Disclaimer: I am only one entity, speaking for nothing and no one but myself. I do happen to be an active participant in a 12-step fellowship and have worked and continue to work all 12 steps.
How can we achieve a quieter mind? A happier and more present way of life? Yoga was something that was introduced to me very early on when I first started to get into the recovery scene. It took some time for me to be willing to try it because it seemed like a waste of time. I didn’t see how things like this are related to picking up or not picking up substances. There is a level of being present in the moment that yoga gives me that can hardly be fully explained. I usually spend a lot of time in my mind, and as an addict my mind is abnormal. I must not stay there for any long period of time! Bringing it back to the physical body with yoga-centered stretches and workouts clears whatever thoughts are getting in the way of me feeling good. My body also moves better and as a result I am more comfortable in my surroundings.
Part of yoga for me is honoring my body for all the hard work it does. My body holds me up everyday, hours at a time. I have to remember to give it time to explore the entire range of possible motions. Everyday life can be monotonous and repetitive, never fully allowing one’s body to realize its full potential. Our bodies, while limited at first, bloom like a flower over time. It is an opportunity for me to show myself much needed self-care, which can easily be forgotten otherwise. No matter what my body looks and feels like, I can still honor myself with my yoga practice that day. Shakiness is part of it. There is no need for judgement.
It is also a form of meditation that I don’t get bored with. Yoga is not just movement, it is breathing in tandem with my body or pausing and breathing into the stretch. Meditation, in any form, helps me being able to stay still with myself and my mind, not reflecting too morbidly over anything that does not serve me. It helps me be an observer of my thoughts.
There are a lot of things in my mind that can try to rob my peace of mind. By remaining in my head and not my physical body or heart, I lose sight of reality and of the present moment. I can get wound so tight over these things that the only release may be a violent turmoil, whether that means screaming in my car all by myself or unintentionally hurting others around me over my internal pain. What helps me is simply breathing through whatever may be affecting me and letting it channel in and out through me. My brain slowly learns to let go and keep it moving. I often visualize the problem leaving my hands through my fingers and into the ground where it can be absorbed and turned into something positive. A lot of my pain in life has always been my mind holding on to difficult emotions or running from them until they catch up to me. Running away prolongs the inevitable of them catching up with me and it keeps me from being my happiest self. As recovering addicts, we know we can no longer be in the misery business.
So we need mindfulness, but it is hard to get out of our own old ways. I am built like a relentless steamroller, always ready to go after the things I think I need. Another approach is identifying where in my body the difficult emotion is coming from followed by remembering where your sense of peace comes from. Say you feel your discomfort in your chest, but you feel peace above your head. Can you mix them up through meditation so that the negative can be absorbed and changed? Feelings going from one part of the body to another, the two slowly become enmeshed in each other. Yoga or even yoga nidra (yogic sleep) can help me be aware of these parts of my body and it can help me let things go, relieving anxiety and stress.
There is an interesting aspect of yoga that is paradoxical and wonderful: the strength training. You put strain on your body and your muscles to bring yourself relief and serenity. This is why yoga can so easily be a lifestyle. In life we are given difficult things and yoga can train us to get through them because relief is around the corner. I like to think of happiness as just a relief that things aren’t as bad as they were. In buddhism there is this concept that the suffering is as strong as how desperately we cling to life’s joys and try to run from the sorrows. Letting things flow naturally the way they are is the easiest way to live in serenity and yoga helps me get in touch with that.
Yoga can also translate into a way of living that allows you to be the most connected to the universe as possible, whatever that means for you. Sometimes I envision breathing in God and breathing myself out. The less of me there is, the better! I do not say that to sound bitter about myself, it is just the best definition of spirituality that I’ve heard so far. The less self-centeredness I have, the more I live in harmony. For the recovering person, it is not a theory, it is a necessity. My complete absorption with myself and my feelings created a lot of problems for me. Drinking and drugging was only a symptom of me.
Acting, executing and moving with purpose and integrity; yoga is beyond helpful for the difficult human emotions we may find ourselves stuck in sometimes. Breathing and being detached from the mind chatter is important for many of us! Yoga does not have to take a long time either and I do not even need a yoga mat to break out some poses. Fancy things are cool, but not required when we participate in this ancient practice. ‘Till next time!