Complementary Therapy: Trauma Informed Yoga, Reiki, Massage and Recreation



Studies have noted that addictive persons unconsciously disown self-soothing potentials and projects them onto seemingly more powerful nurturing figures in the external environment (Kissen, M., Kissen-Kohn, D.A., 2009; Posadzki, P., Choi, J., Soo Lee, M., Ernst, E., 2014), This Inhibition of self-soothing capacity is found particularly in addictive patients. Self-soothing is operationally defined as the capacity for thermostatic self-regulation of both negative and positive affects. It is assumed that both qualities of affect at the extreme can be stressful and hence require thermostatic regulatory capabilities (Stolorow, 1980).

Most of our clients do not regularly exercise their ability to create positive affects associated with self-soothing. Instead, they would rely on various kinds of external substances such as alcohol, drugs and food or highly externalized experiences compulsively enacted (e.g., gambling, shopping, sexuality, overeating to produce sought-after positive affects. These positive affects are temporary, and require more and more compulsive and self-destructive repetitions. The body and its feelings are often at the center of this increasingly self-disruptive cycle.

Yoga and meditation have been found to help clients reduce addictive tendencies both in the short term and over the long term via reconnecting with their self-soothing capacities (Kissen, M., Kissen-Kohn, D.A., 2009).

Healing River employs Therapeutic Yoga as a complementary therapy. Therapeutic Yoga is comprehensive system of restorative yoga, breath awareness, and guided meditation specifically designed to enhance the body’s own capacity to self-sooth. Hands-on healing modalities are also part of the system, working to balance the body and ease the mind.

A typical yoga therapy class at Healing River involves considerable practice in intentionality with regard to the body. Our clients perform a series of postural shifts that increase overall psychological energy, muscle tone, flexibility and sense of balance. By repeating certain postures, together with more and more synchronized breathing exercises (slowly breathing in and breathing out with an emphasis on the latter), participants gain considerable mastery of executive capacities with regard to motor and sensory aspects of their bodies. They begin to experience soothing feelings of warmth,

relaxation, and reduction of stress, which they soon realize is more under their personal sense of control than was previously thought. As a result, our clients gain considerable self-soothing capacity that is less and less attributable to external factors and more and more to their own inner executive function.

Our Yoga Therapist at Healing River, frequently remind participants to focus upon different kinds of bodily experiences while stretching into various postures and breathing in and out in a mindful and present-focused way. Feelings of pain are also noted and there are reminders not to stretch too much beyond one’s current level of capacity, these unpleasant experiences too are mindfully scanned and attentively noted. Overall, this tends to increase both the positive attachment s to the body and a certain degree of constructive pain tolerance.

We recognize that some of our clients take physical risk to achieve a desired emotional and body state. In exchange, they often may face damaging consequence to their bodies. At Healing River, our Yoga Program initiates and repeatedly reinforces a much more respectful body loving and protecting attitude that is antithetical to the self-harming and contemptuously disrespecting posture of addicts toward their bodies.

Addictive behaviours are associated with mostly negative attacks upon the body and self-esteem. Our Yoga class provides a more mindful, healthfully playful, and empowering context in which participants are invited to discover and personally own various body feelings. The focus is upon the immediacy of the moment and the now but without any compulsive retreats from painful aspects of the experience. The Yoga class allows participants to let go of anxious, stressful, or depressive feelings but without masking them via addictively crated positive affects and euphoria.

“Yoga warms you up and inside in contrast to alcohol or drugs that might only warm you up outside.” (Kissen & Kissen-Kohn, 2009).

Yoga is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs and throughout recovery to help prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings by providing a healthy outlet to cope triggers and life stressor. At Healing River, we teach participants to observe experiences such as cravings as temporary events, not necessary requiring action. This approach to Mindful Yoga practice has been found to allow participants to “let go” of compulsive thought patterns.

Yoga has many potential benefits, including:

-Stress relief

-Increased physical stamina and strength

-Self-reflection and increased self-awareness

-Healthier exercise and eating habits

-Heightened self-confidence and improved self-image

-Pain relief

-Better sleep

-Increased energy levels

-Reduction in fatigue

-Emotional healing

-Overall health and wellness improvement



Chemical dependency and behavioural addictions can place an enormous amount of stress on the body, both physically and emotionally. The withdrawal from addiction may cause a range of unpleasant symptoms such as muscle pain, bone ache, headaches, sleep disorders, extreme moodiness, and intense cravings. It is during this time of early recovery that our clients can benefit greatly by practicing various forms of relaxation, such as Reiki, which has been shown to be a helpful tool in relieving physical symptoms and calming the body and mind. At Healing River, along with therapeutic yoga, we offer Reiki as a complementary treatment that assists our guests throughout their recovery process, by making it more tolerable. 

