The Cabin is a leading provider of private addiction treatment services with inpatient and outpatient rehabs across the world. The Group is best known for its highly reputable inpatient treatment centre in northern Thailand. The resort-style Cabin Rehab in Chiang Mai is licensed by the Thai Health Ministry and looks after clients from around the world.

The Cabins ‘Changing Pathways’ Program is specially designed for client with addiction and behavioural issues. It is the first-ever treatment programme to combine equal amounts of psychotherapy, neuroscience, and physical therapy in the form of Muay Thai Boxing and triathlon training to achieve recovery.

As part of our healthy lifestyle training programme, we focus on integrating endorphin exercise therapy into the lives of our patients. All patients are given a personal training programme upon arrival and are given a rigorous exercise programme aimed at boosting their level of endorphins.

Our programme, which combines body combat, aqua fitness, Thai martial arts, mountain biking, yoga, and Pilates, is aimed at not only getting the addict physically healthy but keeping their mind off of the addictive drug thoughts. This form of endorphin exercise therapy has been proven to help addicts during the recovery process and to increase their likelihood of remaining abstinent.

Muay Thai and Addiction

Muay Thai Boxing (the art of 8 limbs) is Thailand’s ancient tradition of self-defense. In combination with 12 Steps facilitation, mindfulness meditation, neuroscience, and trauma protocols, it can be an effective treatment for clients with addictions. Using similar principles to wilderness programs, Muay Thai can be used to inculcate core values and re-establish an ordered developmental pathway in clients living with an addiction.

Why Muay Thai?

Muay Thai boxing dates to the 18th century. It is a self-defense sport native to Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia and is also known in the region as “The Art of Eight Limbs”. The eight limbs refer to strikes delivered by hands, lower legs, elbows, and knees. However, it also includes the practice of meditation for focus and calm.

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, and there are fights shown on the country’s TV networks three times a week. Combatants, known as ‘nak muay’, fight in a ring wearing gloves.

Many of those recovering from addiction suffer with low self-esteem, but Muay Thai teaches self-discipline and can increase self-confidence. Adversity is overcome as the client’s self-esteem grows and they begin to think of themselves as a whole person – incorporating sporting and spiritual values rather than those aligned with addiction. In this respect the approach is not about fighting but “training, bonding, intimacy, and transformation”.

Muay Thai also provides an excellent physical workout because it uses almost every part of the body, it is fun and improves discipline. Addiction recovery experts also say that it helps release stress and improve sleeping.


The Art of 8 Limbs Using Muay Thai Boxing to Heal Addiction

Muay Thai Practice

A key element of the 56-day Changing Pathways addiction programme run by The Cabin is the use of physical stimulation as part of the client’s therapy to reflect the fact that those living with addiction frequently experience low frustration tolerance and poor impulse control. This is frequently characterized by shorter concentration spans and fluctuating energy levels.

In addition to treating those with addiction problems, The Cabin treats clients suffering from mental illness and behavioural issues. Located along the picturesque Ping River just outside the city of Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, it offers a treatment programme designed to keep clients engaged by combining, in equal amounts, physical activities with psychotherapy; as well as nutrition and mindfulness.

The programme, operated by The Cabin since 2012, was successfully developed in response to a need to bring together the most widely accepted first-line treatments for addiction. Today it incorporates neuroscience, fitness, and trauma-informed psychotherapy as well as mindfulness and holistic therapies.

The Changing Pathways program from The Cabin combines elements of physical fitness, cognitive behavioural therapy, neuroscience, and the 12 Steps mindfulness approach. Therapy sessions take place with a dedicated counsellor who remains with the client from the beginning to the end of treatment. Group therapy sessions are held daily, which these provide participants the benefits and support of their fellowship and resources.

Multidisciplinary teams are made up of mental health and addiction counsellors, activity coaches/managers who oversee Muay Thai, triathlon training and wilderness/adventure activities. As well as these key staff we have holistic coaches, art psychotherapists, physical fitness trainers, massage therapists, medical nurses, and clinical support staff.

All the Muay Thai training at The Cabin is done at a boxing gym off-site by professional Muay Thai trainers who have collaborated with The Cabin to design a programme specifically for clients living with addiction.

The Cabin is licensed by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health as a substance addiction, trauma, and behavioural health rehabilitation centre.

