Michelle is an experienced Yoga Teacher leading classes at multiple studios and wellness centers in the Chicagoland area. To learn more about Michelle, please visit www.strongheartyogi.com.
1. What is Y12SR and how did you find it and become involved?
Y12SR is a program of Off the Mat, Into the World, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The acronym stands for Yoga for the 12-Step Recovery. It combines the practices of the 12-Step Model and the 8 Limbs of Yoga, as they are very similar and easily relate to one another. Y12SR is an additional resource for those in recovery or affected by those in recovery to emerge themselves into a sacred safe place, where they can find a supportive community and healthy yoga practice. It is important to note that Y12SR is not a replacement for recovery programs, it is to be used in conjunction with them.
I first learned of Y12SR while reading the upcoming events section in Yoga Chicago magazine. Growing up affected by addiction in my family, I immediately was intrigued to learn more. My initial reaction was to share the information with those dear to me in recovery, however I ended up continuing my research until I found the Leadership Training program led by Nikki Meyers, Founder of Y12SR & Owner of CITYOGA in Indianapolis, IN. I completed my training and became a certified Y12SR Leader in March 2013.
2. Becoming involved in a program like this is often very personal, why do you think people turn to drugs and alcohol as an outlet instead of counseling or friends and family?
I'll begin by stating that I am not a professional psychologist, therapist, or counselor. However, I can speak from personal observation and from what I have learned in training. Let's begin by defining Addiction: Addictions are destructive behaviors that an individual acquires as a method of coping with the pressures of life. Some addictions may be considered genetic conditions (such as alcohol or drug addictions), while other addictions such as sex, love, or eating disorders have deep roots in emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Most addictive behaviors are maladaptive responses to unresolved trauma.
I think that Trish Jones-Bendel, Director of Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital, said it best at the June Women In Business Breakfast when she stated that individuals suffering with mental disease (such as addictive behaviors) do not know how to share what they are experiencing inside their minds. Therefore, they may turn to other sources as a way of coping.
Additionally, an addictive behavior will likely bring about denial, rigidity, distortion, fear, depression, and more. When we are caught up with the "mind-stuff" it is hard to see the "forest through the trees" and more easy to give way to the spiral of the monkey mind (as we say in yoga). It is my personal feeling that the individuals who have not sought out professional help may not have yet come to the realization that they are coping with their personal reality in an extremely unhealthy manor.
3. How can people overcome addiction?
Find your support; within your family, professional help and especially within your Self. Although it may be unclear or hard to identify at first, there needs to be an understanding and an opening of the heart to welcome a life changing experience. Addicts,alcoholics, and codependence must be vulnerable enough to give themselves the opportunity to seek help, to understand and rebuild their values and boundaries, and to incorporate a healthy system such as the 12-Steps or their chosen spiritual guidelines into their lives.
Additionally, just like in Yoga, repetition is key. Beyond the professional help, recovering addicts are encouraged to continue attending support groups such as AA, NA, CoDA, Al-Anon, etc. The support of a recovering community, sponsors, and other related practices can help prevent future relapse.
4. What is, or how would you describe addiction?
The clinical definition (as mentioned in question 2) can be defined as follows:
Addictions and compulsions are destructive behaviors that an individual acquires as a method of coping with the pressures of life. Some addictions have genetic components and are passed down through biological family. Alcohol and drug addictions are examples of genetic conditions. Other addictions can be linked to survival reactions in response to trauma.
Sex addiction and eating disorders can have roots in emotion, physical, or sexual abuse. Addictions such as overwork, gambling, overspending, smoking, and compulsive exercise appear to be the result of bad habits. Most addictive behaviors are maladaptive responses to unresolved trauma.
For reasons to only simplify, I have defined it as such: Addiction is the dependency on someone or something to serve as a source of escape from the stress of your personal reality, physical trauma, or trauma of your memories. I say physical, because some addictive behaviors can be found in individuals who were treated with highly addictive chemicals post surgery.
5. How does yoga specifically help people with addiction and other recovery such as abuse?
The human system is an integrated whole, a multi-dimensional self. In yoga, the bodies of the mutli-dimensional self include Annamaya (physical, asana), Pranayama (energy, breathe), Manomaya (thinking, chanting), Vijnanamaya (character, mantra, meditation), and Anandamaya (heart, prayer and ritual). When these bodies are misaligned, disconnected or imbalanced the human system is susceptible to dis-ease and dysfunction.
