Adrian Miller tried many times to kick his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
He read books, spoke to doctors, tried cognitive behavioral therapy, changed partners, went travelling, and more.
While in south-east Asia, he had the idea of going to live with the monks in Cambodia.
“I thought if I stayed with the monks maybe they’d have some answers, but to be honest I only lasted one night because they didn’t have air conditioning,” he recounts.
“I was just looking for a quick fix.”
Miller, now 48, says he discovered drugs and alcohol at 15 and “had a lot of fun for 10 years, but the next 10 years were horrible.”
“I became unhappy and stressed, even though I had a successful corporate job and a business degree. But it was like I was leading a double life and after a few years I started having really bad panic attacks and had a long battle with depression and anxiety.”
Miller’s attempts to extricate himself from addiction gained momentum when he checked himself into Refocus Rehab Melbourne.
But it was a fateful meeting with a friend of a friend in a cafe that introduced him to an ancient Chinese art form that proved to be the emotional breakthrough he needed.
“She had this nice aura about her. I asked what she did, because I was still in a pretty dark depression.
“She said she did this qigong meditation. I had no idea what qigong was, but… she was looking a bit happier than I was, so I thought why not give it a go?
“I went to Warrandyte and did a weekend of qigong, and I just had this massive spiritual shift.
“It was like real health and depression had been lifted. I felt lighter, happier, more optimistic and just generally brighter. I wasn’t as closed off any more.”
Since attending that workshop, as well as enrolling in Alcoholics Anonymous, Adrian, from Balaclava, has remained sober for 11 years and now relies on qigong instead of substances to calm himself during difficult times. He also runs qigong classes for people needing to unload their own emotional baggage.
An ancient Chinese meditation, qigong involves gentle movements, controlled breathing and even slapping. The aim is to move energy, referred to as chi, throughout your body and remove any physical, mental, emotional or spiritual blocks an individual may be facing.
Attending one of Miller’s virtual classes during lockdown, it was easy to see that participants’ stress and anxiety was high. At first the screen was filled with scrunched up faces and tense shoulders. When Miller asked how everyone was feeling, there was dead silence. But as he guided the class through their gentle movements, bodies began to loosen and during breaks people talked more openly about how lockdown was affecting them.
“The movements of qigong help because they provide the mind with a job and stop it from wandering to those negative thoughts,” Miller says.
Dr Shalini Arunogiri is an addiction psychiatrist and deputy clinical director at turning pointa national addiction treatment and research center that started in Victoria in 1994. Arunogiri says clinical trials have shown different types of mindful meditation to be effective when practiced alongside counseling or psychological treatment.
“Meditation and mindful movement can have a role to play for many people in their recovery,” she says.
“Aspects of these types of approaches help people reconnect and become more in tune with their bodies, or support better management of emotions.”
Mindful movement coach Paul Daniele, from Preston, also uses qigong techniques, as well as practices from yoga and Pilates, to help people dealing with addiction.
“I found when I was working with people with addictions, a lot of people were at rock bottom, but there was a real openness to mindful movement,” he says.
Daniele says mindful movement helped him overcome his own dependency on marijuana, which started with smoking a joint to relax.
“My reliance on marijuana started as a teenager but at the time I didn’t have the skills or coping mechanisms to be aware of my emotions and thought patterns. I wasn’t realizing how much I was relying on weed to calm my social anxiety,” he says.
“The whole point of mindful movement is to calm our mind and stabilize our body without resorting to substances.”
I have found the more I have practiced mindful movement techniques, the less I have relied on marijuana.
“Also, the more I have practiced things like meditation and yoga, the less I am using it as a first-aid kit and more as a preventative measure. So instead of waiting until I feel anxious to practice mindful movement, I instead practice it pretty much every day as a way to keep those anxious feelings away.”
Miller, who also works as a personal trainer, was last year offered a job at the rehab center he used to attend as a patient. This full circle moment was not lost on him and whenever he incorporates qigong into his sessions and sees a client have an emotional breakthrough, he can’t help but feel overjoyed.
“I hate to give you the impression you do qigong a few times and it’s smooth sailing. Life still happens… but qigong just helps you navigate those moments when shit hits the fan,” he says.
“I know how much it hurts to be in that dark space and how scary it can be at times. So when I do it and there are one or two people in class that respond, it’s priceless.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism