Dealing with substance abuse is never easy but is so much harder when dealing with mental health issues. When mental health issues go untreated, the chances increase for an uptick in substance abuse. Likewise, untreated substance abuse increases the opportunity for a mental health episode.
SHAR (Self Help Addiction Rehabilitation), a non-profit behavioral healthcare center, licensed by the State of Michigan, based in Detroit, Michigan, has been gaining ground and breaking this cycle for those in need for over 20 years. Clients include veterans, the homeless, those with mental and physical health issues, struggling women with children, and those under correctional supervision.
SHAR’s distressed population often lacked the necessary tools to connect inward or develop insight into their behaviors to determine what drivers impact poor decision making. They were typically anxious and lacked discipline and impulse control.
The ongoing challenge for SHAR was to find non-pharmacological ways (beyond traditional psychotherapy) to reach those suffering and alleviate their physical and emotional pain.
Belightful Yoga partnered with SHAR in 2017 to develop innovative solutions for the women and men at a residential unit in Warren, Michigan.
Belightful provided a variety of weekly yoga sessions for SHAR’S men and women groups. Meditation and postures allowed participants a safe, non-judgmental space to tune inward, move and gently progress to a state of serenity. Instilling a sense of gratitude into daily life was always encouraged.
Evidence-based yoga techniques used by Belightful Yoga, offered a complementary therapeutic approach, to reorganize clients’ neural brain and nervous system pathways. This process, known as neuroplasticity, helped transform the clients’ habitual patterns of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, to form new connections.
Belightful teachers created a trusted environment that allowed clients to slow down and listen to their bodies. For example, Belightful used ABC’s: Awareness, Balance, and Compassion model. For change to begin, clients needed awareness, which they gained through breathing exercises, and teacher prompts.
As participants became mindful of imbalances, (variances in the breath and in their bodies), and accompanying physical pain, the teachers directed them to accept it with loving-kindness. Instilling a sense of daily gratitude was always encouraged. The tenet of loving-kindness is particularly meaningful with SHAR’S population under correctional supervision.
An Australian prison inmates study cites that many enter prison with a mental health condition, a physical health condition, and a history of self-harm. A U.S. National Institutes of Health article in PubMed Central® cites yoga and mindfulness practice as a complementary therapeutic approach to target multiple psychological, neural, physiological, and behavioral processes implicated in addiction and relapse.
THE RESULTS Belightful teachers took the time to understand the specific needs of SHAR clients relative to their substance use and physical and mental health issues. Belightful teachers were responsive, compassionate, and sensitive to the unique needs of the clients, as well as being flexible and complementary with other SHAR modalities.
Through awareness and compassion, the participants began to come into a state of serenity – and evenness of temper.
A post-program survey asked 205 SHAR participants:
How supportive did you find the on-site yoga/mindfulness class?
On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being most supportive: 189 responded (5) most supportive, and 14 responded (4).
Do you plan to continue your yoga practice after you leave SHAR?
On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being most likely: 174 responded (5) most likely, and 20 responded (4)
A sampling of SHAR clients’ comments on how they benefited from yoga:
- “I have really bad anxiety. Yoga is helping me learn how to cope with it since I am off my meds, and it is making a dramatic change. It also helps relax my mind, and my days feel better.”
- “To think outside the box.”
- “My physical pain decreases when I engage in this activity.”
- “It’s a great benefit to our recovery and helps our mind, body, and soul.”
Witnessing students become centered over their weeks of consistent practice was a true privilege for the Belightful teachers.
The experience for me was life-changing. Having the opportunity to be with women actively working on transforming their lives — nothing in my career can even come close.
We have laughed, shed tears, opened up, and helped each other.
Yoga in all its forms — is a terrific vehicle for lifelong growth and improvement, which is exactly the point for these wonderful women!Leeba Marchione
Belightful Yoga Teacher