Trauma is a key driver of substance abuse and addiction. In fact, people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) than the general public. Often people who’ve experienced severe trauma try to self-medicate to mask their uncomfortable symptoms. Unfortunately, SUD and addiction present their own challenges and do not solve the root of the issue. Mindfulness and yoga are now being suggested as complementary therapies for trauma healing and recovery.
Trauma and the Autonomic Nervous System
Much of the research on treating people for trauma focuses on regulating the Autonomic Nervous System. When a traumatic event occurs, the nervous system kicks into “Fight or Flight” mode, the Sympathetic Nervous System response. The body effectively kicks into high gear, with all of the body’s systems and energy focused on escaping or dealing with the threat. Typically, once the threat has subsided, the body can down-regulate from this heightened state back into the Parasympathetic (“Rest and Digest”) mode that we operate in normally.
However, in the case of PTSD, this down regulation either doesn’t occur or the “Fight or Flight” response is easily triggered. This can occur from memories of the event or even everyday occurrences that wouldn’t normally be considered traumatic. The patient often experiences a near-constant state of anxiety, stress, and heightened nervous system response, also known as hypervigilance.
Yoga, Mindfulness and Trauma Healing
Mindfulness is an important practice for anyone but is crucial for PTSD. A 2016 study in the Journal of Alternative Medicine states that eliminating the conditioned fear response of PTSD is crucial to resolving the mental health issue. It means that in order to manage the powerful emotions and impulsive responses associated with PTSD, survivors of trauma must learn to stay oriented in the present moment.
Yoga centers on moving through poses and focusing on linking the breath to each movement. Therefore, mindfulness has always been a key aspect of this ancient practice. Some practitioners suggest that the bodywork aspect of yoga acts as a bridge to achieving mindfulness. This is likely due to yoga’s emphasis on body awareness, breath work, and mental strength. In yoga, the concept of “mind over matter” is practiced when in difficult poses or uncomfortable positions. Similarly, yoga is a moving meditation, which can benefit mental health in a myriad of ways.
Anecdotal data suggests that both yoga and mindfulness are effective as complementary therapies for PTSD, combined with traditional psychiatric and psychological treatments.
Yoga in Addiction Treatment
At Harmony Recovery Group, we incorporate yoga into our treatment plans. From helping support our patients in trauma healing to teaching mindfulness skills that can benefit their recovery, yoga is a helpful tool that can be used long after treatment has ended.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Contact us today, see how we can help you live the life you’ve dreamed of, free of drugs and alcohol.
THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE Volume 22, Number 3, 2016, pp. 189–196 ª Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2014.0407