How can Yoga, Mindfulness and Meditation for Addiction help to support in the journey to recovery? Druglink’s Oxygen residential facility in Hemel Hempstead operates a highly successful, structured rehabilitation process for its clients, that includes mindfulness, yoga and meditation. They recently won an award in the Most Innovative Care Team. Gary Aldridge, who manages the facility, has spoken with many clients who’ve come for alcohol or substance detoxification and he’s witnessed how the symptoms of withdrawal have been made easier for them by using mindfulness, yoga and meditation. He’s observed that over the last year, he’s seen a fall in the amount of medication required by clients to aid them with withdrawal when they’ve engaged with these practices.
At the rehab centre I currently work at, we encourage and prompt the use of daily meditation and mindfulness techniques with clients, to learn how they can become more present and understand what is happening for them physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Clients are given a USB stick for their rooms, where they can use self-guided meditations: from body scans, specific pain relief or simple meditations to aid with sleep patterns.
We have a specific mindfulness practitioner, who delivers weekly sessions with the clients, which is a rolling course teaching them the fundamentals of mindfulness and meditation. Since we introduced this, many have reported it as one of their favourite groups. This year, we moved this slot to Friday afternoon and it’s been reported that the clients’ behaviours on a Friday evening have changed. They are much more relaxed and calm, less boisterous compared to before. Friday nights could be a time when clients, like many people after a full week, let their hair down a bit and start to “act out”! Gary Aldridge
The programme at Oxygen includes weekly yoga sessions which experienced yoga teacher Lori Barker has been delivering for almost two years. With the support of Gary Aldridge, a practising Ashtangi, Lori has developed a bespoke yoga programme, centred on the ebb and flow of residents and non-residents in various states of vulnerability. People in drug and alcohol rehabilitation are facing into tremendous change; going through detoxification and therapy can be a harrowing experience physically, mentally and spiritually. Clients review their history, relationships, patterns and pain that has lead to addiction and affected every aspect of their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They are learning to create a new way of living as a recovering addict and rebuilding their identity in light of this.
My job is to hold a safe space where clients can engage with yoga as a way to connect with the body and hopefully develop a practice for future self-support. We experience the world through the body and its senses. Learning to feel the body, recognising how the quality of breath and movement is linked to thought, emotion and spirituality can help to empower how you live and navigate life in recovery and in general. Lori Barker
The weekly yoga classes at the centre normally start or end with a small meditation practice to help the clients relax. From his own observations and from researched studies, Gary has learnt about the positive impact that yoga has on addiction recovery, such as lowering stress levels, (those in addiction recovery present with poor stress regulators), enhancing the immune systems and cleansing the blood of chemical toxins (hugely important for those who have just stopped drinking or using drugs).
Our holistic approach at the rehab centre tries to encompass yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation, as we see that in incorporating these within the mix of talking therapies and workshops gives clients a full range of skills to express themselves. As a group therapy facilitator myself, at times when a group can appear to be unfocused at the start of a session, I will take 5-10 minutes with clients to ground them by using a simple spoken or visual guided meditation. Gary Aldridge
At first, clients tend to be sceptical of yoga, meditation and mindfulness. They don’t believe they need it. They don’t believe it will make any difference. They’re not comfortable with their own bodies. For male clients at the rehab, they have to overcome what they perceive as the social stigma of going to yoga, as it’s seen as a women’s exercise and not very manly. They value strength over flexibility. They’re sceptical about what yoga is – all that chanting. Mantras and vegetarianism! They’re worried they won’t be any good at it.
One of the major barriers is that we live in a ‘quick fix’ society and those overcoming an addiction are used to instant gratification. The concepts of mindfulness, yoga and meditation lean away from this approach and it’s not easy for those in early recovery to sit and practise meditation without those instant results. Clients have a tendency to want to give up straight away and have to be encouraged to stick with it, as these practices take time and patience.
