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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.
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.
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.
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.