The key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness. This is one of my favorite quotes by His Holiness Dalai Lama.
I am blessed to say that today; I know what inner peace feels like. I began taking yoga classes in 2003 in search of peace but was too distracted by my own suffering to stick with it. After many years of suffering from fear, anger, self-destructive behavior and an eating disorder that nearly left me dead, in March of 2006 I walked through the doors of a 12 step recovery group and asked for help. Within weeks, I found a sponsor who lovingly took me through the Big Books Program of Action also referred to as the 12 Steps of Recovery. It was a life changing experience; one that will take too many pages to recount for this essay. In 2008, I returned to yoga and it was like a cosmic bang. It has inspired me so much that I want to share my story with others by teaching yoga in a recovery setting. I want to be able to help those in recovery make the connection that Yoga and the 12 steps compliment one another. Most people in recovery who follow the program of action outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous are in essence practicing yoga. For example, Raja Yoga (Science of Physical and Mental Control) the Eight Limbs’, Yamas (universal morality) and Niyamas (personal observances) can be compared to the Big Book’s program of action Step 10, which suggests a daily inventory of one’s behavior, thoughts and actions and when wrong to promptly take corrective action thereby cultivating honesty, truthfulness and the habit of being accountable of ones actions. This is preceded by a vigorous moral inventory and “house cleaning” as directed in Steps 4 – 9 which suggests a thorough sex inventory and the clearing away of wreckage of the past by making amends where appropriate and becoming willing to have God remove their defects of character. These principles are to be practiced in all affairs in the pursuit of a path of spiritual progress to bring the persons awareness of self to a deeper level.
Karma Yoga (path of selfless service) can be compared to Step 12 which suggests daily service work and acts of kindness. This step brings awareness to how much we seek comfort for ourselves, and how we must begin to “get out of self” and help others freely, becoming part of our communities and providing service work where needed. This step cultivates the sense of “universal responsibility” necessary to experience inner peace. Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion) can be compared to Step 3 which suggests making a decision of turning our life and our will over to the care of a God of our understanding, and Step 11 which suggests daily prayer and meditation. These practices help to develop a relationship and dependency on a power greater than ourselves. The idea is to develop God Consciousness at all times thereby attributing all aspects of life to God while minimizing our reliance on our egos. It also leads the person to give up the idea that they are the “doer”. Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom) can be compared to the Big Books suggestion to continue on a path of Spiritual Progress not perfection and their principle of “to thine own self be true”. This entails choosing authenticity as a daily practice, being truthful with oneself in order to be truthful with others, setting boundaries, acting with compassion and working towards self-realization. Satsanga (company of the wise) can be compared to the fellowship and meetings, where we come together to learn how to share our experience, strength and hope for the benefit of others. The Guru (dispeller of darkness) is our sponsor, one who assists newcomers to recovery in understanding the program of action. This instills the sense of compassion and responsibility for caring for the wellbeing of others, again working towards the sense of “universal responsibility”. We are to practice these principles in all our affairs, in essence to live Yoga!
If we can make this connection for people in recovery programs, and encourage them to add Asana (practice of postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Savasana (proper relaxation), Proper Diet (vegetarian), Pratyahara (practice of removal of the senses), and Dharana (concentration), they will eventually reach Samadhi (super conscious state) and it will help them conquer their disease.
Yogic philosophy states that disease is due to Spiritual Ignorance and the program of recovery attributes disease to a Spiritual Malady. I believe the secret to calming a drunken monkey mind and harnessing the energy of restlessness, irritability and discontentment into constructive channels is by developing a continuous practice in the path of prayer, meditation and yoga. It will bring calmness and tranquility to prepare the mind for absolute unqualified self-surrender to God.
I went to a Yoga of Recovery certification course at the Sivananda Ashram in the Catskills, NY in July 2011 and met the instructor Durga Leela for the first time. I was immediately inspired by her vision and desire to help those in recovery. She saw a connection and a need and filled the gap by creating Yoga of Recovery (YoR). I knew she was onto something quite special when I first read the flyer for the certificate course. I remembered how I felt when I began taking Yoga classes three years ago and how it had helped to deepen my prayer and meditation practice. Adding asana to my daily practice opened a doorway, a portal, and very much like Alice in Wonderland, it seemed as if I was in a strange place that seemed oddly familiar. I had previous experience with yoga asana and pranayama, but wanted to go deeper and I’m glad I did. Three years later all of this was galvanized when I found Durga’s information about Yoga and Recovery; a good example of the expression “the teacher will appear when the student is ready”! After completing a 100 hour certification with Durga, I was ready to carry this message to those in need. I will be taking my first teacher training at the Sivananda Vedanta Center in February 2012.
I chose Sadhana Yoga Chi with Doug Swenson for many reasons. Doug is a master yogi with over 40 years of experience, teaching Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Yin, Power and Restorative Yoga. At a very young age Doug taught his 13 year old brother Dave yoga. He opened the door for his younger brother who is now a world renowned Ashtanga teacher. It would be an honor to learn yoga from someone with so much knowledge and passion and is a great example of what it means to live yoga. Also, Doug offers a 500 hour TTC, has training available in May 2012 and is easily accessible in sunny California.
In the recovery community word travels fast and is easily spread. One of their motto’s is that recovery is a “we” program and at the core it is “Unity, Service, Recovery”. Although anonymous, they really know one another and treat each other as long time friends even after just one meeting. They extend a helping hand and are not afraid to welcome others with a big hug. After completing my 100 hour YoR certification, I presented a Yoga of Recovery workshop to a group of 23 women in recovery and was successful at making the connection for them. Several of them came prepared with yoga mats even though my flyer said it was a workshop on the link between Yoga, Ayurveda and the 12 Steps. They saw Yoga in the title and were prepared to take that next step. In order to drive home the message, it would be beneficial to offer them asana, meditation and pranayama during the workshops and as an RYT, I would be able to do just that. I would offer these workshops to all communities and respectful of all recovery paths; whether at treatment centers, halfway houses, 12 step meeting halls, recovery retreats, etc. It would provide them with one more tool for their “recovery toolbox”. I can only hope that I can make an impact on the world as a yoga teacher. I find comfort in knowing that I can make an impact on my community, and the world is just one more step away.
2012 Yoga Scholarship Essay
By: Alicia Ortiz
If you liked this article and want them to win a free yoga teacher training, then make sure to vote for her by leaving a comment (scroll all the way to the bottom), or sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter.
Are you interested in becoming a yoga teacher? Then visit our Yoga School Directory to find the right teacher training. Or, visit our Yoga Retreats page to explore beautiful yoga vacations from around the world.