Holistic Healing at the Cellular Level: Can Yoga Really Help My Recovery?

Addiction Recovery Publishing Nutrition November 5, 2023

Holistic Healing at the Cellular Level: Can Yoga Really Help My Recovery?

Considered by many to be one of the most influential yoga gurus of the 20th Century, B.K.S. Iyengar is credited as being responsible for introducing yoga to the Western World. Iyengar’s wisdom still permeates the yoga consciousness to this day. This includes its influence on yoga and holistic healing in the 21st Century.

Iyengar once said, “The hardness of a diamond is part of its usefulness, but its true value is in the light that shines through it.” This hard emotional exterior is the part of the body that is often softened by methods of holistic healing, especially yoga. What once was considered mysterious and inaccessible to the West, yoga is now a highly beneficial part of many people’s recovery plans. It is now used by millions of people all over the world as a means of healing at the cellular level.

Yoga: The Importance of Well-Rounded Recovery for Healing at the Cellular Level

The first principles of yoga were compiled roughly 3000 years ago in a collection now known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It contains 195 (sometimes 196) sutras, AKA philosophies. The first sutra goes “Atha yoganusasanam,” which simply translates to “Now we begin the practice of yoga.” It is the idea of the importance of simply “starting.” This also applies to recovery.

Many people would agree that the hardest part of recovery is starting the process. One has to overcome the first hurdle of acknowledging that there may be a problem. The next hurdle is accepting help when and where it is available. Then, the next hurdle is taking the action needed to start the journey.

Because these hurdles can be so daunting and difficult to jump over, it is important that the right recovery is waiting as a reward when it happens. Starting the right recovery right away is crucial, and the right recovery is well-rounded.

This roundedness should, of course, include “traditional” evidence-based treatments. These treatments and therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), have a recorded history of efficacy so it is fair to trust and utilize them (among others). However, a recovery plan should not just include one avenue of treatment, especially if the goal is healing at the cellular level. 

Other options and methods utilized, such as experiential therapy, nutrition therapy, horticulture therapy, physical exercise, and neuropsychology, can be highly beneficial. Another category of healing that has been shown to be highly beneficial is holistic healing.

What Is Holistic Healing?

Holistic healing or “holism” has to do with the interconnectedness of being. It has to do with whole-body-mind-spirit healing. This is why holistic healing tends to be so wholly interactive.

For example, meditation focuses on all aspects of healing. It is meant to calm the mind. Also, it takes discipline of the body (sitting straight and still for an extended period of time is more difficult than many people may think). Then, its goal is to ultimately fill the spirit with life, understanding, love, and energy. When looking at it like this, it becomes much easier to see how holistic healing can be highly beneficial to an effective treatment plan.

Adding Holistic Healing Options to an Effective Treatment Plan

Everyone must find their own path and determine what type of recovery works for them. However, most people within the recovery community believe in utilizing a foundation of evidence-based recovery first and then adding other modalities as supplement supports.

Adding holistic healing options to an evidence-based recovery plan can be a perfect blend of East meets West recovery. Traditional and holistic treatment options can be perfect complements of one another. 

For example, meditation can help free the mind, which can then help an individual be more open and available during psychotherapy like CBT. Meditation can help open someone up to get to the root/core causes of their issues during therapy.

Another example is how yoga can help an individual feel comfortable both in their own body as well as around other people (in group classes). This can help with communication, which is perfect for therapy (especially group therapy). Yoga also has many other benefits for recovery.

A Brief Overview of Yoga

Iyengar says, “Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” We often hear the word “yoga” in everyday conversation now. Yoga is now wholly a part of the American landscape. Yet, many people do not know what the word “yoga” means.

The term yoga literally means “to join,” “to yolk,” or “to unite.” It means to bring everything back together, back into alignment. This is perfectly emblematic of recovery. It is about bringing everything that addiction and mental illness tried to tear apart back together.

Yoga did not start as a fitness trend or even as a way to help people recover. It started as a spiritual practice (many people would also say a religion). 

According to the article, Yoga: Past and Present in the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), “The origins of yoga are between 2,500 and 5,000 years ago. The earliest images of yoga are soapstone seals from the Indus Valley archaeological site of Mohenjo-Daro (3rd millennium B.C.E.) depicting a yogi in a cross-legged posture, the Lotus pose; several other images of Yoga appear in later Indian art.” This is the image that most people envision when they think of yoga as a practice.

Yoga didn’t really take off in the United States until the latter half of the 20th Century when it was introduced as part of the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s. It slowly gained in popularity but really took off in the decades that followed as people began utilizing it as a fitness practice alongside its mindfulness offerings.

Also, according to the AJP, “The practice of yoga for health has become popular in the United States and worldwide. A recent survey estimated that 36 million Americans may be variably engaged in yoga.” Now, yoga has also been shown to be highly beneficial in helping people with mental health and addiction issues experience more successful recoveries.

Yoga: A Holistic Healing Option for Recovery

The second Sutra of Patanjali goes “Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah,” which translates to “now we focus on the stirrings of the mind.” This is just one of the reasons why yoga can be so helpful to people who are in treatment. Because it helps quiet all of those racing thoughts that often accompany the journey of recovery. This is especially true for people who are in addiction treatment.

According to The Role of Yoga in Management of Substance-use Disorders: A Narrative Review, “Drug dependence is one of the most important issues of public health concern as it causes significant disability. The International Classification of Disease-10th Edition defines drug dependence as a cluster of physiological, behavioral, and cognitive phenomena in which the use of a substance or a class of substances takes on a much higher priority for a given individual than other behaviors that once had a greater value.” Also, ”Drug dependence causes impairment in various domains such as physical, psychological, social, occupational, legal, familial, and financial domains.” These are all areas that yoga has been shown to effectively help with. 

