In this weeks blog we sit down with Rachel to hear how yoga has impacted her life and recovery, and also dive into the emerging Yoga for 12 Step Recovery model.
What led you to become a yoga instructor? How has yoga impacted your life?
I had been practicing on and off for about a year when the studio owner of the space I’d been frequenting asked me if I had ever considered becoming a teacher (I was in active addiction, had zero direction and had never even once considered becoming a Yoga teacher). Once she planted the seed, I thought about it nearly every day for a year. Then when the offer to attend training came back around, I took it. During training I learned far more than how to teach yoga. I learned how to embody yoga on and off my mat. I got in touch with my values for the first time. I questioned the way I had been living. 3 months after completing my 200 hour yoga teacher training, in March 2017, I got sober.
How do you see yoga impacting people’s recovery? What are the largest benefits of yoga?
Yoga has so many benefits. Physically, yoga is fantastic for your nervous system, for bone health, and cardiovascular health, it lowers your risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure and improves your lung capacity. The physical benefits are wide reaching- and so are the spiritual benefits. I see yoga impacting people’s recovery in 4 important ways. Body awareness, boundaries, feeling discomfort, and feeling a sense of mastery.
The first is in becoming physically present in our bodies. As a recovering alcoholic, I know firsthand how challenging it is to remain present in our bodies. After years of compulsively escaping my body by getting high or drunk, getting present and grounded is hard work. Sitting in stillness is hard work. Once we’re physically present, once we’re in the body and paying attention to what the body is saying, we can start to set boundaries.
Boundaries are so important for a person in recovery because we spent years ignoring them. We blow past others boundaries, we let others blow past our boundaries, and repeatedly we dishonor our own by putting ourselves in painful and dangerous positions. Through presence and body awareness, we learn to honor what the body can and can’t do. We learn to honor what we do and don’t need, what we do and don’t want. We learn to hear the teacher tell us what the pose is, and how to discern whether we will say “yes” or “no”. We learn freedom and power. We also learn how to experience discomfort without running from it.
Being in warrior 2 for 10 slow, steady breaths can feel like a lifetime. Your quad is burning, your ass is burning, your heart is pounding in your ears- and you take another breath. You don’t run from it, you don’t try to fix it, you hold space for the discomfort and you let yourself feel it. In this way we become less afraid of feeling what doesn’t feel “good”. Also, because yoga is a practice that continues over time, you experience change and growth. You have good days on your mat and bad days on your mat. You hone your skills, you build strength and confidence. And each time you make it to your mat and you don’t run from what you experience there, you gain mental optimism and a sense of mastery over something challenging. Now you are starting to believe you can do difficult things and survive.