amped up, and we get easily pulled into a downward spiral through drinking on a regular basis. Our sleep patterns get disrupted, our body organs suffer, and our finely tuned microbiome flips into dysbiosis causing our gut bacteria to become unbalanced, giving rise to chronic ailments. Our adrenal glands also suffer from the stress of alcohol addiction and instead of feeling calmer from the drink, we become even more ragged and stressed over time. Our inner stress begins to show on the exterior, and runs havoc in our lives, affecting those we love. We begin to detach… from others and from ourselves, and loneliness becomes as big a friend as the bottle.
How do we round ourselves back up and ground back into who we ARE, and connect once again with the beloved people in our life? One is to quit drinking by seeking out help, either through AA or a recovery center. Another is through community Yoga. I would like to suggest Yin Yoga as a particularly helpful and somatic practice for recovering addicts.
Since Yin Yoga has a way of working deep into the tissues, it would be wise to address nutritional needs prior to starting the practice. The body will need healing first, and consulting your doctor before practicing would be suggested. Once all checks out, finding a class and a teacher that you feel comfortable with is in order. Choose someone that respects your boundaries and knows that you are in recovery.
In Yin Yoga, the poses are held usually from 3-5 minutes. The idea is to settle into the poses and find an appropriate depth, and then hold the pose and let gravity have it’s way with you. Your mind may try to find every reason to come out of the pose, and your body will persist and gently go deeper. Over time, this willingness to stay in the uncomfortableness instead of running away from it, reconditions the mind of the addict to be able to cope with uncomfortable life situations without running back to the bottle. We learn that we are resilient, despite our mind convincing us otherwise. In a long-held pose, our issues are also being released from our tissues, and energetic pathways, or meridians, are being reopened and pockets of old, traumatic energy are being released. Our joints are also receiving new energy as they get gently stressed and become more flexible as a result.
Some beneficial Yin Yoga poses for a person in recovery would be any poses that stimulate the Liver, Gallbladder and Kidney meridians, and also the Spleen and Urinary Bladder lines. These organs being gently squeezed in the poses will also support detoxification of the body. There are many sequences that would be beneficial, and in those the Butterfly, the Swan and some Reclining Twists would be particularly helpful.
The Butterfly (also known as Baddha Konasana in Yang practice) stretches the lower back and stimulates the kidneys. The Gall Bladder and Urinary Bladder meridian lines are stimulated. The ida and pingala nadis, or yin and yang energies spiraling up the spine, are also activated which create a release of old, stagnant energies. This pose has a soothing, ‘melting’ feel to it and can calm the nervous system enormously. The spine is gently curved, all the muscles are relaxed (which is one of the main characteristics of Yin vs Yang Yoga), and gravity pulls you gently into the pose to the edge that feels just right for you. Support with cushions, bolsters and/or blocks should be available for beginners.
Fig 1. Image Credit: speakgently.tumblr.com
Another suggested pose to add to a recovery sequence would be the Swan and Sleeping Swan (also known as the Pigeon in Yang Practice). This is a hip opener, and props are very helpful for the beginner. There is a lovely backbend to this pose when upright in Swan, providing some compression to the lower back according to comfort. In Sleeping Swan (pictured below in fig.2), the upper body comes down to the ground (again using props if needed). The Liver, Kidney, Stomach, Spleen, Gallbladder and Urinary Bladder lines are stimulated in this pose. For the beginner, this pose can challenge you in all the best ways.
Fig 2. PictureCredit: Leslie Saglio from Mind Body Green
To end a sequence for recovery, Reclining Twists should be incorporated. Twists have a way of resetting the spine and the nervous system, and wringing out any last bits of unwanted energy. There are many ways to do the twists, and it is really a matter of finding what works best for you. A variation of meridians are stimulated according to the type of twist, and for the most part, the Urinary Bladder lines are affected. Twists also massage the internal organs, promoting detoxification.
Fig 3. Picture Credit: wholeliving.com
Of course, a wonderfully long Shavasana or perhaps some Yoga Nidra to end your session is a must. Make sure that you are covered with a blanket to get that ‘tucked in’ feeling, and allow your mind to relax as fully as your body. You have 7-10 minutes to let the whole world disappear… and for a person in recovery, moments like these are incredibly healing and rejuvenating.
It is my hope that everyone in recovery from alcohol addiction seek out Yoga (and Yin Yoga) as a healing modality. It is one thing to address the mind in talk therapy, and it becomes much more rounded when there are also ways to move the body. Over time the results can be very fruitful, as the Yoga practitioner discovers that day by day, they are feeling more grounded, calm, and able to handle the stresses of life. In time they may find themselves reaching for their yoga mat, rather than the bottle.