Yoga and Co-Dependency

Author: Amanda Graham

The topic I have chosen for my essay is “Yoga and co-dependency.”  I will briefly explain the condition of co-dependency and discuss the various obstacles that co-dependents face. I will then consider the ways in which yoga can be used to relieve many of the behaviors and to enhance the lives of people who have often given up hope of ever feeling relaxed and content. 

I work in the family program at an addictions treatment facility. When an addicted patient enters our center for a 6-week residential program, we encourage at least one family member to participate in “Discovery” – a one-week residential program for family members of addicts. 

In our groups we have between 6 – 12 people. They come from all walks of life, but the one thing they share is that they all have a loved-one in their lives who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and whose lives have become unmanageable. 

Generally, these family members do not want to be in our program when they first arrive.  Usually they are barely coping with life; they are the ones who shoulder all the burdens and responsibilities and clean up the messes left by the addict. They juggle multiple jobs, childcare or elder care, and are now asked to travel a great distance to sit and “share” in group therapy with a group of strangers.

These people are what we refer to as “co-dependents.” Their loved-one is addicted to drugs or alcohol and they are psychologically dependent on the addict in an unhealthy way. Over time they become addicted to the care-taking role that the addict requires in order to continue his/her addiction. They are so entrenched in their role as controller and caretaker that they don’t know any other way to be.  Both parties have to make big changes in order for the family to heal and become healthy. 

Co-dependents are usually in denial about their condition. They say, “Just fix my addict and everything will be fine, there’s nothing wrong with me.”  Sadly, there is also something dysfunctional in their behavior also, and if they don’t also change when the addict becomes clean and sober, things have less chance of permanently changing. 

As the group begins, and people start to talk, co-dependent people discover that they have a lot in common. They suffer insomnia, migraines, digestive problems, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and isolation. Almost all of them have been prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. They are living lives that would be in tolerable to most people. They walk on eggshells, trying desperately to be perfect in the hope that their addict will stop using if they just try harder. They life with craziness and chaos, secrets, lies, fear and despair. To hide the truth from the world they become good actors, trying to maintain the illusion of normality. 

When the addict comes into treatment it is an ideal time for these family members to make fundamental changes in their lives, but it is extremely difficult because they don’t know any other way to be. They need to discover their true selves and chart a new course for their future, regardless of what their addict does. 

Yoga can be an extremely beneficial practice for co-dependents.  When I return to work I would like to incorporate many of the elements of yoga that I have learned here. 

On the first evening of the week, most of our clients are exhausted, anxious, frightened, and often angry.  Using Yoga, I would bring the group into the softly lit yoga room, help them all get comfortable, and lead them through a session of yoga nidra. The resolve section of the practice would be particularly important to help inspire and motivate them to make the changes they need to make. I would include some positive self-esteem building images, and use words to encourage people to remember their potential, to strive towards their ideals, and be inspired to re-discover their true selves. 

The week at the treatment center is very full and there is a great deal of information to be gleaned and difficult emotional work to be done as the participants begin to learn about the role they have played in keeping the addict in addiction. Many people complain of headaches, digestive trouble, insomnia and that they can’t stop all the thoughts going around and around in their minds. They still want to control everything.

By mid-week, I would suggest an introductory restorative yoga session. For most clients this would be their first yoga class – not because they haven’t heard of it, but because they don’t do things for themselves. They are so busy helping others they always put themselves last. They feel guilty doing anything for themselves. 

I would create a beautiful peaceful environment, light a candle, and play soft music. I would begin with the resolve they made on the first night, then an opening prayer to calm and focus their minds. Some gentle preparatory movements to warm up and discover any troublesome areas. A slow, easy suryanamaskar would give them a good overall stretch, followed by shavasan. I would include a good selection of asanas to address the issues of tension; particularly chest-opening poses, encouraging them to open up emotionally as well as physically. 

Using the asanas to relax and calm the mind would be a helpful skill that they could take with them and practice on their own, wherever they are in their lives. I would include an introduction to deep breathing and brahmari breath; again giving them a valuable tool they can use anywhere. A final shavasan would be an opportunity to give positive messages and allow them to let go of control and relax deeply. A final prayer, omkar chanting, followed by parvatasan, sharangot and vrukshasan would complete the session. 

At the end of the week when they group has come to the end of their Discovery journey, another yoga class would be beneficial to reinforce all they have learned about finding harmony and balance in their bodies and minds, and by extension, in their lives. 

The science of yoga is very compatible with the work of recovery and the 12-step programs. For people who feel lost and alone and hopeless, to hear the timeless wisdom of yoga can be a lighthouse in the storm. It would be a huge relief for them to be able to give up control and realize they are but a drop of water in an infinite ocean; that they are an essential part of this vast universe that unfolds exactly as it should regardless of their actions. To really understand that they cannot control people or environments – this could be an enormous relief.

For people who have lost their way, or who no longer even have a path to follow, the 8-fold path of Asthanga yoga could be an excellent road map for re-building their lives by use of social discipline, self-discipline, asanas, pranayama, and meditation. These would address every aspect of their lives: physical, psychological, social and spiritual. 

It is unlikely that many people would go on to become serious yogis from such a brief introduction, but at the very least, they would come away with the ability to relax and calm their bodies, minds, and breath through yoga. 

People who have been living under a great deal of stress and neglecting themselves would immediately feel the benefits of yoga. Living with an addict is very challenging. People have very little control over their external lives, but being able to remain stead and calm under any circumstances, and accept whatever life brings with a peaceful and balanced mind will be a very valuable gift to offer our clients. 

In conclusion, I feel that yoga can be of great benefit to co-dependent people. The different types of yoga can all be used to help people calm and focus their bodies and minds in order to facilitate the big changes they need to make in their lives.

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Yoga Vidya Gurukul

Village Talwade, Trimbak, Nasik

Phone - +91-9822770727

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Yoga Vidya Gurukul

Address of Institute office in Nasik

Yoga Vidya Dham, Kaivalya Nagari,
College Road, Nashik - 422005.
Maharashtra, India.

Phone - +91-9822770727 (for courses in ENGLISH)

+91-253-2318090 (For courses, in HINDI or MARATHI)

(Please call during 9.00 AM to 5 PM Indian Time)

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Village Talwade, Trimbak, Nasik

Phone - +91-9822770727

E-mail - or

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