Saturday, September 17, 2016

Teaching Yoga and Addiction Recovery: Turning Adversity into Advantage

addiction recovery
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

There are many different forms of addiction, although the general process of addiction is frequently the same, regardless of the form it takes. The addictive process is often fueled by unresolved negative and/or painful life experiences that continue to linger just below the conscious surface, often for months or years far beyond the initial painful event. This is often seen in survivors of sexual abuse and veterans of war. Extremely painful life experiences such as these often lead to post traumatic stress disorder, which can substantially impair an individual’s ability to function well in the world and enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life. 

Of course, how an individual reacts and responds to difficult experiences is also determined by his or her unique understanding of life. For some people, experiencing trying life circumstances, such as the loss of a job, home or spouse, may be quite difficult but not insurmountable to the point where the person turns toward an addictive substance or behavior to self-medicate. Some people are born with an innately higher level of psychological resiliency than others. Those lucky individuals are able to rebound more quickly than more vulnerable people to the same difficult life experiences. 

This psychological resiliency is usually tied to healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which helps to ward off anxiety and depression. Practicing Yoga regularly, at least several times a week helps to replenish serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, as well as create feelings of buoyancy, lightness and energy. In order to experience both the physical and psychological benefits of Yoga, it is important for your students to engage in a balanced practice of asanas, breathing techniques and relaxation exercises. 

In addition, by incorporating some of the timeless wisdom of the Yoga scriptures into your classes, you will help your students to reframe their painful life experiences into the context of a larger, heroic journey throughout their lifetime. In turn, they will be less likely to stumble, fall and stay on the ground. Instead, your students will be more able to pick themselves up, forgive themselves, understand the lessons in their uncomfortable or difficult life experiences and move on. 

This is one of the ways that a comprehensive, regular practice of Yoga can help your students to turn adversity into advantage. For example, on a physical level, if any of your students are healing from an injury, such as a strained lower back or a pulled hamstring, modifying the standard flow of postures in order to accommodate their injury, will help them to understand and honor both the strengths and weaknesses of their own body. In this way, practicing a modified version of various Yoga postures will give your students insight into their own physical state and into the way that they approach specific weaknesses or limitations in their lives. 

On a psychological level, when a student is truly present for all of the various sensations of the body and the vrittis of the mind during a Yoga class, many different sensations, feelings and thoughts may arise. By gently suggesting that your Yoga students become mindfully aware of their feelings, thoughts and uncomfortable sensations, without suppressing those feelings or sensations, they will be able to delve more deeply into challenging life experiences as they arise. 

As your Yoga students begin to learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and sensations, by staying present and continuing to breath through the experience, they will be more able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings in their day-to-day lives off the mat. This will help your students to bring into their conscious awareness unresolved, painful life experiences, without immediately trying to self-medicate the uncomfortable feelings with an addictive substance or behavior. 

Do keep in mind, however, that some of your Yoga students may also need the support of a trained therapist, in order to safely and effectively integrate unresolved painful experiences that surface during class. If you do find that a few of your students need additional psychological or medical support as they withdraw from addictive behaviors or substances, finding a quiet, private moment at the beginning or end of a Yoga class, in order to encourage them to seek out the professional support that is appropriate for their particular situation, is recommended. 


The practice of Yoga has the capacity to ignite a deep transformation in the hearts, minds and bodies of your students. By offering your Yoga students a comprehensive and balanced practice of postures, pranayama exercises, stress-relieving exercises, and contemplative techniques of self-inquiry, you will be creating a rich opportunity to turn adversity into advantage. Over time, and with patient and compassionate awareness, your Yoga students will learn how to honor and transform even painful life experiences into nuggets of richly hued wisdom. 

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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3 comments:

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parvezbdjsr said...

Regular practice of Yoga can help your students to turn adversity into advantage. Thank you Virginia Iversen for writing this nice article.