Wellness services can play a supportive role in the holistic treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. They benefit mind and body, help clients learn to manage stress and contribute to fitness and positive mental health.
Yoga and meditation are the most popular alternative health approaches in the United States, each with millions of practitioners. In 2017, more than 14 percent of US adults surveyed by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said they had done yoga in the past 12 months, while a similar number of people said they had meditated. That’s up from 2012 when 9 percent were doing yoga and 4 percent said they were meditating.
The American Osteopathic Association lists reducing chronic pain, high blood pressure and insomnia among the physical benefits of yoga. Other benefits include increased flexibility, improved respiration, energy and vitality, as well as maintaining a balanced metabolism.
The mental benefits are equally impressive. For example, it may help practitioners manage stress. This is a crucial feature as stress—especially stress resulting from trauma—can have devastating effects on the body and mind, potentially leading to substance misuse. Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life. Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s overall mental well-being.
A special variety of yoga is particularly valuable in a recovery context. Trauma-sensitive yoga aims to help clients regain comfort in their bodies, counteract rumination, and improve self-regulation. The objective is to help clients heighten their body awareness—to notice what is happening inside their bodies—and thereby learn to release tension, reduce and control fear and arousal, and tolerate sensation.
Traumatic experiences are frequently the underlying drivers of substance use disorders. Patients with trauma-based addiction may experience hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and an inability to calm themselves.
“People who are scared all the time develop bodies that somehow protect against this anxiety. There is a multiplicity of ways of doing that, and many trauma survivors unconsciously try out several different ones over time. Preoccupied with losing control, they stiffen their muscles, which prevents them from relaxing and being able to go with the flow,” writes David Emerson in Overcoming Trauma through Yoga. “Their tension ultimately may lead to muscle spasms, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain. Once these conditions are medicalized, they develop a life of their own, leading to regular doctor visits, diagnostic tests, medications, and rehabilitation programs, none of which is likely to address the underlying issues.”
Trauma-informed yoga is designed to improve those issues, helping patients calm their minds and regulate their physical responses and, thus, their emotions. They learn to recognize and tolerate physical sensations and thereby regain a feeling of safety inside their bodies. This, in turn, will make addiction triggers less powerful and recovery more stable.