It’s hard to understand why or how people become addicted to drugs and alcohol. It’s a common misconception to think that substance abusers choose to ignore their moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs at any moment if they really wanted to. In reality, drug addiction and abuse is a complex disease. Drugs alter the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Quitting usually takes more than good intentions and a strong will. Fortunately, Yoga Therapy has the ability to help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.
Nikki Myers, an accomplished yoga therapist, entrepreneur and founder of the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) program in 2004. Her Y12SR program was birthed from her own struggles with addiction, relapse and the on-going path towards recovery. Y12SR’s mission is to “empower the lives of individuals and families affected by substance and behavioral addictions with relapse prevention practices that enhance physical, mental and spiritual well-being.” Today Nikki travels nationally to educate those who work with recovering addicts on the Y12SR program. The Y12SR program weaves the art and science of the 12-step program and the ancient philosophies of yoga.
The statistics about alcohol and illicit drug abuse and addiction in Washington State are staggering. Below are some stats to show you the severity of Washington’s drug use and abuse problem.
- Over 90% of those with an addiction began drinking, smoking or using illicit drugs before the age of 18. (Source: addictioncenter.com)
- It is estimated that over 95% of those who need treatment for alcoholism do not feel they need treatment. (Source: addictioncenter.com)
- Approximately 6% of all Washington residents aged 12 or older abused or were dependent upon alcohol within the past year. (Source: northpointrecovery.com)
- Among Washington state high-school seniors, 23% self-report that their alcohol use is “heavy” or a “problem”. (Source: northpointrecovery.com)
- More than half– 54%– of those people who are enrolled in substance abuse treatment in Washington are there for treatment for bothdrug and alcohol use.
- More than 13% of all annual deaths in Washington state are attributable to alcohol-or-drug-related causes. (Source: www.northpointrecovery.com)
In our interview below, Nikki tells us more about the Y12SR teachings and working with recovering addicts.
In your bio you state that “the 12-step program and Yoga saved my life – one is my lifeboat, the other my launching pad.” Can you elaborate on that statement with regard to a turning point of in your life and the inception of Y12SR?
Y12SR was actually born from my personal experiences with addiction relapse and recovery. Through treatment for a substance addiction in 1987, I was introduced to the 12-step program. It saved my life and I returned to school, co-founded a business, and co-authored a patent. Then with eight years in recovery I relapsed and came back to 12-step -based recovery. It was during this period that I began a deep re-immersion in the study of yoga. After a while I stopped my 12-step program practices to use only yoga philosophy and practices as my support. Four years after the first relapse, I relapsed again.
After that second relapse, more than 16 years ago, I realized for me, there had to be a union between the cognitive approach to addiction recovery offered by 12-step programs, and the somatic approach to healing offered through yoga. Y12SR is just that; it weaves the healing art and science of yoga together with the very practical tools of 12-step addiction recovery programs. It’s a relapse prevention program, based on the theme ‘the issues live in our tissues‘, that combines the 12-step cognitive model with the inclusion of a somatic approach. This combined approach helps restore nervous system regulation in sustainable non-destructive ways verses the destructive addictive substances and behaviors from before.
How do yoga and the 12-step program work hand-in-hand to support a person’s work coping with addiction?
In a word, the characteristics and effects of addiction could easily be described as “separation.” Addictive behaviors separate and disconnect us from ourselves, our loved ones, our environment, The Divine and so much more. Conversely, yoga itself means union, integration, balance.
The 12-step program approaches addiction at a cognitive level, yoga includes a somatic approach. The combining of the two creates a model that truly addresses addiction as the physical, mental and spiritual dis-ease that it is.
With the theme “the issues alive within our tissues” how can unresolved trauma manifest within a person? What tools does Y12SR offer to become aware of these symptoms?
Unresolved trauma can manifest as the inability to self-regulate or maintain self-control. It can produce a diminished capacity to reason and process information where responses become reflexive and impulsive. In addition to the chronic disease of addiction, un-discharged traumatic stress could be at the heart of conditions such as panic and anxiety attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, complex syndromes like fibromyalgia and many other conditions.
Y12SR uses the 5-body model from the ancient text of the Upanishads. Students are supported to notice what’s present in all 5-bodies and to use what they notice as a compass to guide them back to a regulated state. What might be needed can range from an asana, breath or meditation practice or it might be a phone call, 12-step meeting, food, prayer or nap. This practice leads us to pause and choose the most supportive tool to address what’s present.
What are challenges when working with folks coping with an addiction?
One of the biggest challenges is the cultural stigma put on addiction or any mental illness. It is the stigma that often prevents people from getting help. It’s challenging for many to understand that addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes or cancer. And it is treatable, once a person truly admits that they have it.
Another challenge is the process of coming home to the body. Many times, the addictive substance or behavior has been used expressly for the purpose of running away from the body.
You about “Grounding and taking a deep breath.” Can you offer practices or poses to support people “grounding?”
Rather than a particular pose, grounding and foundation are emphasized in every pose. In Y12SR we underline that in whatever we do, on or off the yoga mat, it is important to have a solid foundation. In all postures, we stress the conscious contact with mother earth as a source of grounding energy that brings us into the present moment.
Can you share a story that illustrates the power of the Y12SR program?
This story involves a young woman who was recently released from incarceration and regained custody of her children. One of the practices used in Y12SR meetings is to take a deep grounding breath after each person shares. In her Y12SR share, she spoke about having a really bad day during the previous week. When she picked her kids up after work, they were super-loud and unruly. She could feel her body temperature rising and anger welling up from the soles of her feet. She then said “I heard a voice say, lets root and ground and take a big deep breath with Mary Jo (a made up name).” Then she explained, “I felt my feet, took a deep breath and I didn’t beat my kids.” That one gives me chills every time I tell it.
We would like to thank Nikki Myers and her team for taking their time to share their powerful message and story with Seattle’s yoga community.
Yoga being used in addiction therapy is powerful and transformative. Yoga has the ability to transform our thoughts from negative to positive. Yoga also allows us to peel back the barriers that we’ve created in our lives and see possibilities that we could never have imagined. Consider yoga therapy the next time you or a loved one is facing a disease that is beyond their control.