Additionally, we can compare the similarities as follows:
Step 1 (we admit to ourselves) - Conscious Awareness
Step 2 (we come to believe) - Sanctity of the moment; restoration
Step 3 (we turn over our will to a higher power) - Surrender
Step 4 (we make a searching moral inventory of our Selves) - Svadyaya (self study); vichara (inquiry)
Step 11 (prayer and meditation) - Prayer and meditation
Step 12 (we continue to help others) - Karma and seva
Meetings - Sangha
Higher power - Ishvara
‘Doing the same thing...” - Samskara (habitual conditioning)
“Just one more...” - Samsara (circle of suffering)
Attending meetings, pursuing recovery - Tapas (discipline)
Y12SR aims to teach individuals how to identify, access, and rebuild their foundation within themselves. To gain the “wisdom to know the difference”, knowing when to stop or start. To learn to pause and be present. To practice repetition to re-educate neuromuscular patterns. To teach centering and meditation techniques so one can better understand themselves and their surroundings. And most importantly, to surrender to the higher power of their own understanding.
6. What else can people do who are recovering?
Those in recovery can continue to seek support from therapy, family, friends, programs and local communities (ex. church, clubs, etc). It is also important to incorporate healthy practices in to their lifestyle - from having a healthy diet to regular exercise so that you are increasing dopamine in the brain naturally. Additionally, other holistic practices such as Acupuncture have continuously proven to be beneficial when working with cessation and recovery.
7. How can friends and family support people recovering?
The most important thing that friends and family need to realize is that they cannot want the addict to recover more than the addict wants to. From personal experience, I know how difficult it is to be a by-stander watching someone you love deteriorate along the pathway of addiction. It's heartbreaking and we often feel it is our duty to step in and solve the situation ourselves. Every family or friend that has experienced this pre-determines only these three ending results: (1) the individual will find the road to recovery, (2) they will end up in jail, or (3) they will die. What other options are there, after all?
I recently sat in on a Y12SR meeting myself and asked this exact question. The answer was resounding as each individual shared their view point. To be supportive does not mean what I had initially thought it did. We cannot tell someone what they have to do, they have to learn it themselves. As ironic as it may seem, telling them only pushes them farther away as they may view it as a personal attack or a threat. We have to remember that we are not dealing with the little boy or girl we once knew, we are dealing with the dis-ease itself... a completely separate and different entity.
To be supportive is not to enable, judge, or counsel (leave counseling to the professionals). Unfortunately, you have to let it run its course. That means no nagging, yelling, or accusing. Rather, reassure them that you love them, that you are concerned, and firmly make them aware that you cannot support their unhealthy behavior. They are on their own until they seek help. As hard as it is to do, sometimes the only way for an addict to realize the gravity of their situation is to reach rock bottom. And rock bottom is different for each individual. Just know that there is hope. Believe in it. And let them know that you believe in them.
8. Should they also attend 12 step recovery yoga?
Any support system to participate in is huge when it comes to recovery. The nice thing about Yoga for 12-Step Recovery, is that not only do we provide a safe sacred place for support but we also teach healthy lifestyle practices by incorporating physical activity and teaching mindfulness and balance. Together, this provides as a valuable tool on the path to recovery.
9. What is the single most important thing for a recovering person focus on to stay on track?
It is my personal opinion that the most important thing is to find your “anchor”. Your anchor is whatever it is in your life that draws you back in to focus... that helps you remember who you are and what your purpose is. In my life, I have identified my husband, Steve, as my “anchor”. Just as we do in re-training our neuromuscular patterns, each time I see my husband I tell myself, “this man symbolizes my relationship with Self, my family, and my loyalty to my values and boundaries.” You want your anchor to be something or someone that can act as a permanent reminder of who you TRULY are.
10. Would you recommend this program for all ages, genders, walk of life ( socioeconomic )?
Absolutely. As we have witnessed in our own community, addictive behaviors can manifest at a very young age and have the ability to last for a lifetime if gone untreated. This program is catered to work with any age, gender, background, and addiction related behavior. I'd like to also point out that individuals learning of this program for the first time may think it is not relevant to them unless they have been effected by drug addiction or alcoholism. This is not the case. Nationwide, our meetings have also welcomed sex addicts, love addicts, food addicts, shopping addicts and more. As Nikki Meyers has said, "An addiction is an addiction is an addiction."