Yoga of 12-Step Recovery meets weekly in the Old Town neighborhood of Tacoma at SourceYoga studio. Having been involved in yoga and the 12-step program, I chose this out of curiosity for how the two might be combined. I also wanted another resource to draw upon for my clients. First hearing about it from a co-worker and then searching online for more information, I arrive to my first session knowing that the format is a 12-step meeting the first half and yoga the second. I am greeted by Rachelle, who introduces herself as “the Space Holder.” She struck me as being a bit more than a Space Holder, when I saw that she was clearly leading the event, but this is apparently the Y12SR nomenclature.
For the first half her role would be considered that of a chairperson at a 12-step meeting. She passes out the preambles—which have been adapted for this program from those familiar to most meeting goers—for participants to read aloud. These include the 12-steps, as read in Narcotics Anonymous (“we are powerless over our addiction”), grouped into three categories.
Steps 1-3: Foundation: Turning the vessel right side up
Steps 4-9: Core: Preparing the vessel for sail
Steps 10-12: Expression: Set sail on the spiritual voyage
Next, the meeting “ground rules” cover confidentiality, cross-talk, and limiting sharing time. There follows a reading from a 12-step daily reader and another reading chosen—perhaps by the Space Holder—for how it relates to the daily reading. Open sharing follows. I certainly prefer being seated on a yoga mat—and the studio is also well-stocked with cushions, blankets and blocks to arrange on the mat as needed—to the metal folding chair typical of AA or Al-Anon meetings. Each share concludes with a directive, given by whoever volunteers at the beginning of the meeting, to take a long, cleansing breathe—which I heard worded with slight differences each time I attended. Participants are invited to speak to the theme, or not, as desired. The Space Holder announces when forty-five minutes have elapsed since the meeting began and invites any final pressing concerns.
From this point on, the Space Holder becomes becomes the yoga teacher. The only distinguishing feature from a typical yoga class is how she makes reference to recovery and the readings through the asanas (postures) themselves. Rachelle does this with authority of a yogic master and the authenticity of an addict, as she described her own recovery as intertwined with her yoga practice.
Y12SR was begun in 2003 by Nikki Myers. At y12sr.com she explains on video how the “integration” of oneself in yoga works against the “separation” within oneself in addiction. Rather than be an alternate 12-step program, she sees it as providing “adjunct tools to address the physical, mental and spiritual disease of addiction.” She offers teacher-training workshops around the country. I located an 80-slide powerpoint for one of those workshops at the Omega Institute site where she describes in greater detail her “somatic” approach to addiction—making connections between 12-step, neurobiology, Eastern traditions (Upanishads, Samskara) and trauma. This was a great find, as it lays out the elements of Rachelle’s training for this particular work—on top of the yoga training she must previously had undergone. One slide correlates some asanas with 12-step slogans:
“Keep coming back” Mountain pose
Pause button Child’s pose
“Life on life’s terms” Pigeon
Included are specific interventions for reducing craving, changing an agitated state of mind, and overcoming anxiety. One slide of “embodiment concepts” states “meet the student/client where they are” (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to mixing singular and plural for the sake of gender equanimity) and “meet the energy where it’s at.” My wife attended two of the classes with me and commented later that she saw Rachelle modifying poses the moment she saw that my wife was struggling with them. The training slides describe Pranayama techniques: specifics controls for breathing—such as inhaling through one nostril and out through the other—intended for outcomes such as “cooling” or “energizing.” There is a slide on an intricate genogram for Nikki herself, detailing all the abuse and addiction in her African-American family line.
The third class was the best attended, with nine of us in addition to Rachelle. There were four others I knew from Al-Anon meetings and I appreciated being able to share this new practice with them. Indeed, hearing them speak during the first half brought an added energy to the yoga portion derived from a power in the collective overcoming of struggle.
I began my daily yoga at-home practice to maintain freedom as I deal with a stiffening that results from degenerative disc in my sacrum. As I continue, I am more likely to seek whatever emotional/spiritual issue I may be working through in these asanas, rather than simply going for a good stretch. Beyond that, I can say that the experience was one of many through the MAC coursework that has widened my scope—encouraging me to cast a larger net for the sources of malady plaguing us, or our clients. I downloaded a video of Nikki Myers—essentially an infomercial for Y12SR—to play for my clients on my iPad. I hope to pique their (and my) interest for at least trying some yoga in our outpatient group, even if they cannot be persuaded to attend an actual Y12SR session. (Though if they did it might not be appropriate for me to be there). Some of them should relate to Nikki Myers saying that she could not interrupt the cycle of relapse until she developed this mind/body connection, and may also be desperate for that missing piece. I am reminded for myself that all the rituals I maintain—be it my yoga, my swimming, my music-making/listening, my family time, my studies, and even my job—play a role in maintaining my own emotional regulation and cognitive functioning. To let any of them go could likely manifest in further issues within my tissues.