How Yoga & Meditation Overcome Addictive Patterns
By Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, MD
As human beings, we are made perfectly happy and serene. We only need to hold a baby to feel the optimism of our original selves. As children we believe we are fine and perfect. But the world is not perfect. As we grow up, we learn that the world is not always so great. People may disappoint us, hurt us, even abuse us. We develop patterns to fill this void. The stage is set for anxiety, depression, low self esteem, or post traumatic stress disorder. We might then spend our lives battling demons, or we may become resilient and find joy in life. We thrive vs. survive depending on our genetics, family patterns, opportunities, stressors, peer groups, and the sources of caring in our lives.
Everyone has an addiction. We attach to habits that are not in our best interests. Not just to substances, such as tobacco, alcohol or opiates. We can also be addicted to our own behavior patterns, which turn on the feel-good areas of the brain. This can manifest as overspending, over-achieving, gambling, over-eating. We may have a self-destructive tendency to hold ourselves back, each time we come close to success. We may choose unhealthy relationships again and again. We want the familiarity of the pattern and its secret reward more than we want our own excellence.
I myself am not an addiction specialist. I have spent 35 years in healthcare first as a nurses’ aide, then a registered nurse, and then as a physician. I have observed human nature from many angles. As an obstetrician-gynecologist, I witnessed tragedy and aftermath from many types of addiction.
At a certain point in my professional career, I knew that I needed stress reduction in order to keep up the hectic pace of medicine. I started practicing, then teaching Kundalini yoga & meditation as taught by Yogi Bhajan and found new tools for inner calm, strength, and resilience.
Specialists tell us that the science of addiction recovery requires individualized care from many sources. The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse advises that these include building skills to resist drug use, and replacing drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding activities.
Yoga and meditation get to the root cause of our behaviors. We learn to change gears, from stressed to calm. We do this by changing the input to our brain. For example, slowing down the breath, and breathing more deeply, sends a message of calm to our brain. Even if we are nervous, by making the breath relaxed, the mind obeys the signal that everything is ok. Brain chemistry changes, glandular changes occur. We feel good. Over time, the brain learns to follow this command more quickly, like a well-worn path in the woods. It becomes easier to calm our selves even in very stressful situations.
Scientists have also shown that a regular practice of meditation strengthens the “executive” function of the brain. This overrules our more animalistic impulses. We gain control of our habits.
What does this all mean? Simply put, our lives, surroundings, genes, families, temptations, habits are still right there. What’s changed is our need to react in the same old way. We are calmer, steadier, more neutral, more able to see the whole picture. We gain self-awareness – so we can see the trap before we fall into it once again. We feel lighter. This causes a ripple effect, and others feel lighter too.
I currently focus my time manifesting yoga and meditation practices that uplift via donation-based classes in central Massachusetts, and by bringing both local and international programs to the nonprofit center, Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA. My friend and mentor, international teacher, counselor, & addiction specialist, Dr. Mukta Kaur Khalsa, PhD, ran an accredited yoga hospital which treated addiction in the 1970s. A former UN representative, she now dedicates her time teaching people in general, and clinicians, how to break habits and addictive behaviors via yogic science. Her nonprofit organization and program is called SuperHealth. It is open to everyone, with CEUS for nurses, social workers, physical therapists, & counselors. It includes juicing, supplements, yoga technology manuals, and dietary recommendations. A 7-day SuperHealth Specialty Professional Training will be held in October of 2017 in Millis.
Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, MD, formerly known as Diane Pingeton, is currently focused on the intersection between Western health care and yogic technology. She is a Board Certified Obstetrician Gynecologist on sabbatical from clinical practice. She serves as volunteer faculty both at Umass Memorial in Worcester, MA and at the Guru Ram Das Center for Medicine and Humanology in New Mexico, bringing its yoga therapy training to Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA, where she serves as the yoga center director. She and her colleagues offer yoga by donation in the greater Worcester, MA community at www.kundaliniyogaforall.com.
NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse Publication: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)