Impact and Progress of Muay Thai at The Cabin

There has been limited Western research undertaken on the therapeutic benefits of Muay Thai, however, The Cabin believes that having treated 5000 clients that the physical challenge of boxing is effective in creating purpose and dedication in the lives of clients.

There is however an ever-increasing body of evidence which demonstrates that using physical activity combined with therapeutic approaches such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, mentoring and befriending and coaching has positive impacts on people’s physical and more importantly mental wellbeing.

The Cabin uses Changing Pathways model based on established evidenced-based treatment modalities.

The programme focuses on teaching clients’ practices such as cognitive behavioural techniques, dynamic neurofeedback, meditation, emotional freedom techniques, and art therapy. All of these are self-help techniques that the participants can use to curb cravings, reduce anxiety, reduce stress levels, and manage anger.

At The Cabin we can successfully claim that:

  • Thai boxing has been incorporated into a programme to help clients recovering from addictions
  • Learning the martial art helps build client’s physical and mental strength
  • It also provides discipline and structure to the client’s recovery programme
  • Twice weekly Thai boxing sessions and personal 1-2-1 personal training make up a significant part of a 56-day programme run by The Cabin
  • Thailand has traditionally had tough drug laws, but has developed a more therapeutic approach to addiction treatment now
  • The approach the programme is modelled on has a high completion rate among participant


The Art of 8 Limbs Muay Thai at The Cabin

The Benefits of Muay Thai and Addiction Treatment

Muay Thai focuses on overcoming fear. By grading our clients through different levels, we can teach them not only the necessary drills to become more coordinated but also safely and slowly give them time to explore the giving and receiving of punches and kicks to the legs, arms, and body. 

A weekly debrief with trainers and counsellors gives us (the therapeutic staff) valuable feedback into how the client is feeling in a ‘real’ situation. This psychological component to the programme also raises a number of other common issues such as negative body image, or issues of not feeling good enough. Often clients presenting for addiction treatment feel that they are not strong enough, not worthy, or are inferior in some way. Ironically this is often masked by bravado or fake confidence. 

This debrief process is a chance for us to challenge these maladaptive thinking styles, as well as gauge whether the boxing is appropriate for them and whether to step to the next level. 

Often when clients have graduated from sober living, and have become ‘alumni’ they may even be ready, or permitted, to fight in a ring situation, and to date, three of our clients have done so racking up one loss, a loss by close decision, and a win by first-round knockout respectively.

Sometimes clients such as young men are better suited to endurance events like triathlon. Triathlon helps young people to develop the ability to endure pain and discomfort. It involves swimming (often in the open water) and cycling (which is often at speed). Our trainers prepare our teams in swimming technique, and cycling safety, and our clients may compete in official triathlons only once they have entered our sober living (aftercare) facilities. 

To date, The Cabin has produced three Muay Thai fighters and more than a dozen triathletes. One of our graduates completed an Ironman triathlon in France, where he raised money for orphans affected by methamphetamine addiction in the hill tribe areas of the Golden Triangle (Thai/Burma/Laos border). In 2018) we saw five of our graduates complete Ironman triathlons.

Using a fighting sport to help heal the wounds of a condition which is partly caused by emotional and physical abuse might not seem on the face of it to be the best idea. But obviously, it’s not about the fighting. Initial phases of treatment do not include contact sparring and are heavy on grounding techniques which are mainly developed through Vipassana meditation which is led by local monks (because we are based in northern Thailand) and holistic team members. 

In this way, the practice of Muay Thai (the movements only) becomes a type of somatic experiencing. For many of our client’s, proper ring fighting is not desirable, and only the few who are gifted will go on to compete at an amateur level locally in Chiang Mai, once they are in transitional living, or once they have graduated fully from treatment.

What Others Say About The Cabins Muay Thai Programme

Although not a new concept, The Cabin Group should be commended on their Changing Pathways programme, that uses Muay Thai boxing as part of their recovery programme. I have no doubt about the effectiveness of such programmes.

UK Charities like Boxing Futures and others like Fight for Peace, London Community Boxing, and Empire Fighting Chance to name a few, are all using combinations of therapeutic models to engage with a wide range of people. They all use boxing as a conduit/tool to engage people and promote positive behavioural change.

Anthony York, Chief Executive, Boxing Futures

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