According to the peer-reviewed article, Exploring the Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life in the International Journal of Yoga,Yoga encourages one to relax, slow the breath and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight-or-fight response to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response. The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rate, decreases blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, and increases blood flow to the intestines and vital organs.” This shift in balance can then have a ripple effect that can cause numerous benefits to happen for the individual.

The Benefits of Yoga for Recovery (And Beyond)

Ultimately, the entire range of benefits from a yoga practice can be hard to quantify because, quite frankly, it is not an exact science. However, there have been scientific studies, and the results don’t lie. Yoga has positive mental, psychological, and physical effects on the individual.

The following are just a few of the benefits that yoga has to offer. First, the physical benefits include the following:

  • Improved flexibility
  • increased strength and stamina
  • Cardiovascular improvements
  • Helps with maintaining a healthy metabolism
  • Reduces muscle and joint pain
  • Can protect from further injury
  • Helps with breathing
  • Increases energy levels

Now, referring back to the International Journal of Yoga for a moment, it states that “Yoga should be considered as a complementary therapy or alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders as it has been shown to create a greater sense of well-being, increase feelings of relaxation, improve self-confidence and body image, improve efficiency, better interpersonal relationships, increase attentiveness, lower irritability, and encourage an optimistic outlook on life.” The following are just a few more of the psychological and mental benefits that yoga can offer:

  • Helps with mental clarity
  • Reduces stressors related to addiction cycles
  • Can sharpen concentration
  • Helps with focus, alertness, and attention span
  • Reduces racing thoughts, which can be especially beneficial for healthy sleep patterns
  • Can reduce feelings of self-harm and/or suicidal ideations

What Does Yoga Look Like on the Hamkua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island?

While an effective yoga practice can travel with someone everywhere they go, there is something to be said about being able to practice yoga in spectacular settings, and there may be none more spectacular than the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island. Practicing yoga on one of the Hamakua Coasts’s beautiful beaches looking out over the Pacific Ocean is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many clients at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab equate it to a spiritual experience, and it is mere minutes from our luxury 30-acre recovery center.

However, at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we don’t just offer yoga on its own. It is integrated into recovery plans with all of our other offerings. Just as yoga means “to join together,” we use it to join all other facets of our recovery offerings together. For example, yoga and nutritional therapy.

Yoga and Nutrition

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we have a saying, “Food is medicine.” This is why we have licensed dieticians and nutritionists onsite to help ensure that our clients get all of the essential nutrients that they need. Now, this is especially important for individuals recovering from addiction, as their bodies are often depleted of necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

We also have a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) onsite and on call who can help our clients with holistic healing and ensure that they are in optimal whole mind-body shape. Our ND can also run bloodwork to ensure that our clients get the exact nutrition that they need and offer infusion therapy to aid in this process. 

All of these nutritional components lead to a much more efficient yoga practice. The mind must be cleared if yoga is to be performed at optimal levels. Also, the body must be healthy enough to perform and heal itself. A strong nutritional base helps to make this happen. Yoga also works well in concert with other therapies, such as psychedelic and ketamine therapy.

Psychedelic and Ketamine Therapy and Yoga

Now, psychedelic and ketamine therapy for mental illness and addiction has actually been studied for over two decades, and they have shown very promising results. They have shown positive results in treating mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and major depression. Also, they have shown positive results in treating substance use disorders (SUDs) such as cocaine use disorder and opioid use disorder (OUD). It has shown particularly beneficial results for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

According to the article, Ketamine for the Treatment of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: Comprehensive Systematic Review, “One study examined ketamine in combination with aversive therapy approaches that aim to establish negative links between alcohol consumption and alcohol’s detrimental effects. It was reported that 70% of participants in the ketamine group remained abstinent for 1 year compared with 24% of participants who received aversion therapy alone. A subsequent study compared in-patients who selected KAP versus conventional psychotherapy reported 12-month abstinence rates of 66% for the ketamine group compared with 24% of controls.” These abstinence rates are critical for yoga because the body and mind must be wholly unclouded if the benefits of yoga are to persist as a long-term practice.

Continuing a Yoga Practice After Treatment

One of the best parts of yoga as a holistic healing option for recovery is that it can travel with someone anywhere they want to go. So, when a healthy practice is established at a recovery center, such as Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, it can continue to be beneficial long into the future. 

Many people in recovery believe it now to be the cornerstone of their long-term recovery. Also, a yoga practice is like anything else in recovery; the more it is practiced and utilized, the more one stands to gain from it, and recovery is all about growth and progress.

Healing at the Cellular Level With Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

B.K.S. Iyengar also said, “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind, and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” This is what a healthy yoga practice and holistic healing recovery plan can offer. 

Also, this is why we believe in the use of yoga at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. So, we must say, “Atha Yoganusasanam;” now we practice yoga, and now, together, we begin the journey of recovery..

Yoga is highly effective in helping people recover at the cellular level from issues of mental illness and addiction. Also, the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is an ideal setting for establishing or continuing a yoga practice when starting an effective recovery plan. Yoga also offers an opportunity to bring breathwork, meditation, and spiritual practices into a recovery program that can follow someone after they leave treatment. If you feel like you or someone you love is struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or both, we can help. For more information about the healing benefits of yoga on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab today at (808) 775-0200.