Yoga and Addiction Recovery for First Responders

Yoga and Addiction Recovery for First Responders

Published on July 3, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

The mechanics of addiction slowly wear down the connection between an individual’s mind and body. Those in recovery can greatly benefit from strengthening this connection through a healthy yoga practice. Practicing yoga encourages habits of mindfulness, cardiovascular health, and stress reduction. It also leads to positive growth and empowerment, both physically and emotionally.

First responders may have the most to gain from yoga, as the demands of these jobs fatigue the mind and body. Here’s how yoga may benefit those in recovery, and some strategies for getting the most out of a yoga practice.

Benefits for the Body & Brain

Cultivating a regular yoga routine helps reinforce the brain’s reward system through a pattern of releasing chemicals following a workout. Some of these chemicals, like dopamine, flood the brain upon the ingestion of addictive substances. Essentially, a similar — but not identical — process occurs within the mind after completing a yoga workout, the main difference being the effects upon the body.

While addictive substances usually pose unhealthy side effects to the body in addition to their addictive qualities, an exercise practice such as yoga yields healthy side effects for the body. These include healthy breathing habits, regulated blood flow, and increased balance and stability, just to name a few. Because first responders often experience intense physical demands at work, these benefits are especially helpful.

Tell Yourself You Can

As many addicted individuals are aware, the brain can be very convincing when it wants something. Finding reasons to not practice yoga today light up like flashy billboards along the highway, while the thought of working out plops on the side of the road like a lonely tumbleweed. In these moments of high stress, or begrudging resentment, remember: you can accomplish more when you tell yourself you can.

Whether your yoga practice is an hour every other afternoon, ten minutes at the start of your morning, or even just five minutes between calls at work, your body will prosper from the time you dedicate to connecting with it. Sometimes all your body needs is a quick stretch as an acknowledgment that you are listening.

Set Goals

Before beginning to move, take a few moments to engage your mind. What do you want out of your movements? How is this time you’ve dedicated going to make you feel on the other side? Why are you working to improve your body and mind today?

Checking in with your desires allows us to visualize accomplishing our goals — how else will we know what to work towards unless we ask ourselves? Set a goal for yourself. It can be as simple as “I want to feel better by the end of these twenty minutes” or it can be more personalized and complex. Whatever that goal is, hold onto it through your yoga practice, and reflect on it when you are feeling distracted. It may come as a surprise how convincing your own mind is at reaching these goals after merely taking the time to reflect on them.

Focus on Breathing

Yoga remains one of the best ways for the body to stretch due to the emphasis on breathing habits. The act of focusing breath during a stretch allows oxygenated blood to make its way to oxygen-depleted muscle groups. Some of these muscles may regularly forego the oxygen they need to function, due to the shallow breathing habits developed by many adults in modern society. The breathing apparatus worn by firefighters and masks worn by medical providers can present challenges as well.

The brain can similarly suffer from decreased circulation. This is precisely why breathwork, when coupled with adequate stretching, is so effective at improving mood and mindset. A simple yoga posture like “downward dog” lowers a person’s head below the waistline, allowing gravity to send oxygen-rich blood to their brain.

Not only does regulated breathing replenish the body and mind with oxygen, but it also lowers anxiety by establishing control over the diaphragm — a muscle near the abdominals that is responsible for directing your inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm has an important role in the function of your nervous system and the ability to control this muscle can have significant influence during moments of high anxiety, including the life-and-death situations that first responders may face daily.

Take Pride in Finishing a Workout

Once a workout is finished, take a moment to examine your feelings. If your body or mind feels different, focus on how different it feels. It is natural to be tired, but beyond that exhaustion is usually growth, healing, and accomplishment. Embrace the work you have done, and take pride in how that feels. Even if the change is slight, remember it is a change you made for yourself — and one that you can achieve again the next time you set out to empower your health. It may not be the long-term goals or dreams you have for yourself, but every journey is the culmination of millions of tiny steps. Appreciating each step you take sets you up to take the next one.

Yoga is a rejuvenating practice and although yoga will not “cure” addiction, the healthy side effects make living with addictive tendencies more manageable. Long-term effects like increased stamina, diminished anxiety, and improved quality of sleep can be yours if you give yoga a try.

True Recovery offers yoga practices to first responders and other clients who are ready to begin recovery for the mind and the body. This program provides a rich and powerful framework for integrating the wisdom of yoga and the practical tools of 12-Step programs. Yoga and its practices are a part of a holistic recovery program rather than a replacement, providing methods to address the physical, mental, and spiritual disease of addiction. If you are ready to begin living a new life, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.