According to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) figures, there were about 21.4 million people over 12 years of age battling with substance addiction in the US.
As healthcare givers have been trying to find ways of helping people overcome their substance dependencies, Yoga has gradually been making its way into the fold. It is to this wonderful ancient practice that users have turned to help them overcome their addictions.
There are several different underlying reasons that push people over the edge and into addiction and substance abuse. Addiction and dependencies can frequently stem from an underlying sense of personal inadequacy and a feeling of being unable to cope with life. Some might chose to escape the stresses they no longer wish to live with by completely overhauling their lives and shifting career or country. Others, however, find the impermanent highs of substance abuse as their coping mechanism.
As an entirely natural means of "rewiring" the brain, Yoga (and meditation) can well serve those who need an alternative way of channeling their energies (no pun intended). This wonderful ancient practice provides substance abusers with a means to create an internal quiet space that shifts their focus towards something more positive. It's the basis for a new ability to create a quiet and calm spot for the body and mind, away from the endless cravings.
Combining asana and breath exercises, Yoga can be used to encourage feelings of peace and comfort that far outlast the highs of nicotine, alcohol or any other substance. Alongside meditation, Yoga helps substance abusers develop a more positive relationship with their body and who they are as people. Not only that, but the self-esteem is increased, as the Yoga practice helps navigate and find the happiness within than without.
It may not get them on the path of establishing that we're all one big soul, no different from each other. But Yoga does at least have the benefit of creating positivity, increased happiness and balance, and inner calm than any substance can. It causes a fundamental shift in thinking as a deeper awareness of the inner self is created, allowing substance abusers to tap into their inner strength the natural way. Who hasn't finished an invigorating Yoga practice on an energy high that can't be described?
In a past life, when I was still a journalist, I resorted to a fairly potent, and not very healthy, mix of nicotine, and to some extent alcohol, to get through the daily stresses. Mixed with very low self-confidence, it's not overly hard to see how, in my pre-Yoga days, I felt this was a really awesome solution.
Yet once I started practicing Yoga, I found a most excellent method to regulate and more effectively control the stresses that caused my dependencies.
Meditation and pranayama, in particular, became the means with which I could alter in my mind how I approached my life. It also helped me create a greater comfort level with who I was in my own skin (and even if my editor at the time didn't think I could write particularly well, Yoga did at least help me respond with a fairly sanguine smile and a shake of the head). The changes didn't end there either. With my ego kept under control and a more equalized approach to how I coped with daily stresses and angry people (including myself!), I slowly became less and less dependent. I also found a means to cope with the discomforts of my need for nicotine – and as time when on and my lungs recovered, I found my asana practice also massively improved.
My own experiences may not have been quite on the same level as an abuser of hard drugs, but as a whole, a regular Yoga practice helps its practitioners balance out the chemicals in the brain. It helps make one happier, far less depressed and increase the sense of being able to cope with life's struggles. It's also a great way to find physical balance and let go, not only of all the toxins that have built up in the body, but also of those cords that attach one to the addiction.