Most of us spend the first part of our lives desperately trying to acquire an identity and the rest of our lives defending that identity. The definition of an adult, after all, is one who has stopped growing. Addiction is a suppression of our creativity — our natural youthful ability to grow and evolve.
We hanker after experiences that will reinforce a sense of who we are as not different from who we think we are. But the fact is that who we think we are has been decided by us; in other words it is not an absolute “something” set in stone. If we have programmed ourselves, through long-term habitual actions, to feel that we need certain stimulants in order to feel a sense of self worth, then our identity becomes inseparable from our habitual experiences. These stimulants can come from the outside, as in the case of alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, sugar, caffeine, chocolate, etc., which are referred to as exogenous chemicals. Stimulants can also come from inside the body. These internally produced chemicals are called endogenous chemicals, and they can produce a similar high as the exogenous chemicals. Some people are even said to be addicted to work, gambling, sex or other kinds of activities that can trigger the release of endogenous chemicals in the body.
The human body has receptor cells that have the ability to receive drugs like cocaine and heroin, as well as any other drug or substance that we are capable of being addicted to. It isn’t that we are biologically designed to become drug addicts. The fact is that our body is equipped with its own pharmaceutical laboratory that is able to manufacture the same chemicals internally that drug addicts crave from external sources. Any external drug that has an effect in our body works because it behaves like a similar internal chemical that is natural to us. Our body is able to recognize the external drug because our body already has its own receptors that were designed for the internal natural chemicals that we are able to manufacture ourselves.
One major problem with chemical addiction is that when you habitually rely on external means to feel good, your body’s own ability to manufacture those chemicals decreases, and you become more and more dependent on external means. A similar thing happens in the case of addiction to external activities or behaviors, like work or exercise — your body’s ability to manufacture endogenous chemicals when you are not working or exercising decreases. An addict has to go outside of him/herself to find a sense of wellbeing. Dependency is a never-ending search with debilitating results.
These kinds of addictions are counterproductive to the attainment of yoga, as they block a person from becoming truly happy, self confident, self reliant and whole. Addiction suppresses spiritual, emotional and physical development – retarding growth – keeping a person bound to staying the same. Addiction inhibits the blossoming of creativity, the potential for change and the evolution of consciousness.
When external activities are coupled with an intention to grow spiritually, however, they provide a means to consciously train your body to access your own pharmaceutical laboratory and help become free of chemical and other addictions. The practice of yoga asanas is a good example of this. Also, bhakti yogis actively cultivate what they refer to as an addiction to God, yet this “addiction” is not unhealthy, because it moves one closer to God and closer to the realization of who one truly is. Asana practice involves the stimulation of the endocrine system. Consciousness is chemical, and certain asanas stimulate specific glands in the body. These glands in turn secrete chemicals which have a profound effect upon our consciousness: Standing poses affect the adrenals; forward bends, the ovaries and testicles; twists, the pancreas and liver; backbends, the thymus; shoulderstand, the thyroid; child’s pose, the pineal; and headstand, the pituitary. Even though a person may practice yoga every day, it will never become an addiction like an addiction to chemicals or to work or gambling, because those kinds of addictions keep one the same and inhibit growth and evolution, whereas yoga provides a means to evolve.
When we become free of addiction, we can then feel what it means to have a body that is an instrument for happiness, ecstasy and bliss, and our body/mind system can do what it was meant to do – take us into new heights of experience beyond our wildest dreams.