While there is an official and certified process for claiming to be a Yoga Therapist, and I am not one, there is an age old model for looking at illnesses and suffering that is available to all. It is an ancient four part methodology that works beautifully for people in recovery. One could even find a correlation between this model and the Twelve Steps.
I begin by giving my opinion: that addiction is an illness (this part is documented) and it includes injury. The injury, the impacts of addiction, can be healed. The illness cannot be cured. This idea of healing v. curing is my own, and the work that follows comes from this perspective.
Yoga’s four part approach for enhancing and improving health is (in sanskrit) heyum, hetu, hanam and upayam. This is what those words mean and how they are applied:
Part one of this four part series we will look at HEYAM
To begin, the student, the recovering addict, must take steps one through three of the twelve step recovery program (or the equivalent of other recovery programs.) The healing starts with the desire to recover. It is only then that the yogic evaluation process can start.
Each addiction has its own symptoms and sequelae and they all have certain aspects in common. Each kind of addiction will have its own impacts on the body. Using the skill of heyam we look at body, mind, spirit, emotional states and breath.
Participating in any addiction has its impact on the breathing. Depressants slow the breathing, sometimes screen / media addiction will cause a complete holding of the breath. Anticipation may speed the breathing up so a process addiction may cause irregular breathing patterns and meth /speed or other stimulants can also speed the breathing up, often making it shallow as well as quick.
Breathing patterns have impacts on the other systems in the body. Healthy breathing, healthy systems, unhealthy or disrupted breathing patterns – unhealthy systems. As a result incorrect breathing there will be negative impacts on the circulatory system, the digestive system, and the nervous system. Communication with self and others will be impaired because the body is starved for air. We don’t make sense to ourselves and we don’t make sense to others when the brain is agitated and the nervous system is on high alert.. Survival instinct may take over as a natural cue from shallow breathing and, in that case, the freeze, flight or fight impulses are ignited.
While most addicts do not breath in a smooth, deep, comfortable way the result of unhealthy breath rhythms will be different for each addict. A heroin addict will have certain digestive problems, issues with nutrition, sleep and emotions. Emotional issues will also affect the meth users but their nutritional and sleep needs in recovery may be different. The impact to the liver will be more severe with some substances than others, and the immune system will be impaired for all. Each body type and source of addiction has individual needs for healing.
Yoga teachers are not medical doctors. We can work in companionship with doctors; orignal medicine or modern medicine. In either case the first thing we do is observe. Watching the student and evaluating their relationship to the asana practice and their breath rhythms can give a lot of information. In one on one work the yoga teacher can talk to the student, the client, and gain a deeper understanding about their individual situation. More inquiry is appropriate in this setting. However we are often teaching in a treatment center or a yoga studio and there is no opportunity for individual evaluation or adjustment. In group classes the instructor’s skills of observation and suggestion may be the only tool at hand.
Once the student has decided to get clean, sober or abstinent a yoga teacher can help the process of recovery. A teacher can help the student identify and recognize the symptoms s/he has. We can then offer practices to bring him/her back to balance- in body , mind and spirit. The beginning is simple. The first step is to observe the breath. Watching the breath is paramount. A healthy deep breath is a gateway to healing.
Next – hetu – discovering and understanding the causes.