I’ve walked a tightrope between opioid addiction and pain management but have survived. I was dependent on this medication as well, just like many others. The opioid crisis in the United States is characterized by widespread addiction and overdose. Yet, many of these tragedies started with innocent pain relief. In 2016, 64,000 people were killed by opioid overdose. This number quadrupled the alarming rates from 2015. New research suggests that Yoga may help to alleviate chronic pain symptoms and curb the addiction associated with opioid dependency.

In recent years, opioid abuse and misuse have been widespread. More than one-third of Americans take opiates, and doctors prescribe 38 percent. A study by Bradley Martin at the University of Arkansas Medical Science found that one in five patients receiving a 10-day prescription for opioids become long-term addicts. Our current opioid crisis is reaching devastating proportions. With the rising death toll, doctors and patients must look for alternative pain relief methods such as Yoga.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine conducted a study on 150 veterans suffering from chronic lower back pain. The veterans reduced or eliminated their opioid pain medications after completing the 12-week yoga program. The classes were taught by a certified yoga instructor twice a week and mainly consisted of physical poses, movements, and breathing techniques. The veterans in the yoga group scored significantly higher on the disability questionnaires and pain levels than the control group. Researchers noted that these veterans reported reduced withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking their medications.

We seek relief when our bodies tell our brains we are in pain. When relief is only possible through a deal with the devil (a cruel dependency on a highly addictive substance), we can find ourselves, like I did, crippling our recovery and path to lasting relief. We can still find a way to cope with pain if we accept a change in our brain chemistry. Yoga can help to alleviate the symptoms of addiction and chronic pain through a guided change in how we perceive discomfort. We already have chemicals in our bodies to help us with pain and addiction cravings. All we need is a way to access these chemicals, which Yoga provides.

Stanford University Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Roy King, M.D., Ph.D., found that Yoga’s interaction with dopamine inhibitors in the brain decreased addiction impulses. He also claims that breath exercises in certain styles, like Kundalini yoga, help restore healthy dopamine levels and replace cravings with natural pleasure-producing hormones. Yoga may provide a natural alternative to opioid-induced euphoria.

My personal experience

After a botched hip operation in 2015, I was left with chronic pain and a prescription for opioid pain medications. It was important to my health that I had this medication. However, I became overly dependent on it. After resuming my yoga practice, I could finally stop taking pain medication. Fortunately, my desire to take pain medication decreased, and I could better cope with chronic pain. In my yoga class’s supportive and health-affirming community, I began reclaiming my natural healing abilities. As I stretched into poses, a new sense of euphoria engulfed me. It gave me renewed self-confidence. The physiological self-knowledge I gained from the practice was the key to my recovery.

However, Yoga reminds us that pain is an experience we all must endure. We can choose how we feel and what we decide to do. Yoga teaches us to control our bodies and minds through pain triggers and stress. We also learn to use our endorphins to relieve agitation. Even two weeks of opioid medication can cause withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms can begin six to twelve hours after the last opioid dose. These include anxiety, a racing pulse, sweating, and muscle pain. Avoiding a miracle pill during the painful withdrawal period is often too tempting. The magic pill will relieve the pain and stop the symptoms. We are all human. As humans, we have choices. As more research is done, I hope more people decide to stop a potential addiction by practicing Yoga.

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