Reiki Treatment for addictions at Healing River supports our guests in cultivating a sense of calmness, peace, and safety in their body, accelerating the recovery process when used in conjunction with our core treatment methods. Just as Reiki is used a complementary treatment for physical diseases (such as cancer and heart disease) around the world, both within private clinics and hospitals, Reiki is a welcome addition to the treatment of addictive disorders. Along with Trauma Informed Yoga, Reiki fosters a sense of safety and support within the body. Supporting the body by creating a deep sense of relaxation, in which the body is able to release the pains and trauma that accompany withdrawal symptoms. 

Benefits of Reiki for addiction include: 

Encourages the body to heal faster 

Boosting the immune system 

Instills a deep state of relaxation – highly beneficial in combating stress and tension 

Support better sleep 

Increase energy 

Encourages the body to rid itself of toxins 

Coping with cravings and withdrawal more tolerable – helping to minimize the pain and discomfort associated with detox/withdrawal process. 

Support the individual coping with the stress of recovery 

What is Reiki 

Reiki is a Japanese Spiritual practice that has its origins in the early twentieth century and is used as a type of alternative medicine by people around the world. It's benefits for the individual are in its promotion of relaxation and encouragement of the body’s natural healing mechanism. Roughly translated, the word Reiki means “life force energy form a higher power”. The underlying philosophy of Reiki is that our bodies are driven by an unseen vital like energy know as “Ki” that flows throughout bodies and is the life force that causes us to be alive. It is believed that illness within the body arise when the flow of Ki is disrupted, resulting in physical or mental symptoms. A Reiki practitioner administers this technique through palm healing which the therapist seeks to transfer healing energy through their palms to help kick-start the flow of Ki with the body promoting the bodies natural healing mechanisms. 




It is during addiction and engagement in addictive behaviours that the “pleasure pathways” within the brain are constantly activated, in part due to the release of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. It is during the withdrawal from these addictive behaviours and within the early stages of recovery, that dopamine remains at lower than average level causing our client’s to experience a lack of the “feel-good” emotions. It is not until the brain chemistry has the appropriate time to re-engaging its body in the production its own endorphins natural that the body will begin to regulate and “normalizes”. At Healing River we utilize the treatment of Therapeutic Massage to aid clients in the natural release of endorphins; thus, allowing our clients a felt experience of “feeling normal” without the aid of substance or addictive behaviour. 

At Healing River we not only incorporate the use of Therapeutic Massage to elevate the bodily discomfort within the detoxification and withdrawal stages but well into the recovery journey, to offer our clients the direct benefits from the healing power of therapeutic touch. Research shows that within the safe, non-threatening environment created during Therapeutic Massage, emotional release can be a common occurrence, providing our client with an opportunity to begin the process of recovering from long-held emotions and memories. In addition, researching findings on the benefits of Therapeutic Massage for addiction to include, but not be limited to: decreased pain, diminished autoimmune response, enhanced immune response, increased alertness and performance, reduction in cortisol levels (a stress hormone), as well as several of the Touch Research Institute’s studies documenting the ability of massage to decrease anxiety, depression, agitation, and cravings. 

A few benefits and side effects of therapeutic massage include: 

• release of ‘feel-good’ hormones - helps to increase serotonin and dopamine 

• decrease cortisol which is related to stress 

• reduce agitation and anxiety 

• eases sleep problems 

• increased flow to the lymphatic system • helps with the removal of metabolic waste 

• provides the client with a connection to their body, and improves or increases body awareness. 

• builds trust. 

• associated touch in a positive light – healing the negative associated with touch that many individual hold 

• lowers blood pressure and heart rate 

• lowered anxiety levels 

• increased function of cytotoxic T-cells (wards of illness and disease 



Simply put, Recreational Therapy is doing various activities that are enjoyable while intended to also have therapeutic value. Research shows that being involved in new activities, both physical and skill oriented, improve one's chances for a successful recovery. Activities will include gardening/ green-house work, artistic endeavours, nature walks, swimming, kayaking, outdoor cook outs, etc.