Yoga and Ayurveda to Support Recovery from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

  • By Catherine O'neill (Durga Leela) -

    yoga-lotus-flowerThe ancient wisdom of Ayurveda (science of self­ healing) and Yoga (science of self-realization) offer therapies and practices to bring about and maintain lasting sobriety from drug and alcohol addiction.

    Ayurveda views each individual as a unique expression of the five elements, refined into three essential doshas (biological humors): Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. This holistic healing system offers simple and practical methods to repair and rejuvenate the body through the use of five-sense therapies and specific detoxification techniques. Ayurvedic therapies revitalize the body's systems and boost the immune system, giving a strong foundation in health and an increased ability to face the challenges and stresses of daily life without resorting/relapsing into old addictive behaviors. Most importantly, treatment methods employed by Ayurveda rely on lifestyle changes rather than on simply taking a pill to eradicate symptoms.

    Together, Yoga and Ayurveda offer a truly empowering personal program of recovery. Accordingly, I have set out, below, the 12 steps to healing addiction with Yoga and Ayurveda:

    1. Diet
    2. Herbal Remedies
    3. Massage therapy (Ayurvedic body treatments)
    4. Aromatherapy
    5. Sound Therapy (Mantra and Kirtan)
    6. Color therapy
    7. Detoxification
    8. Asana
    9. Pranayama (breathing exercises)
    10. Relaxation
    11. Positive thinking and meditation
    12. Synthesis of the Four Paths of Yoga - Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga

    Synthesis of the Four Paths of Yoga: Karma, Bhakti, Raja, Joana

    Addiction is understood to be a malady of body, mind, and spirit. Yoga views the individual as a holistic personality of three bodies (physical, astral, causal). The synthesis of the Four Paths of Yoga offer an integral approach combining

    1. the physical and breathing exercises of Hatha yoga methods with
    2. the meditation and mind analysis of Raja Yoga methods;
    3. the selfless service of Karma yoga (action without personal egoistic motive or a sense of being the doer); and
    4. the philosophical inquiry about the nature of "who am I?" and my relationship to the universe (Jnana yoga).

    The practice of these Four Paths of Yoga needs to be done on a daily basis, a little at a time. This practice is the necessary strategy to bring back wholeness and health and to combat addiction, which is a symptom of not being whole. The variety of practices helps a person to have choices in daily life while maintaining healthy boundaries and promoting progress in achieving self-control, a positive attitude, and a healthy lifestyle.

    To establish oneself on the path of self-healing and wholeness, it is necessary to get out of the ego and understand the basic truth: the unity of life. Karma Yoga (selfless service, living to serve others or a power greater than oneself and one's ego) is very important for healing. Bhakti Yoga is the practice of self­ surrender through devotion and worship. An activity that is becoming more common in the West today is Kirtan (call-and-response chanting of mantra), a sure method of healing as it brings positive emotions of joy and love and connection to the divine.

    Raja Yoga is represented by the Eightfold Path offering purification through practice of the yamas, niyamas, asanas, etc. These are guidelines in positive self-discipline and control of mind – the opposite of the root of all addictive habits. This purification leads us to meditation, a sure method of consciously connecting with our Higher Power/Self.

    Jnana Yoga is affirming our true self; once we realize our true nature, all psychological problems are removed at the roots. Affirmation of the self and identification with the self removes all cravings, sense of lack, self-esteem problems, and self-defeating behaviors.

    Combining Yoga psychology and the Yogic philosophy of the self alongside an Ayurvedic lifestyle offers a sure path from self-destruction to self-realization – one day at a time. 


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