Yoga & Recovery

By Michael Ortiz, LTY trainee 2016

One of the primary reasons why I am completing the 200hr RYT training is to bring this amazing and inspiring practice to the recovery community and to share the gifts that I have received thru practicing Yoga. Having 12 years sober myself, I have lived through recovery with and without Yoga and I really feel this practice can be very beneficial to people at all stages in their recovery. My purpose here is to address some key areas where I feel the AA program falls short and how I feel the 8 Limbs of Astanga Yoga can fill in those gaps. Although AA and the 12-steps got and kept me sober for the first 7 years, I was still living the same semi-charmed unhealthy lifestyle minus the drugs and alcohol. Like myself, most people that have reached rehab and/or the rooms of AA have lived very unhealthy lifestyles and abused their bodies over the years and this is one big area the AA program doesn’t address. They also introduce a spiritual component/path to you but give you no real direction on how to follow it. The rooms of AA, although instrumental in getting and keeping people sober can unfortunately foster a negative environment where people are sitting around smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and eating desserts while talking about their problems and all the bad things that happened to them.

Since Bill W and Dr. Bob founded AA in 1935, it has been the only treatment that has been truly effective in helping alcoholics and addicts to recover from what they diagnosed as a malady of the mind, emotions and body. Even though it has been the most effective treatment it still has a relapse rate close to 75%. With a relapse rate this high, there has to be something missing. In my opinion the 2 most important aspects of the AA program are vigilantly working the 12-steps and sharing your experience, strength and hope with other recovering/recovered alcoholics and addicts. The 12-steps ask you to admit your powerlessness, to turn your will and life over to God, clear up the wreckage of your past and make amends, improve your conscious contact with God through prayer & meditation and, finally, to carry this message to other alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs. This is a great start, but if we follow Bill and Dr. Bob’s diagnosis of alcoholism “being a malady of the BODY, MIND and EMOTIONS” you can see why all of these fundamental areas need to be addressed for a full recovery and, in my humble opinion, it is more than the AA program itself is designed to handle. I am not suggesting the 8 limbs as a replacement for the AA program, because vigilantly working the 12-steps and working with other alcoholics/addicts are vital to getting sober, but rather a path of health, mindfulness and spirituality to be worked in parallel. There are a lot of similarities between the 12-steps and 8 limbs and worked together in my opinion would help people to truly RECOVER. Many of the Yamas (universal morality) & Niyamas (personal observances) as well as Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (liberation) are discussed in the 12- steps, although several important and very useful Yamas & Niyamas like Ahimsa (non-harming), Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha (greedlessness) and Santosa (contentment) aren’t. The limbs that also aren’t covered are Asana (the postures or physical practice), Pranayama (control of energy or breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal from sense objects) and Dharana (concentration). This is why I feel the Hatha practice, which focuses on strengthening and detoxing the body as well as establishing a real connection between your body, mind, breath and spirit would be so beneficial to recovering alcoholics/addicts working the 12-steps. Yoga studios’ are also generally a positive environment filled with a community of people that are happy and living healthy lifestyles, promoting things like vegetarianism/veganism. Above all the practice of Yoga will help us to begin to use our intellect (buddhi) and work on stilling the fluctuations of the mind (citta vrttis), rising above our attachment to the dualities in life like pain and pleasure. As we work the 8 limbs of yoga we will begin to drop our cravings and desires and stop chasing after sense objects to find happiness and realize that it is already inherent within us all. We just need to clean the metaphorical mirror so that we can see thru to the true self (Atman) In “The AA Promises” it says we are “going to know a new freedom and a new happiness” and “we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace”. That is what I feel the practice of Yoga has given me and what I hope to help others find.


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