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Mindfulness and Yoga in Recovery

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The importance of mindfulness and yoga in recovery

I may be biased, but I believe two of the most important tools in the process of recovery are mindfulness and yoga. What better way to slow down the insanity of our more fast-paced-racing-thoughts kind of minds than by listening to the sound of our breath, flexing our mental and physical muscles and increasing our awareness and focus on the present moment.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why I believe that mindfulness and yoga are essential components of recovery:

Responding vs. Reacting: When we take time to meditate, or to mindfully move through a yoga practice, we are giving ourselves the pleasure of pausing, slowing down, dropping in. How often do you find yourself doing this each day? You don’t have to be an addict to understand the crazy nature of living life on autopilot and at times, being a prisoner to impulsive thinking. Mindfulness and yoga invite us to observe and be, rather than react and do. Furthermore, the practice of ujjayi (“victorious breath”) breathing in yoga can help us move from our sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) to our parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”). Living more in the rest and digest state lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, and has great medical and psychological benefits.

 Greater amounts of Gaba: Gaba is a feel good neurotransmitter in the brain, that reduces anxiety and depression. Lower levels of gaba (gama-aminobutyric acid) can lead to an increase in anxiety and depression. As noted in this Boston University study, the practice of asana, the yoga postures, can help to increase the amounts of gaba in our brain, resulting in a decrease in anxiety and depression. Mindfulness and yoga offer us an organic path to a lightness of being.

 Quiets down your inner critic: Have you ever tried to balance on one leg, listen to the quality of your breath and engage in self-defeating dialogue at the same time? Not impossible, but incredibly challenging. Yoga gives us the opportunity to focus our attention on exactly what we are doing in the here and now, leaving little space for the “shit talker” that often times takes up way too much space inside our head. Partnering mindfulness and yoga with coping skills like positive self-talk and affirmations are fundamental elements of recovery.

In fact, if you take a closer look, there are quite a few parallels between the practice of yoga and the process of recovery: both require that we remain grounded. There is no space for comparison or competition. Patience is essential.  Stretching outside our comfort zone is key. Playfulness and laughter are encouraged. Finding the right balance can be tricky—support is necessary. And of course, we must always, always remember to breathe.

-submitted by Samantha Levy MFT

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