When someone thinks of addiction, the use of drugs and alcohol tends to come to mind; however, eating disorders, gambling, sex, and other compulsive habits are just as challenging to overcome. Unfortunately, removing the behavior doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from there on out. It is natural for cravings to creep up during various points in your recovery journey.
There are many resources for moments like these — meetings, calling a supportive friend, prayer, gratitude lists, new habits or self-care rituals, and so on. But sometimes a holistic remedy like yoga is equally effective, especially when used in conjunction with other tried-and-true methods.
Cravings are often triggered by anxiety and depression, and there are specific yoga poses that can ease those unpleasant feelings, which in turn allows the craving to subside.
Cravings are often triggered by anxiety and depression, and there are specific yoga poses that can ease those unpleasant feelings, which in turn allows the craving to subside. Practicing yoga is very much so about being present in the moment, similarly to how 12 step meetings tell us to take life “one day at a time.”
Maybe you have heard that moving a muscle can help change a thought — so when you’re experiencing cravings, why not practice one of the five following yoga poses instead? As a registered yoga instructor, let me guide you through each one.
1. Mountain Pose
When you’re practicing mountain pose, the foundation of all standing postures, you are bound to feel empowered. In moments of weakness, we need to be reminded of our strength. Mountain pose boasts many benefits, including a sense of empowerment, relief from sciatica, improved balance, and a more agile spine.
Begin standing with your feet hip-distance apart and plant your feet firmly into the earth — you want to feel centered and grounded. Then, engage your quadriceps and tuck your tailbone slightly. Allowing your arms to fall by your side body with your hands facing forward, take deep inhalations that help you elongate through your torso. On your exhalations, press your shoulder blades closer together towards your back rib cage and engage your triceps. Embrace the power and strength you feel in both the body, mind, and spirit — breathe in and out slowly and deeply while holding this position for one to two minutes.
2. Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog is a yoga classic that most of us are familiar with. This position is called an ‘inversion,’ meaning your heart is raised higher from the earth than your head. Inversions promote calmness and relaxation, which gives you the proper time to better gather your thoughts before acting on impulse. Additionally, you’ll experience less depression and anxiety, relief from premenstrual discomfort and menopausal symptoms, improved digestion, a release from mental and physical tension, plus so much more.
From mountain pose, release your body down onto all fours into tabletop position. Your hands should be directly below the shoulders and knees remain hip distance apart below the hips. To avoid straining your wrists, spread your fingers nice and wide, pointing your index fingers towards the front of the mat, while evenly distributing pressure through your palms, knuckles, and fingertips. On your next exhale, tuck your toes, walk your hands about five inches forward, and lift your knees off the ground bringing your body into the shape of the letter “A.” Straighten your legs, without hyperextending, and let your head and back relax, gazing at your navel. You can pedal your feet for a few moments, whatever feels most comfortable for you in this moment. Downward facing dog promotes deeper breathing, which is especially helpful for easing cravings, especially ones caused by uncomfortable emotions. Relax here for as long as you need, taking four-second inhalations and four-second inhalations.
3. Low Lunge
When you’re practicing a low lunge, your hips and groin receive a nice stretch. The hips and groin are infamous for carrying tightness as a result of our daily stressors and emotional trauma. However, this yoga pose invites your body to release the negativity you’ve been subconsciously holding onto.
From downward facing dog, lift your left leg up and step it forward so that your left foot is planted between your hands. Your left knee should be stacked directly above your right ankle — if you need to adjust, take the time to do so. Next, lengthen the spine, relax your shoulders, gaze forward, and keep your core actively engaged. Repeat on the opposite side.
4. Warrior II Pose
Much like mountain pose, warrior II pose evokes a feeling of power and strength. Feeling powerful in a moment of weakness is essential to maintaining your sobriety. This position also energizes tired limbs, tones the abdomen and legs, and eases back pain.
Return to mountain pose, take a deep exhalation, and jump your feet roughly four feet apart from one another. Raise your arms so that they’re parallel with the mat. Relax your shoulders (don’t let them creep up closer to your ears) and face your palms towards the earth. Now, turn your right foot towards the front of the room and keep your left foot at a 45 degree angle — the right foot should be aligned with the middle of the left. Keeping your hips centered, gaze over your right arm and begin bending into your right knee until it’s at a 90 degree angle. Breathe here for one minute and repeat on the opposite side.
5. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon pose is known as the “king of hip openers” — releasing stored emotions such as anxiety, depression, stress, and frustration. When practicing this position, some of these emotions may rise to the surface, which will help you learn how to sit with the uncomfortable in a safe space.
From downward facing dog, raise your right leg off the floor and bring it forward as if you were stepping into a lunge. But instead, bring your right knee to the ground, outside of your right hand. If you can keep your right shin parallel to the front of the mat, feel free to do so, otherwise keep your right foot flexed and embrace the angle in your leg — we are exactly where we need to be in our practice, there is no such thing as “perfect” in yoga. Next, release your left leg down, making sure it’s flat and pointing backward, parallel with the long side of your mat. Center your hips towards the front and place your hands in front of your right shin. With each breath, feel as your body sinks deeper into the pose. Hold for two to three minutes before repeating on the opposite side.
Yoga has helped me through many dark times in my life. Rather than running to drugs, sex, or starvation when I am feeling an unpleasant emotion, I know that yoga teaches me to be present and not run from my feelings. Instead, I embrace the uncomfortable and learn to sit with it.
When we practice yoga, our nervous system, muscles, and mind reach the desired state of calm. You may be surprised how much better you feel afterward using one of these moves to relieve those cravings. I know I’m always feeling better.