Treatment for alcohol and substance use disorders has come a looooong way in the past few decades. Rehab used to be a miserable, brutal experience. Ask anyone your parent’s age, and they’ll tell you horror stories about what their friends went through. You’ll hear stories about the cold, unfriendly, hospital-like conditions, one-size-fits-all, punishment-based approaches, or worse: in the 80s and 90s, it wasn’t uncommon for strict parents to ship their teenager off to a boot camp or military boarding school at the first whiff of marijuana smoke or the first time they came home with alcohol on their breath.
Or don’t ask them – because this post already sounds like typical old people kvetching:
“Back when I was in rehab, we had to walk to our process groups, in the snow, uphill – both ways. You kids sure have it easy these days.”
So, let’s make a deal: we’ll stop with the “when I was your age” nonsense and talk about how treatment is in the 21st century.
By now you know complementary therapy basically means “anything you do in treatment you wouldn’t think you’d do in treatment.” It seems like all they do is take something pretty cool, then put the word therapy behind it to make it legitimate. Like this:
- Surf Therapy
- Equine Therapy
- Yoga Therapy
Or, they might take something even more mundane, put the word mindful in front of it, and then BAM! suddenly it’s an accepted part of rehab. Like this:
- Mindful Walking
- Mindful Cooking
- Mindful Breathing
And you’re sitting there thinking,
“Yeah,I know how to walk and breath just fine, thanks. And I’m not too interested in cooking. So, ummm….next, please? How ‘bout some mindful nose-picking therapy? What about a process group for tying my shoes or folding clothes? I’m sure there are some great life-lessons to learn there.”
All good points. But this article is about something you find in virtually every treatment center these days: yoga. Why? Because yoga is awesome on about a hundred levels. We’ll stick to the top five, though.
Top Five Reasons to Give Yoga a Fair Shot
- It feels great. At the end of a yoga class, you cop some serious zen. Your body feels good, your mind feels peaceful, and you’re fresh and ready for what’s next.
- It’s really good for your body and mind. Practicing yoga poses increases strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and focus. You totally want all that in your life.
- It’s meditation without meditating. If you haven’t figured it out yet, meditation is all about keeping your mind in the present moment. You’re not supposed to dwell on the past or worry about the future – you’re just supposed to be in the moment and breathe. As if that’s even possible. With yoga, though, you get meditation in through the side door: if you’re really practicing a yoga pose the right way, there’s no chance you can be thinking about anything else – not the past, not the future, just the pose in that moment. And there you go: meditation without the meditation.
- Once you learn it, it’s yours. Maybe the best thing about yoga is that once you learn the basic concepts and some of the introductory sequences – the sun salutation for instance – they’re yours forever. All you’ll ever need to practice yoga is the information in your brain, a little space, and a little time. You don’t even need a mat. You can get your yoga on anywhere, anytime: no need for the gym, no need for workout clothes – just you and your practice.
- It’s all about you. Sure – there are right and wrong ways to do a yoga pose. But the right and wrong are all about injury prevention, not being good or bad at the pose. You don’t have to bend yourself into a pretzel or even be able to bend over and touch your toes. Yoga is about being where you are in the pose, at your level, right now: it has nothing to do with anyone else or what they can do. Your yoga is your yoga and that’s it.
The next time you see yoga on the schedule, try not to groan and wonder why you have to do it in the first place. Besides, almost every yoga class ends with a relaxation pose called Savasana. The one where you get to lie still, be quiet, and no one is allowed to bother you. During rehab you probably think over and over, “I wish these people would just leave me alone. Just for one minute.”
Well, guess what?
During yoga, that happens – and they call it therapy.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.