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A Holistic Approach to Addiction Therapy: Yoga
For the past nine years Phyllis Moses has taught yoga to the patients at Residence XII. Her work is an important element of Residence XII’s holistic approach to the treatment of addiction in women. In March, Phyllis was asked to speak at the Annual Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research which is sponsored by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Approximately 600 people attended this Los Angeles conference to learn more about using the ancient science of yoga in our modern society to improve mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health and well-being.
Research in the last decade has brought a wealth of scientific backing to the healing power of yoga. Along with the discipline of neuroscience, experts have demonstrated that by changing our thoughts and breathing patterns, we can change the neural pathways of the brain. When applied to those who are in treatment for the disease of addiction, yoga used with intention, breath and awareness can help change unfulfilling habit patterns into life-affirming patterns. The goal of the yoga program at Residence XII is to integrate cognitive/emotional learning with kinesthetic/physical learning.
The women in the inpatient program take yoga three mornings a week for one hour each time. Phyllis uses a Viniyoga approach which can accommodate varying levels of ability. Because this population can be easily distracted, soothing music is played in the background to help the women stay focused. The Viniyoga (literally means ‘the appropriate tools at the appropriate time’) approach emphasizes adaptability, sequencing, repetition of movement, and breath regulation; moving the spine in all the directions helps to create strength, flexibility and resiliency. The goal is to focus on the present moment and cultivate a state of deep relaxation—which helps to soothe and heal the central nervous system. The women are reminded that what they learn on the mat translates and carries over into their day-to-day life.
Most of the women coming into treatment for addiction are in poor physical health and emotionally fragile. In the inpatient program, the counselors discuss nutrition and the chef provides healthy, well-balanced meals free of caffeine and sugar. The women are encouraged to drink lots of water. Water, in combination with a healthy diet and yoga, helps to remove toxins from the body. By working with balance poses, women learn to feel a sense of internal trust and self-efficiency. Stretching and building strength on a musculo-skeletal level also builds resiliency on an emotional level so the women can cope with changes and challenges in their life. Breathing with a longer exhale helps patients move into a state of relaxation (by activating the parasympathetic nervous system) and teaches them to use their breath to help regulate emotions and stay centered.
Over their three to five week stay at Residence XII, Phyllis gives the women choices of various levels of yoga poses, each building on the prior level. Starting classes with a mindfulness meditation of loving kindness helps put the women at ease. There is a lot of shame and stigma attached to addiction, so the goal is to help the women begin to trust themselves as they learn tools for emotional resiliency. Ultimately by freeing up tensions on physical and emotional levels, the women learn that they are more than their thoughts and sensations, and this creates room for them to move away from their reactivity, weaknesses and unhealthy habits. This emotional resiliency allows them to begin to feel the support of a higher power or force greater than themselves—whatever that definition means to them—and links them to the 12-Step Program used in many abstinence-based treatment programs.
Phyllis has found that the yoga program helps the patients develop trust in themselves and love of their body, establish boundaries, develop physical and emotional flexibility, and promote self-esteem. Many women remark that with yoga they are more relaxed than they have ever been. A recent patient commented that she found the movement therapy very grounding, and helpful in centering her body and mind. Another stated, “I look forward to my yoga classes; they are soothing, calming, healing and beneficial to my recovery. It is the first time I have been aware of my ability to relax.” This said by a 44 year-old woman! Residence XII is fortunate to have the expertise of professionals like Phyllis who can help provide the women in treatment with tools they can use in their ongoing recovery
Phyllis Moses began her study of yoga 37 years ago and found it invaluable in her recovery. In addition to being a certified yoga therapist and RYT-500, she has a BA in Psychology. For more information about Phyllis, go to www.hypnobirthingandyoga.com.