Addiction recovery – there are may ways to recover from an addiction and maintain a healthy, enjoyable life in sobriety. Yoga is one that helps tremendously as Kyczy Hawk explains in this guest post. But first, an introduction to Kyczy.
Kyczy Hawk was born in San Jose, CA. As a child she traveled extensively in the Middle East; returning to the US as a teen to San Francisco. Laying the groundwork for her future need for recovery, she was an eager member of the 60′s culture. Finding recovery from alcohol and drugs in the early 80′s she embraced her sober lifestyle, becoming a better mother, daughter, employee and friend. In her second decade of recovery found she had hit a plateau; even with active involvement with her 12 Step program she needed more. Yoga offered that. Submerging herself in the study of yoga practices and readings, a book combining the two philosophies was created: “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path.” Kyczy currently teaches independently, with non profit groups, and in informal settings. She also presents workshops on Yoga and Recovery and is a yoga teacher certification training for work with people in recovery. More can be found on her website: www.yogarecovery.com.
Yoga And Addiction Recovery: How Yoga Helps Recovery And How It Prevents Relapse by Kyczy Hawk
September is both National Yoga and National Recovery Month. Very fitting for me to be writing about how important the two are for me. I am an addict / alcoholic with a little over twenty sevens years in recovery. I am content in my life, now, and am able to manifest the contentment in what I do: I teach yoga and give workshops and write. It was not always so. Many years ago when I stopped drinking and using I was a single mom with a job that made limited use of my abilities and paid accordingly. I was able to manage, though not in any kind of abundance. My spirit, my emotions and my finances were are all strapped. I was tired. As any single mom would be. I stayed close to my recovery program and was able to weather the ups and downs of life. There were terrible times; the death of my friend’s youngest child, the death of both of my parents, a painful and disastrous marriage, the illness of my children. There were challenging times – going back to school to gain certification for a professional career, a new relationship and marriage, the teen age years of both my children and his, new jobs, and relocations. Kids grew and left home, careers bloomed and successes were achieved. And I continued to practice the principles of the program and after fifteen years of sobriety, with life on the upswing I sunk into despair.
How Yoga Entered the Picture
I kept close to the program, my sponsor and sponsees. I kept connected socially with members of my regular groups. I even (unsuccessfully) sought outside help. I was experiencing “self control fatigue” and was rapidly approaching what Terence Gorski describes as Phase Six of the warning signs of relapse. I was depressed and yet managing to work a lot. My job was both the glue that was keeping me together and the cause of my falling apart. The job was becoming my identity and it was destroying my inner self. Due to the hours I was working I was developing poor eating and sleep habits. I am a “well nourished” woman so I was not avoiding food as some people do, but I was not eating well. Healthy eating was a cyclical event, embraced only on the rare occasions I would take time to regard a meal as something beyond fuel. I did not sleep well. Even though exhausted when I slept I woke up after a few hours unable to return to sleep. When I had time off I tried to catch up on home based duties. While I was able to make decisions at work, I was fraught with anxiety. I let my desire to “look good” overwhelm the internal battles I was fighting, I was constantly acting “as if”. In my professional life I was able to take action, to make decisions, to initiate and complete tasks but once I got home I shook with exhaustion from holding it together. Working well in a crisis is a hallmark of someone who has grown up in a dysfunctional home, but it is a skill that can kill. I experienced the dangers of that ability that year.
I still went to two regular recovery meetings per week but I did not expand my attendance in any way. I was exhausted, I didn’t think it would help, I had other things to do. The excuses were legion – both reasonable and unreasonable – but excuses non the less. With the alternating cycles of super activity at work and total numbness at home, I realized I was in trouble. I went to the gym in the mornings trying to release endorphins, desperately seeking mental equilibrium and sanctuary. I started taking vitamins and trying to eat well and yet I still felt like a ghost. The counsel I was offering my sponsees was sounding flat even to my own ears. I was giving advice I was not taking, and the hypocrisy added to my feelings of failure. I knew I was in trouble.
Driving home one day I saw a sign for a yoga class in a storefront on the right side of the road. My car turned into the parking lot and I went in. A class was starting and I joined it. I didn’t think it would “help”, I was beyond thinking anything would help me. I was not yet thinking of a drink- but I was wondering if it was all worth it. So I went into the yoga room. I had doubts, but I was in pain: mental, emotional and spiritual pain. And during that sixty minutes I found relief. I didn’t like all the poses, I didn’t like feeling inept (competence was what was keeping me together at work. The sensations of newness were not comfortable feelings.) By the end of the class however my busy mind could no longer keep up with the movements, the poses, the breath and ultimately the relaxation. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of peace at the end. So I came back. I began to recognize the tension I had been storing in my body. Even though I had been going to the gym, I had power walked and taken up running – nothing soothed me the way that yoga did. There was no competition – there was only me, my attitude, my curiosity, and my mat. The teacher led, and I followed, and we had a deal. I would check in with my physical self and keep myself safe. She would lead but I would be responsible for the effort and extent of my practice. I began to learn how to breath more effectively and I eventually was able to discern the feeling of relaxation from the feeling of being tired. In fact I was able to become aware of the many sensations of emotions that could inform and alert me about my behavior and choices. Knowing how I felt physically became part of my emotional healing.
The whole idea of yoga began to intrigue me and I became enamored of the study. I realized that this could be a missing piece of my whole recovery program. The physical practice could help heal the residual effects of my past life style; both the life I had lead as an active addict and alcoholic, and heal the effects from growing up in a less than stable home. It addressed the physical symptoms of my disease in a way that abstinence alone could not. In addition to addressing the impacts of current tension and stress, yoga was also beginning to release the trauma from the past. Death and illness, disruption and dangers, accidents, anxieties, and hospitalizations were all events that had locked themselves in my body and needed to be released. Practicing yoga allowed me to begin the process of being free of them. I am convinced that yoga helped prevent my relapse from drugs and alcohol that year.
My experience was so powerful that I made a decision to study yoga further. I had in the back of my mind the idea that one day I would teach yoga to people in recovery. I would do this so that they, too, could add another arrow to the quiver of prevention, to aid in the union of body, mind and spirit, to become part of a toolkit to address this holistic disease of addiction. And that is what happened. My dream came true. I became a yoga teacher. I also studied yoga therapy and other modalities gaining skills in understanding trauma, and finding many ways to combine the principles of the twelve step recovery programs with the various styles and precepts of yoga I now specialize in teaching yoga to those in recovery.
How Yoga Benefits Addiction Recovery
I find yoga is a fabulous tool in early recovery, presenting tools such as breath practices, relaxation techniques, and physical grounding. As the recovery journey progresses the usefulness of yoga can be expanded bringing in deeper parts of the philosophy and a variety of yoga traditions for integration and exploration. Mastery of poses can remove a sense of powerlessness and provide feelings of competence. Learning to work within the boundaries of effort and ease in the pose practice can be used as we practice the principles of a twelve step program principles as well as in our lives. It can be a wonderful guide to how we can handle the vicissitudes of life. Learning the practice of yoga in early recovery will allow these abilities to be in place when the feelings of depression, lack of self worth, anxiety, or other signs of relapse present themselves. Perhaps one won’t have to get to the stages of relapse that Gorski describes, or if we do so we will have more awareness’s and remedies. What we learn about ourselves on the mat can give us a way to embrace recovery with balance and skill.