How did you first get interested in yoga? I was interested in yoga from the days of “Lilias, Yoga and You” on public television in the 80’s and later borrowed tapes from the library to try the poses. I would practice the sequences in the privacy of my home, shyly developing a level of comfort with the poses and transitions. My deep and profound interest came in mid life, mid career when I was internally aching from dis-association from my peers and my friends. In desperation I found a yoga class being offered in a nutrition center near my house and started taking classes in their little back room. I found a refuge in the mat practice of yoga, and began to reconnect with my own feelings.
What change has yoga made in your life? The changes that yoga has made in my life are many. I have become friends with my body- with its unique balance of poses that offer challenge and those that provide a sense of mastery I have developed a new confidence. With the ethic of “remaining on one’s own mat” and leaving comparisons with others out of the practice I have been able to bring that sense (with struggle) into other parts of my life. Do the best I can at what I do and not to compare myself with others. My life capacities, as my physical capacities , are uniquely mine and are to be respected. I cannot do certain backbends to their fullest without harming myself. I accept this. I am not a proficient gardener. I accept this as well. I can still be a full loving human being and yogi in spite of this. I live yoga every day.
What inspired you to begin teaching yoga to others? The philosophy of yoga inspired me so much that I became a yoga teacher. This impact that the practices of yoga had on me in terms of preventing relapse prompted me to share it with my friends. Even before I became a certified teacher I would lead my recovery friends through yoga poses after we had run together. The benefits of the physical practice along with the ethical practices further inspired me to bring yoga to people in early recovery from addiction as well as those struggling with the addictions of others. Thus my further studies and workshops with others who had investigated the same path. I currently teach in treatment centers and jails as well as hold Y12SR classes (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) in yoga studios. Y12SR meetings combine a one hour all recovery path 12 Step style meeting with a one hour all level yoga class. They are powerful and are well received.
How would you describe your teaching style? I teach a gentle all levels class. My teacher training is from the style of the Himalayan Yoga Institute. As so many of my students are either new to yoga or new to both yoga AND recovery I focus on the breath and on stretch. I add poses that use more strength and increase effort as appropriate. One of the first things we do on the mat is to connect with how we are feeling in our bodies and with the breath. The health and safety of my students is paramount. Feelings of progress, success and mastery are also important. If the class and day invite it we can also move into a challenging practice.
Can you tell us a little bit about the S.O.A.R.™ (Success Over Addiction and Relapse) certification? What are the goals of this program, and how was it developed? I developed the S.O.A.R.™ program to give teachers more tools to bring yoga to people in recovery. There are situations where it is not possible to bring both a meeting and a yoga practice to a venue (such as Y12SR) and there are many sensitivities and sensibilities I have learned over the past 1500 classes or so that I can share with others. There are times when a teacher would want to expand on certain yoga and recovery principles in a workshop. Perhaps a teacher would like to develop a set series of classes to investigate the relationship between yoga and the recovery program. I developed the program to help the yoga teacher consider all these ideas. S.O.A.R.™ training tools help the teacher become aware of the needs of the various populations; those in early recovery, those new to yoga, those who are detoxing and their physical limitations, as well as those who “want it all” – deep philosophical discussions and a vigorous practice. We teach the attendees ways to relate yoga principles to recovery language and learn how to use this language in the cues we use in teaching hatha ( the physical practice). We learn about somatics and trauma sensitivity. Kent Bond (E-RYT500), my co-leader, and I also talk about self care and the importance of self nuturing to be able to maintain our ability to hold a compassionate space for our students. We provide the attendees with a DVD with a holistic sequence to use in their classes and an e-manual of all the material covered in class.
In your recent book, “Yoga and the Twelve-Step Path“, you talk about using the 8 limbs of yoga to aid in addiction recovery. What does the path of yoga add to a traditional 12-step path? This is such a big question. I would say that using the lens of the 8 limbs of yoga I re-frame, refocus and refresh the recovery principles. The similarities between the two are profound once you start investigating them. In a way the 6 of the limbs, the restraints, the observances, the withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and transformative bliss (the yamas, the niyamas, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samahdi) help “unpack” the concepts embedded in the steps. Consider the concept of the niyama of sauca, or purity. At the level of thought word and deed we as yogis vow to live a life of purity. We keep our self, our surroundings and our thoughts clean. We work on keeping our relationships unsullied. In recovery we “keep our side of the street clean”. We do a comprehensive self inventory in the 4th step and maintain this introspection into the useful and not-so-useful activities in the day in our 10th Step. We learn that what others think of us is none of our business, learning to rely on self monitoring and our own ethics to guide our behavior. Talking about cleanliness from the yogic perspective, in all its facets, gives us another view on the steps. These concepts give another framework for investigating one’s intellect and emotions and contribute to the development self awareness. The physical and breath practices (hatha and pranayama) help heal us physically and contribute to the emotional, energetic and intellectual healing as well. Aside from abstinence the 12 Step programs don’t offer much in that regard. Yoga integrates us on physical, emotional and spiritual levels and addiction is a disease of the body, mind and spirit. What could be more a perfect fit?