The teacher has a vital role to play in helping clients to feel safe and secure when in a yoga class. The teacher client- relationship is vital in ensuring clients have a positive experience of yoga. Many of the clients at the centre suffer with low self-esteem, low self-worth, negative body image etc, so just even getting into a class for the first time can be a massive step for them in their recovery.
Lori Barker was an art design lecturer/manager in the Further Education sector for many years, before retraining as a yoga teacher, initially with Eliane Codiroli at the Hertford Yoga Shala, then Joey Miles and Anna Ashby at Triyoga London. She believes that her age, as well as her professional and personal life experience, is a great advantage when working in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation sector. She’s discovered that it can be difficult to find cover teachers for Oxygen sessions, because other yoga teachers are wary of having to deal with a situation they feel unprepared for. And yet in her two years with Oxygen she’s never had such an incident.
In fact, the sessions are filled with love, good humoured banter, working toward feeling good together. During my 30-year teaching career, I have been lucky enough to feel that my input has made a difference in someone’s life many times. Serving as a yoga teacher in a drug and alcohol residential facility, enables me to feel this difference on a weekly basis. Lori Barker
At Druglink Oxygen, there is a constant ebb and flow of clients. Lori usually runs two one hour sessions back to back in groups no larger than 6. The first is a general Hatha practice with breath work, movement practice and guided relaxation. The second session is gentler, low to the mat incorporating restorative postures, lots of props, nidra and meditation. Clients commonly have physical issues such as alcohol withdrawal tremors, lack of strength, breathing difficulties and nausea. Sometimes, the issues are more serious such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), or specific back issues, therefore Lori is regularly involved in research to shape the class for the individual. Clients may leave partway through a session if they feel overwhelmed, feel ill or find the session focus uncomfortable. Clients can feel very exposed doing this type of bodywork, which needs to be handled with sensitivity, as they build new patterns of connection and explore response to movement and breath together. Chloe from our marketing team recently covered Lori’s class at Druglink.
Covering for Lori at the rehabilitation centre was a daunting experience for me as I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to the centre, never met the clients and never worked with a specialist group before. I can honestly say it was a wonderful experience. The clients were lovely, helping me unload the car with equipment and reload it back up after the class. They egged each other on to join the class, supported one another during the class and it felt like a really positive space to be in. I used a lot of grounding techniques and ended both sessions with a Yoga Nidra which they all seemed to respond really well to. We used essential oils at the start of the class on cotton wool pads and practised some pranayama to arrive into the space, focus and calm the mind. I would encourage any teacher to volunteer at a rehabilitation centre and to not be daunted by the unknown. The clients are on a journey and it is wonderful to support that in any way. Chloe Chivers
Lori aims to incorporate themes which complement the wider Oxygen therapies, such as consideration of Yamas and Niyamas, to see goodness and kindness in themselves and others, as well as basic postural and stress relief techniques that can be taken into everyday life. She uses a lot of humour, music and positive encouragement to build rapport and create friendly, accessible sessions where clients can relax and find the space to process what is happening in their lives. Clients regularly tell her they ‘feel stoned’ after a guided savasana or a nidra!
I try to respond to the group dynamics and events that change the energy in the house each week. For instance, a popular client recently relapsed and subsequently died, so I led a lovingkindness meditation before the other clients got the news. Clients might be in the midst of recognising loss, and there is often high emotion which I try to diffuse with a more dynamic or gentler yoga sequence. I feel enormously proud of all clients practising yoga, watching them grow stronger and more confident each week, demonstrating postures to new residents or developing a home practice from the handout I provide. Lori Barker
Gary has found the best way to incorporate yoga, meditation and mindfulness has been to offer the ideas to his clients, with no rule of commitment to him, just as an open offer for them to consider and try to see if it suits them.
On the whole, clients will take up the offer a find what works for them. Yoga and Meditation are so easily accessible now, with popular Apps like Headspace available, YouTube, social media and, the internet. These give clients a whole wealth of material to choose from. With yoga also mainstream within local gyms now, we have seen clients, who have completed our program, then go on and attend local classes. Gary Aldridge
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