Five Important Recovery Benefits From Practicing Yoga

Posted by on Sep 11, 2012

With the auspicious co-occurrence of Yoga Awareness and Recovery Months happening in September, it is the perfect time for me to share my five important recovery benefits from practicing yoga.

1. Getting acquainted with feelings

When I was a newcomer, first entering the room of my 12 Step program I had no idea what my feelings were. I had the basics: sad, mad and glad, but even these were not in appropriate amounts or expressed in proper circumstances. My emotional wiring had shorted out. Fast forward a few years and I have developed a rainbow of feelings, of emotions, and I had become more skilled at expressing them in the right volume and the proper circumstance. And yet, I still had difficulty identifying MY own personal feelings; I still felt blocked and out of touch with myself. Enter yoga: What an amazing experience. On the mat I began first to get in touch with my physical sensations. With time I began to investigate my responses to them: how did I feel about effort? How did I feel about the challenging poses? What did my heart and my mind deal with that? Did I try extra hard, did I recoil from the pose? Did I dread trying it or feel I was in battle with it, pushing through to conquer it? I realized that how I dealt with my yoga practice was how I dealt with life. It became a window and a mirror. It helped me learn my feelings and feel the process of learning.

2. Slow Growth with Gratitude

I am not a spring chicken. I am a woman of a certain age and I am delighted with my presence on the planet at this time. Like many in the rooms of recovery – one of the outcomes of my past life could have been death or disability. I am so fortunate to be here. My age does not trouble me. When I am in a yoga class and look around at others – I see youth and flexibility and strength and all kinds of abilities I do not possess. That is judging myself by their outsides. Not so helpful. When I bring myself back to my own mat, and participate in my own practice: as I have to participate in my own recovery, I am able from day to day, from practice to practice see progress. Not weight loss or arm balance mastery or any pretzel pose, but composure, steadiness, stillness and ease. As in practicing the principles of the program the change comes – “sometimes swiftly and sometimes slowly”. I notice the changes and I am grateful.

3. Discipline and Commitment

It is not always easy getting to a meeting. It is not always easy getting to a yoga class. It requires commitment and dedication – to your self and your growth. I know I will feel better. I know my mind will move away from planning or perseveration when I practice my yoga. I can’t think about the grocery list when I move through my fourth slow sun salutation or balance in half moon pose for ten slow full breaths. I just can’t do it when my mind wanders. I stay there in my body, feeling my feelings, witnessing my mind, and being in my body. That is the grace of the practice and even when there is joy when coming out of final relaxation – I occasionally fight attending to my practice. I procrastinate, I make excuses, I resist. Just like going to meetings. And yet, nothing can be better than keeping that commitment. It is an estimable act – helping to build self worth.

4. Integration

One of the definitions of yoga is union: union of body mind and spirit. I am an addict/alcoholic. I have a physical allergy, spiritual malady and suffer from a mental obsession. This makes yoga a perfect remedy, a holistic remedy for this holistic disease. Through the breath and through the poses we calm the mind. In fact the mind may even soften to the point that thinking retreats into the background and one can get in to a meditative state – just experiencing the pose, the breath and one’s higher power. In meetings and in our 12 step work we move toward the eleventh and twelfth steps, creating in ourselves the capacity to both pray and meditate as well as to be right in our thoughts, actions and deeds in our daily lives. We do this so we may be of service. And through Karma yoga we also practice being of service coming from the place of our higher selves. In this way we have developed integration of body, mind and spirit and practice this both on and off the mat.

5. Trust

Now you might wonder how does yoga affect trust. I first wondered how going to meetings was going to keep me sober! I was also curious as to how working the twelve steps would improve my life. It was in shambles, I was in shambles. And yet, trusting in the process, I came to meetings, met with another alcoholic, read and worked the steps and now, many years later I no longer doubt. I trust. I am not flexible. I am stiff and I don’t have one of “those” bodies. I have a mind that whirls around and seemingly cannot stay still, how was I going to practice yoga and how was I going to relax in savasana (tranquility pose)? I trusted. I stepped onto the mat, slowly the pain in my wrists evaporated and I could do downward facing dog without my awareness of my hands and forearms distracting me from my breath. My forward fold became less stunted and strained and became more fluid and full of ease. I gave myself time to improve and learn; I trusted my body to know what was OK, what was safe and I worked within that capacity. I don’t do elaborate back bends – they are not for me. It took a few experiences with pain to affirm this, but now I know. I have trusted both my limits and my abilities. I have taken this knowledge into my experiences off the mat and realize there are some things I do with ease and well, some things I do with difficulty and well, and there are some things that I have a choice about. Self-trust is huge and it is a very worthy benefit from both the recovery and the yoga practice.

