A rapidly growing evidence base supports the use of yoga and meditation as powerful therapeutic interventions for trauma and substance use disorders. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is currently funding additional clinical research on yoga and meditation, while the Federal Veteran's Administration has been using yoga successfully in the treatment of clients with PTSD for several years. A growing number of states have already implemented the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Mental Health First Aid kit as an effective intervention model. This evidence-based Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) uses yoga and meditation as effective strategies within the MHFA toolkit. Private and public behavioral healthcare providers are also increasingly offering yoga and meditation as cost-effective and practical methods of treatment planning. Reports regarding treatment outcomes using such integrated modalities are overwhelmingly positive.
Yoga and meditation has been clinically proven as a therapeutic intervention for the treatment of both trauma and substance use disorders. In substance use disorder, the reward pathways and other neurochemical reactions affect the brains ability to think and act rationally. In trauma related disorders, sensory stimuli trigger physiological reactions of fight, flight or freeze, thus increasing reactivity. Such internal survival mechanisms make it extremely difficult to tolerate emotions and control impulses. In addition, those with trauma disorders may also experience profound dissociation from their physical bodies.
Yoga and meditation are effective therapeutic complements to traditional cognitive based approaches such as psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Motivational Interviewing. Yoga and meditation calms the mind, allows for greater awareness, regulates the central nervous system, reduces stress hormone levels and increases mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Yoga and meditation help to increase awareness of physical sensation, destructive thought patterns, thus aiding in impulse control and a reduction in reactivity.
Decreased reactivity and increased abstinence from substance use are just two of the many benefits of yoga and mindfulness meditation. In a national study, over 240 patients from more than 17 methadone clinics were given a weekly yoga class over a 12–24 week period. In addition to a significant reduction in drug usage (including tobacco), there was an increase in employment and reduction in the use of welfare services. Related studies have found that 'drug addicts are more responsive to yoga than other groups'. In addition, a qualitative SAMHSA study listed yoga as one of the preferred methods of recovery support and relapse prevention by persons with substance use disorder. While this evidence base of positive treatment outcome grows, yoga and meditation are being implemented more and more as effective bio-behavioral strategies that aid in the development of healthier lifestyles. Long-term studies prove that regular yoga and/or meditation practice is helpful in sustaining these healthy lifestyle changes.
Leading PTSD expert and founder of the Trauma Center, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, promotes the efficacy of yoga and meditation as helpful treatment strategies for those suffering from trauma and substance use disorders: "… yoga specifically helps clients tolerate feelings and sensations … rather that running away or turning to alcohol and drugs to self medicate."