What kind of results have you seen from using yoga to aid addiction recovery? The physical practice can ease the impacts of past traumas that can be having an ongoing, and previously unrealized, impact on daily life. Yoga can release these traumas and bring a new sense of embodiment to the student; moving home to their full true self. Finding yoga myself helped prevent relapse. I have heard the same from others. There is no substitute, in my opinion, for the principles and practices of 12 Step programs. The program lays out a practice for living that is not found elsewhere – a road map for self investigation in the steps, the paradigms for developing and maintaining self esteem through service, and the creation of a regular sangha (meetings) – things that modern yoga does not offer us. Yoga offers more integration into the body and the body will be one of the first places that the dangers of relapse will be come known. Yoga gives us breath practices- and wise use of breath will enhance making positive decisions. Coming from shallow rapid breath cues the body to be in fear. Being in fear limits perceived choices. A yoga practice will help develop deeper breathing and a conscious awareness of that process. Sometimes students will come to the mat when they are “mad” at their meetings, and that experience on the mat can encourage them back to meetings. Yoga practice is no substitute for meetings, but can be a wonderful addition to them. Investigating yoga philosophy can give a new spin on old meeting topics and refresh one’s view of recovery.
What affect do you think somebody’s diet and food choices can have on the process of recovering from addiction? Diet and food choices are very important to ones continuing recovery. Unless food is the primary addiction, however, it may not be wise to address the food issues right away. Initially alcoholics are encouraged to increase their intake of sugars (fruit juices, honey, and so on) to reduce the impact of detoxing from the high levels of sugars converted from alcohol when they were drinking. People detoxing from drugs have other nutritional issues including malnutrition. Any calories are good calories if you have been starving. No one answer suits all situations. Situational recommendations (high sugar, increased calories) are not helpful when taken too far or for too long. After the first year of recovery, when the person’s program is stable impacts of food choices can be more easily addressed without overwhelming one. Investigating nutrition, like finding recovery, is a personal choice. Many people in recovery do discover that they have a food addiction- most commonly to simple carbohydrates and sugars. There is some evidence to suggest that this is a brain disease as is substance addiction. Healthy eating also follows better self esteem. Yoga can create a lifestyle that encourages a better diet and a community that supports these ethics. One does not want to overwhelm a new comer (to recovery or to yoga) by too vigorously promoting good eating habits. In my experience most people do come to the decision themselves to pursue a healthier diet. It is important on many levels.
What was the most memorable experience you’ve had working with someone who was trying to put an end to destructive habits? I have been in recovery for nearly 28 years. I have practiced yoga for over a decade. Between these two the examples are legion. There is truly no single one, as they are all miracles. I volunteer in the local women’s jail. From the first day I started there women have come up to me telling me they want to “grow up”, they can’t live like this (in and out of jail) any more. That yoga movement, breathing and relaxation is the first time they have felt hopeful. People have come to the Y12SR meetings oping that the practice of yoga could help them avoid having to go to meetings. It did not. In and out of the yoga classes finally finding the benefits of recovery they now have 90 days, 120 days, a year clean and sober. Teens I have worked with have not only found greater skill on their skateboards through balance work, but have avoided fights and confrontations employing their breath practices. People who have not slept through the night in months and years sleep well after yoga. People who had felt their recovery program was going stale have refreshed their enthusiasm with the discussions and workshops. Bringing hope to the hopeless is huge – no drama needed. Just a breath at a time, coming home to their own beautiful spiritual selves. It is all memorable.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they may have an addiction problem? What is the craving? Why do you think it is a problem? It this activity causing shame and guilt? Does it have an impact on your relationships; with your self, your family/ friends/ work or your spiritual practices? Try going without for a week. Journal. See what comes up for you. Have you been tempted to go to the internet site devoted to recovery from this addiction (NA, AA, GA, MA and so on)? Have you taken the list of 10 to 20 questions regarding your use? If you answer yes to even two of these questions you may have a problem. Reach out. Talk to someone. Someone who can be honest with you and direct you to a resource. No one can (or should) help you but yourself. That way YOU own your recovery.
Please note that codependency is an illness as well. Consider how much you are involved in the life of another. Do you define yourself by the feelings, actions, or words of another. If someone in your family is suffering from an addiction do NOTHING about them: but take care of yourself. Find an Alanon meeting or a NarAnon meeting. Their problem is not your solution. As a child of an alcoholic and having been in relationship with many addicts I also know the illness of “other” addiction. Put on your own “oxygen mask” first.
Kyczy Hawk is a certified yoga teacher and author of “Yoga and the Twelve-Step Path“. You can learn more about her upcoming workshops and events from her website Yoga and Recovery.