Yoga Classes Become Prominent: Some Centers See Yoga as a Technique for Improving Clients' Coping Skills

By Enos, Gary A. | Addiction Professional, November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Yoga Classes Become Prominent: Some Centers See Yoga as a Technique for Improving Clients' Coping Skills


Enos, Gary A., Addiction Professional


Everyone enrolled in an inpatient treatment program at Gateway Rehabilitation Center in western Pennsylvania is required to attend a yoga class three times a week. Participation in the techniques of yoga isn't mandatory, but the client's presence is. Some clients (such as middle-aged males who haven't felt particularly fit for some time) are skeptical at first, say Gateway staffers, but the organization finds that before long most everyone is practicing the classes' meditation and deep breathing exercises.

"One thing I like about yoga is that when the patient leaves here they can take it with them, says Jan Curry, senior director at Gateway's main campus. "It doesn't require any special equipment."

Likely seen by many clients and professionals as an oddity not that long ago, yoga classes have become an integral element reinforcing the "mind/body/spirit" orientation of many addiction treatment facilities today. The availability of regularly scheduled yoga classes to many treatment clients reflects a wider acceptance of yoga and other holistic practices in today's society.

"We initially ran into a little resistance from people who thought yoga was more of a religious experience," says Curry, whose organization has offered on-site yoga classes for the past nine years. "We eventually found that it really helped people with cravings. Many of our inpatient clients would end up requesting it as part of their outpatient treatment."

This of course doesn't mean that everyone takes to yoga right away, or even at all. Charlene Fox, a certified yoga instructor who taught classes at the Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center in Houston about a decade ago, found that at least some patients never progressed much beyond the stage of "I'm here because I was told to be" in their acceptance of yoga. Yet others saw tremendous benefits, which she says points to the wisdom of treatment facilities' trying to expose clients to a variety of mind-body interventions that might assist in their recovery.

"Not everyone is going to find that one thing resonates for them," Fox says.

Kundalini yoga

Fox practices and teaches Kundalini yoga, an ancient technique that emphasizes maintaining a balance among the physical, mental and spiritual. One of its most well-known practitioners is Mukta Kaur Khalsa, PhD, who conducts trainings around the world under the organization name SuperHealth and who formerly ran a rehabilitation hospital in Tucson, Ariz., that emphasized yoga and dietary interventions.

In written information provided by Khalsa, she explains that Kundalini yoga works to correct imbalances in the parts of the brain affecting relaxation and activity--imbalances that often lead individuals to using substances at harmful levels. Kundalini yoga is considered the yoga of awareness, Khalsa says.

"By learning Kundalini yoga techniques, recovering addicts can adjust their nervous systems to respond to the stresses of life through the practice of yoga and meditation," the written summary states. It adds, "Kundalini yoga uses words or sounds called mantras, which create positive thoughts within the mind. The sounds are linked to the rhythm of the breath and serve to remind us to breathe properly."

In practice, Khalsa believes Kundalini yoga can be useful to individuals in treatment, even at the earliest stages--although clearly individuals' stamina will be fairly low at that point. …

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