The worst part about addiction, in my experience, is losing control over your mind and body. Not being able to make the healthy choice, even though you’re perfectly aware of what it is because your body craves the substance too badly. This was my situation for more than a decade.
I was an alcoholic all through my teenage years. It started out of curiosity, I wanted to know what was the big fuss about alcohol. But gradually I started drinking more and more, and soon enough I couldn’t go out and have fun, or fall asleep at night, without being drunk.
During this time my entire life revolved around alcohol. It was all I could think about, I pushed my family away, I didn’t want to do anything with my life other than getting drunk. At 23 I was arrested while driving drunk and sentenced to two years in prison for DUI.
The prison was hard, there were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it out alive. But I did, and as soon as I was out of there I decided I would never get myself in a situation that could make me go back there. So I took the most important decision in my life: getting sober.
Checking into a drug/alcohol rehabilitation program helped me heal and start a brand new life. One of the things that I value the most about my experience was being able to adopt new, healthy habits which helped me regain control over my mind and body. Yoga helped me in many ways during recovery, and today I would like to share them with you:
Controlling Stress and Anxiety
Yoga has many health benefits, and one of the most significant ones is helping you control your stress and anxiety. Studies show that people who suffer from anxiety disorders, like I did, showed a decrease in their anxiety and depression levels after practicing yoga for a certain period of time.
When you are in recovery you experience a series of very strong and different emotions, which can be really stressful and overwhelming. Through yoga, I was able to control those emotions and don’t let them overcome me. I learned how to deal with stressful situations more calmly, and this ultimately helped me become less anxious.
All through my addiction, I suffered from insomnia. I wasn’t able to fall asleep if I wasn’t drunk, and even then it would take me hours for me to fall asleep. The next morning I would wake up feeling like I hadn’t rested at all. Imagine how hard it was for me to fall asleep while I was in recovery and no longer had the “help” of alcohol.
My sleeping patterns were badly messed up, but yoga helped me regulate them. On one hand, having a clear mind, free of worries, made it easier for me to fall asleep. I no longer had a sea of negative thoughts inside my head and that state of peace improved my sleep significantly. Also, the physical effort from yoga helped my body relax enough so that I could sleep the whole night through.
Discipline is something you lose as an addict. In my case, I never developed any sort of discipline in my life. I was never a great student at school and I didn’t participate in any sports or extracurricular activities, so I never knew what committing to something other than alcohol was like. During recovery, I committed too many new things: my nutrition, therapy, my family, reading, meditation, and yoga. Committing to an activity and practicing it every day helps you build self-discipline, and this discipline is what makes you stay on track and avoid relapsing.
If you have ever been addicted to something you know the feeling: wanting to quit, knowing it’s the best for you, but, no matter how hard you try, not being able to. Sometimes people think that the problem of addicts is that they have a weak willpower. They don’t understand that addiction is a disease like any other, that needs proper treatment and can’t be cured by simply having willpower.
However, when you’re in recovery, it is important for you to build and strengthen your willpower. According to the American Psychological Association, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to achieve long-term goals, and it can be strengthened with practice. For me, a great way of practicing my willpower was yoga.
The truth is that yoga is hard. It’s just as demanding as any sport, it requires physical strength, flexibility, and resistance. Holding a pose for a little longer even though it hurts, focusing on my breath and keeping my mind clear of all thoughts even though I might have tons of things to worry about… These simple things helped me shape my will. And this willpower then translated into not letting myself give in to the temptation of drinking again, even though I craved the pleasure because I knew that it was ephemeral and that sobriety was the only thing that would give me long-term happiness.
Control Over my Mind and Body
It all comes down to this: I was able to regain control over my mind and my body. I felt no longer governed by my desire to drink alcohol. This wasn’t an easy process, nor was it a short one. But yoga was a big part of it and a very helpful tool in achieving this control. As I have mentioned before, yoga is all about clearing your mind and being able to achieve balance and concentration in a specific pose. This can’t be achieved if you’re not 100% focused on your body, your breath, and the very moment. If your mind is far away, it’s a lot more difficult to achieve this balance.
Training my mind to be at one place, focusing on only one thing and not letting my mind race like it used to, helped me regain power over my thoughts and emotions. If I could teach my mind to concentrate on a pose as to not let my body fall over, I could train it not to give into temptation, to handle situations more calmly, fall asleep when my body needs it, to be disciplined and have a strong will.
I have been sober for 9 years now, and I still practice yoga three times a week. It’s become a part of my life, and, besides of the benefits I mentioned before, it has improved my strength, flexibility, posture, and metabolism.
There are many health benefits you can get through yoga. Give it a chance and come back and tell us how it went in the comments below.
Andy Macia was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles, California. He’s an active entrepreneur and marketing specialist, with his own successful digital marketing agency for a global client list, based in Medellín, Colombia.