“Using Yoga in Recovery Therapy”

“Yoga in rehab does not look like the yoga that happens in trendy studios with bendy instructors,” says IAYT-certified yoga therapist and licensed clinical social worker Keelyn Riley. “In fact, it can be kind of awkward and silly at times. We try to make it playful and attainable for those who may never be able to touch their toes or sit like a monk. We also create serious pauses to discover the inner challenges that serve as obstacles to sobriety and well-being.”

Riley uses simple therapeutic yoga techniques in the “Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery” program, which combines residential therapeutic counseling with experiential outdoor adventures in substance and alcohol addiction treatment. In this article, she describes how yogic practices leverage the nervous system’s natural reactions:

“For example, if someone gets triggered with anger toward another peer, the invitation of pausing to notice what is occurring with heart rate can be used to guide a slower response. Or, if talking about an old memory causes anxiety, the guidance of breath awareness can be used as a way to ‘anchor’ back to the present moment. If someone is struggling with sleep, there are simple practices for releasing the ‘hot zones’ of tension in the muscles to help support the relaxation response. For some of the residents, the practices can begin to create the ‘natural highs’ as a gentle tool to move through cravings. And for others, they discover an inner space of wisdom and guidance. A goal of yoga is to experience the serenity that already exists inside the self.”

Riley keeps practices simple so they’re more accessible. Students can always choose to learn more, but as she says, unintimidating practices early on allows them to more easily feel benefits right away: “Once the experience of mindful movement has occurred, now the art of stillness feels less scary. As [people] get more comfortable in the body, settling into quiet spaces can be more easily received.”