Are you working on overcoming an addiction? If you answered, “yes” then yoga therapy could be a great part of your plan to recover. To help understand how yoga therapy can help someone who is struggling with an addiction and what a typical yoga therapy session is like, I have interviewed therapist Gina Watkins LCSW RYT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 2009. I received a Masters degree in Social Work in 2005 and have worked in criminal justice and substance abuse for about 10 years. I am also a Registered Yoga Teacher. I have worked in residential and outpatient treatment centers, correctional facilities and institutions, and with family members of people struggling with addiction. I also work in the health care field helping people who are living with chronic and terminal illnesses.”
What are the benefits of yoga therapy?
“I began using meditation, pranayama (breathwork), and mindful movement with clients while working with women in residential treatment in 2008. I found that the women I was working with really enjoyed their individual sessions as well as group sessions. They reported feeling more at ease, an increased sense of calm, and less agitated. They also reported that the tools and practices they learned in session were helpful in their daily lives.”
How can yoga therapy help someone who is struggling with an addiction?
“Mindfulness and yoga practice allows people to slow down and be present in the moment. It gives people an opportunity to stop thinking about the past and the future and all the anxiety that goes with it. Focusing on breath and sensations of the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the mind chatter and releasing tension in the body.
This practice also creates a more intuitive and intimate relationship with one’s mind and body. When in a yoga pose that is challenging and self-judgment or doubt arises, it is a reflection of how we treat ourselves in our daily lives. If our automatic reaction is to jump out of the pose because it is uncomfortable or to stay and berate ourselves because we are not doing it good enough, this is most likely how we react to the challenges in our own lives.
Addiction is a symptom to a problem that is deeper than just changing a habit. The combination of talk therapy and yoga therapy is a way to increase self-awareness to help get to core issues that keep people stuck in destructive behaviors. One of the goals is to guide people in understanding how their beliefs about their past experiences impact their present thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Realizing what is not serving you any longer and actually bringing you pain and suffering gives the opportunity to create a new relationship with these beliefs or let them go. This is practiced through mediation, pranayama, and yoga poses. There are certain practices that invite openness, vulnerability, strength, stress release and body awareness. These practices give people more control over their thoughts, feelings and behaviors and ultimately a greater sense of control in their lives. This increases self worth and motivates people to make healthier choices in their lives.”
What would a typical yoga therapy session be like for someone who is struggling with an addiction?
“A typical yoga therapy session is 75-90 minutes long. I like to start with a centering meditation or breathing exercise. We would then begin the “talk therapy” portion of the session, which usually lasts about 40-45 minutes. This includes discussion about the previous session, homework, new events or experiences, challenges, successes, thoughts, feelings and behaviors since the last session. Through the discussion we find a theme that the yoga therapy portion will focus. Examples of themes may be releasing a negative emotion, being vulnerable, challenging thoughts, being present, or strengthening positive self talk. The session will always end with a 5-10 minute svasana (corpse/final relaxation pose).”
What advice would you like to leave for someone who is considering yoga therapy to help them overcome their addiction?
“This approach to yoga therapy can be used to heal from various kinds of issues. Addiction is a dangerous and consuming disease. A person suffering from this disease can greatly benefit from this kind of work in building self- awareness and a greater experience of self -love. That being said, this approach is only a piece of the healing pie. Community support such as Alcoholic Anonymous (or other support groups relating to the particular issue) and other addiction programs and classes are essential in the recovery process. Finding a common ground with others struggling in the same way will give you the strength you need to fight and help you open up to compassion for self and others.
Yoga therapy can be an amazing tool for self-exploration and each step an individual takes toward this growth will bring them that much closer to self acceptance, happiness and continued well-being.”
Thank you Gina for doing the interview on how yoga therapy can help someone who is struggling with an addiction. For more information on Gina or her work you can check out her website on www.bewellcounseling.com.
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