Now you might know that these five things are but a scratch on the surface of mutual benefits. What have you discovered? What has recovery provided that is helpful on the mat? And what has yoga taught you that is helpful in recovery. I would love to hear your experience strength and hope.

by Kyczy Hawk
Author: “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path”

Kyczy Hawk is the author of “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path”. She teaches yoga in the San Jose area of California, to people in detention centers, recovery centers, schools and studios. A certified teacher of Y12SR (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) she holds weekly classes to a growing number of students. She leads workshops throughout the Bay Area on Addiction Recovery and Yoga and co-leads a certification program with Kent Bond, 550 ERYT.

10 Comments

  1. brenda perlin
    September 11, 2012

    I am definitely a fan of Kyczy Hawk and yoga. I read her book “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path” and found it so valuable and I am not in recovery. Actually I am in a different kind of recovery. I have a rare autoimmune disease and could not walk for a period of time so I guess you can call that recovery.

    Getting back to a yoga practice after over four years has been such a blessing to me. First of all it has helped me to feel like myself again. It has also given me back a great deal of confidence that has been lost since I became ill.

    For me yoga is grounding and centers me. Needless to say it has helped me with my balance and has empowered me to take on everyday life challenges. With yoga I feel centered and lighter…mentally and physically! I believe it makes me a better person!

    Thank you Kyczy for your dedication to yoga, recovery, and girls like me who need a little extra lift!

    Reply
    • admin
      September 11, 2012

      Wow! What a powerful story. Thank you so much, Brenda, for sharing!

      Reply
  2. jane sinclair
    September 11, 2012

    I could/can identify with everything you have written. I started active yoga practice and 12 step recovery at same time. It is a process for me both equally important. The longer I am active in practice and recovery, the more I get out of it spiritually and physically. Almost 11 years 🙂

    Reply
    • admin
      September 11, 2012

      Fantastic! Congratulations Jane!

      Reply
  3. Lorien Neargarder
    September 11, 2012

    I love what you’ve written here. We all have situations in our lives which limit the full expression of living. I was at that point when I found my way into a yoga class. I had boxed up so much of myself in order to keep living a life that was miserable, all because I believed the lies around me. The physical practice was a doorway for me to enter myself again, and once I experienced life without pain, constriction and fear, I was able to embrace my breath and even my thoughts with love. I stepped through and have never looked back! Thank you for sharing these truths. I am grateful for you!

    Reply
    • Kyczy Hawk
      September 20, 2012

      Lorien
      You have transferred your strength and wisdom into classes that offer transformation to others. I am delighted to be on this journey with you.

      Reply
  4. Kyczy Hawk
    September 11, 2012

    Thank you Brenda and Jane for sharing your stories. Brenda you have such an open heart and I am delighted you are finding yourself and balance on the mat. Jane, you shared the beginning of your journey with me – same class, same car , same DIRECTION :-). I am so pleased.

    Reply
  5. Meridith
    September 11, 2012

    Kyczy –

    You write beautifully. And it is so vital to align the factors of body. mind and spirit for without this life cannot progress smoothly. Thank you for what you write and for all you do. We need more Kyczys in the world.

    Love,
    Mer

    Reply
  6. Shasta
    September 12, 2012

    Well said. Thank you for the reminder to “stay on my own mat” . In all aspects of my life I need to remember to focus on what works well for me and my life. Whether as a mom or wife or just being myself I need to remind myself that I cannot compare my movements with those around me. Getting ideas from others, ways of using blocks or pushing further is different than wishing I was more.like others or that I.am not doing well.enough.
    Thank you

    Reply
  7. Kent Bond
    September 17, 2012

    I resonate with all of what is so gracefully stated.
    In particular the notion of trusting the process. Wise words and difficult to practicee in these crammed to the max times we live in. Persevering, trusting and making the time to step back on the mat, this is the key.
    Thank you Kyczy. You remain a “Pilot” for us all.
    Kent

    Reply

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