With Shaura Hall + Heather Mason

12-15 June 2014 in London!

Addiction is a complex condition that affects all areas of life – not just for addicts, but also for the people around them. Clinically, it is characterized by a loss of control over drug use as indicated by continued use despite negative consequences (APA, 2000). And in the emerging neurobiological framework, addiction is seen, in part, as a chronic relapsing disease of the brain. Many methods are employed to help addicts into recovery, both in outpatient and in-patient settings. Yoga Therapy and Mindfulness is an innovative and effective way to support addicts in recovery.

Shaura Hall, lecturer with the Minded Institute, is an addiction recovery coach and Minded Yoga Therapist. She has been integrating yoga and relaxation techniques into residential and drop-in clinic settings for many years, and has seen first-hand the benefits for addicts. She will be co-teaching a 4 day Yoga Therapy and Mindfulness for Addictions course with Heather Mason, MI founder and director, 12-15 June in London.

I interviewed Shaura to learn about the benefits of Yoga Therapy and Mindfulness for addictions, her upcoming course, and why you should be there!

EB: How is yoga used to treat addiction? (Including asana, breath work, chanting, and other practices.)

SH: The Minded Addiction Recovery Kit (MARK) is a protocol developed specifically for individuals in recovery.  We have created an effective program that leans heavily on current scientific understanding of what happens to the brain in addiction and which aspects of yoga are likely to be effective from this perspective.  With this in mind, our yoga practice is designed to be palatable for all and does not outwardly include any philosophy or religious connotations.  However, we thread the practice with themes taken from various contemplative traditions to induce compassion for self.  

We use practices from the yoga tradition to help people develop concentration skills and confidence in their ability to achieve.  Yoga is not a competitive sport, but it does require commitment and produces results pretty quickly for the practitioner.  Therefore, when individuals in recovery attend a short course they are able to see improvement in concentration, body flexibility and relaxation week-by-week.  This allows them to feel proud, which is a significantly positive emotion for people in this setting.  

In addition, the wandering mind has been paying attention to the body and breath for around 90 minutes, which gives it a rest from otherwise chronic and ruminative worry.

Minded Yoga recognises the importance of CBT based practices and focuses much of its work on bringing people to the best place to embark on this popular intervention.

EB: Why does ‘getting into the body’ help addicts in recovery?

SH: When experience is uncomfortable or threatening individuals often dissociate from the body as a coping mechanism.  However, our body holds many of the cues and clues for decoding the world around us. Furthermore, we can use our body to calm our whole system and then our mind. Thus, it’s really important for individuals in recovery to be able to use the body as a tool to manage adverse mental patterns.  

EB: What aspects of mindfulness help addicts overcome addiction?

SH: Mindfulness is a very powerful tool for re-parenting the mind and brain.  By observing our reactions to the world around us, we are more able to take a deep breath before reacting. This has the potential to give us a deeper understanding about what drives our individual addiction.  In addition, body-based mindfulness and mindful enquiry are effective practices to develop sensitivity in the body, which provides clues to when urges are programmed to arise.  

EB: At what point would you introduce YT + M into a treatment plan?

SH: I have used yoga and relaxation techniques extensively in residential settings and drop-in centres, with individuals at all stages of their recovery.  I would say it can be used when people are still trying to quit and onwards.  Of course, the response they have to yoga depends on where they are in treatment. I have known people try it a couple of times and contact me two years later to take it up again.  I feel that if the seed is planted, they have an option to aid their recovery when the time is right.  Additionally, the community spirit forged in a yoga group is really important in recovery settings.   

EB: What kind of responses have you had from people you’ve worked with in addiction recovery when you’ve used Yoga Therapy + Mindfulness?

SH: In the initial stages they are really happy that they have managed to calm down enough to experience relaxation.  Individuals can often get excited when their awareness moves out of the head and into the body and from there they begin to notice many things they would have previously ignored.  In the end, the general theme of the feedback is around knowing what to do with the body and breath to calm down once activated.  Many people have said that the yoga and relaxation sessions have been key to their understanding of self and to the success of further treatment in clinic, such as CBT interventions.  

EB: How is Yoga Therapy + Mindfulness received by medical folks who work with more conventional treatment modalities?

SH: At present, most of the medical community is still reluctant to trust alternative treatments. This is unfortunate because the condition is complex and needs to be approached from a whole person perspective.   However, my ability to relate to the conventional medical community through my comprehensive understanding of the medical science surrounding addiction and the relationship between yoga and neuroscience, I able to effectively express the benefits of yoga as therapy.  In 2012 I presented to the NHS for a grant to deliver yoga therapy and after a 30-minute presentation I was awarded the funding. From the questions they asked me and through subsequent feedback, it was clear that they hadn’t expected to award a grant for such a program! One of the great benefits of the Minded Institute courses is that you are fully armed with a language and knowledge that helps bridge a gap between the medical community and the yoga community.

EB: Who would benefit from taking this short course?

SH: We have developed this course to allow yoga teachers and experienced sessional workers to deliver an effective mind/body practice in clinic and private sessions.  We believe that to spread wellness, we must reach out to the community and empower people with practices that will work for this complex condition.  ANYONE with an interest in contemplative practices and desire to help people heal from addiction will benefit from this course.  

EB: What about entry criteria – who can take the course?

SH: The course is open to anyone, including addicts, treatment workers, yoga teachers, yoga therapists and mental health workers.  However, individuals who have been in recovery for under two years must have a conversation with me to ensure the course is an appropriate fit for them.  

For details on this course, and our other offerings at the Minded Institute, click here to visit our website.

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