Yoga helps the body process discomfort during recovery

April 24, 2014

The physical tolls of addiction can be difficult to face, but detox centers across the country feature experienced professionals and counselors who can help those struggling with substance abuse move on from their destructive habits. A supportive community of like-minded peers and experts can mean all the difference when going through acute withdrawal symptoms, and the continued benefit of support groups for an extended period of time may help the chance of a long-term, sustained recovery.

For those who have struggled with addiction in the past, however, there may be a disconnect between the mind and the body that persists long into the recovery process. Drugs and alcohol may have filled a void that is now very visible in the life of a former substance abuser. While the temptation to relapse may exist, the alternative exercise of yoga is quickly becoming a popular outlet for those in recovery to recharge and recommit themselves to a fulfilling life of sobriety.

Posing for recovery

Yoga is most commonly seen as the private semi-athletic retreat of the well-to-do health food community. With positions that boast names like “downward facing dog” and “sun salutation,” yoga may not seem appropriate for those only just removed from a life of substance abuse.

On the contrary, The Huffington Post interviewed Suzula Bidon, a recovering drug user who teaches yoga to fellow former substance abusers in Minnesota. Bidon explained how after she completed drug rehab, she found many programs and support groups that helped her heal from her former habits mentally, emotionally and spiritually, but relatively few that incorporated a physical element into the recovery process.

To provide that physical healing not only to herself, but to others struggling with recovery, Bidon began teaching what she calls “recovery yoga.”

“What keeps me teaching recovery yoga is that I know it works, and I know it offers something I didn’t get from the 12 Steps alone,” Bidon told The Huffington Post. “Yoga reconciled me with my body, and gave me physical tools I can use to reconnect the various aspects of myself. Any psychological or emotional disruption is manageable with breath. When something throws me out of balance, my physical experience of yoga is like muscle memory. I know I can lose and find myself during yoga, so why can’t I do the same thing in my life?”

Bidon explained her recovery yoga as a tool to teach people how to work through discomfort. While all the poses she put herself and her students into may not be immediately comfortable, their bodies will adapt over time and be more receptive to difficult poses in the future.

Bidon linked this to her experience as a drug user – instead of working through her psychological pain and discomfort, she turned to substances in order to alleviate it. By replacing that crutch with yoga, however, Bidon said she has gained not only an outlet for her troubles in life, but a way to process her feelings in relation to them.

Hollywood does yoga

While Bidon focuses her teaching efforts on the recovering community of Minnesota, yoga and its restorative effects have been well-known by celebrities for a long time. Colin Farrell told The Observer in 2012 that yoga has helped him stay away from heavy drug and alcohol use since 2005.

Time magazine reported in 2008 that even once-notoriously hedonistic Robert Downey Jr. has embraced yoga as a way to redefine his life goals.

“I need a lot of support. Life is really hard, and I don’t see some active benevolent force out there,” Downey told Time.

Instead of waiting for that benevolent force, Downey, Farrell, Bidon and former substance abusers everywhere are using yoga to actively create it for themselves.

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