The statistics are staggering. Some reports indicate that as many as one in three suffer from some type of addiction disorder. It’s a multi-faceted condition with many forms, including: alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating), compulsive spending, gambling, exercise bulimia, sex, love, porn as well as addiction to relationships and roles. Addiction affects people of all ages, backgrounds and socio-economic status. In addition to the addict, it affects families, friends and ultimately society as a whole causing social, psychological and physical harm. Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Because the effects of addiction are physical, mental and even spiritual, its exact source is often difficult to pinpoint. However, it can be argued that the root of all addiction is unresolved emotional trauma.
Generally, definition of trauma centers around what’s called ‘shock trauma’, i.e. accidents, war, murder, natural disasters. However, new leaders in the field of trauma healing define it this way; ‘On a broad level, trauma is anything from one’s life experience that remains trapped and unresolved causing disturbances at the biological, physiological, emotional, mental or behavior levels.” (Peter Levine)
Rather than event centric, Dr. Levine and others view trauma as a disease of the nervous system. Another way to think about it is, “the issues live in our tissues.”
One of the indications of unresolved trauma is that the capacity to self-regulate is damaged; responses are often reflexive and impulsive. In the effort to regulate their nervous system, addicts will turn to any substance or behavior to come to even a momentary homeostasis.
In a word, the effects of addiction could easily be described as ‘separation’. Addictive behaviors separate, disconnect us from ourselves, loved ones, our environment, our spirituality and more. Conversely, the word yoga means union, integration, balance, wholeness.
Most approaches to addiction recovery target cognitive behavior. While these approaches offer insight into addictive behaviors and introduce principles for positive action, statistics show an unprecedented rate of relapse and/or program abandonment. After a period of abstinence, the stresses of life return and unless a person is exceptionally well-equipped to meet the challenges, the temptation to go back to the familiar is overwhelming.
Combining therapeutic yoga that specifically addresses trauma and addiction with practices addressing the cognitive level creates a model that truly addresses addiction as a physical, mental and spiritual disease. Not a program replacement, this type of yoga therapy provides adjunct tools specifically relating to relapse prevention.
Based on the ancient Yoga Sutra 2:16 Heyam Duhkham Anagatam meaning ‘suffering that has not yet come can be avoided’, yoga therapy for addiction helps the addicted person recognize the signs of relapse at the level of feeling and sensation in the body and gives them a set of tools and practices that help restore balance, before the relapse. This combined approach helps them find nervous system regulation in sustainable non-destructive ways rather than destructive ones.
Using the tools of yoga, addiction sufferers can find practices that integrate and enhance physical, mental and spiritual well-being, helping them to recognize that ultimately the separation between them is artificial.
An accomplished teacher and practitioner, Nikki Myers is an MBA, Yoga Therapist, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and Certified Addictions Recovery Specialist. Born from her personal struggle with addiction, Nikki is the founder of Y12SR , The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery. Based in its theme ‘the issues live in the tissues’, Y12SR is a relapse prevention program that weaves the art & science of yoga with the practical tools of 12-step programs. Y12SR meetings are now available all over the United States and the curriculum is rapidly becoming a feature of addiction recovery treatment centers. Nikki’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Yoga Journal, Black Enterprise, The Huffington Post, Origin Magazine, CBSnews.com and more. She is honored to be a co-founder of the annual Yoga, Meditation and Recovery Conferences at Esalen Institute and Kripalu Center. In 2014, Nikki was honored as a recipient of the esteemed NUVO Cultural Visionary Award for her work with Y12SR. Find out more at y12sr.com.