I started teaching in treatment centers for drug and addiction recovery back in early fall of 2015. And, I remain a part of those communities today. The practice of Ashtanga yoga has personally transformed my own life in so many ways and I feel compelled to share what I have learned with others in hopes that yoga will work it's magic on them as well. It is truly a path towards healing the physical, mental and emotional body. And, brings more awareness around the choices we are making for ourselves and whether or not they are serving us. I will never know the extent of their struggle or how much strength they need to overcome the disease they are fighting, but I have been privileged enough to see growth in their process through this timeless and effective practice. I am blessed to witness their hard work and willingness to transform themselves and get the help they need. The individuals in these centers are working so hard to make their lives better. By teaching them a yoga practice, they now have an ongoing tool for their recovery as well as a road to healthy living and wellness.
I began teaching just once a week, which over time would turn into three days a week at the treatment center. Over the past 17 months, I have truly built some incredible relationships with these individuals. And we have covered a lot of ground within the practice of Ashtanga. We spent the first few months doing a short class of asana practice and the remainder of the time discussing the 8 limbs of yoga with an emphasis on the Yamas and Niyamas, which lay the groundwork toward better living. Reviewing these key aspects gave them a bit more perspective on the power of yoga and how it can be a positive tool for their recovery process and path toward healing.
As time went on, their physical practice began to grow as well as their mental and emotional capacity to handle more instruction. And so slowly the class became a heavier focus on asana. This is when we really began to dive deeper into the transformative power this practice can have on the individual and their recovery process. Also, it was during this time that the practice began to bring up some more serious or uncomfortable feelings, emotions and past traumas. As I began to witness the intensity of their individual situations I realized the importance of creating a “safe” place for them, free of judgement and creating a relationship of trust.
We began to take time out of class to write about what was coming up for them in practice and then giving them the option to share that with the group, keep it to themselves or discuss it with their counselor. Truly, I want them to know that it is a safe place for them and that they can be as open and honest as they need to be with me at all times, so when things come up that are hard to deal with they know they can talk to me. This provides an opportunity for me to show them the power of yoga and how the practice can help them change their response to some of their behaviors or old patterns, how to positively redirect their emotions and overcome negative impulses. Probably one of the biggest benefits of yoga in the treatment centers has been in encouraging them to share the things that come up with their counselors so that they are able to process what is happening in the yoga room with constant help, guidance and support.
Within the past few months, I have been floored to see the amount of transformation that has taken place in these individuals. Their mental, emotional and physical capabilities have made giant leaps. They are able to stay on their mats without talking for nearly an hour, where as in the beginning it was difficult to hold their attention for 5 minutes. The way they walk into the room has changed, from slouched shoulders to standing up tall. The way they talk about themselves has gone from critical to loving and encouraging. The choices they make about what they put into their bodies has even changed. They have gained incredible amounts of stability and balance. And they laugh and smile at themselves instead of beating themselves up for not being able to do something. They come to class ready to learn, instead of ready to take a nap. They are excited about their practice and because of the set sequence of postures they are able to see the progress they are making and how their hard work pays off. They can see their recovery process on their mat.
The next phase of working with them was introducing Mysore style. It took a long time to get to this point, but it was my long term goal all along. I felt that they needed to have a practice of their own. I began to ask the treatment center if I could come in and spend more time with them. I felt the need to be there more in order for me to really begin to help them and teach them a daily practice. We have been doing Mysore style classes 2 days a week now and a led class on Fridays and the results have exceeded my expectations. This style of teaching and the Ashtanga yoga practice in particular has proven to be incredibly beneficial to someone in recovery. I am able to work with each person on an individual basis addressing everyone's needs. They can move at their own pace giving them a sense of being “in control” of their own bodies and ultimately a feeling of gaining back control of their life. Something within them began to change, I started to notice an increase in confidence yet also humbleness. The aspect of memorizing the sequence creates a sense of empowerment within them. And the amount of focus that has been cultivated in them will be hugely beneficial as they make their way back into the working world and for some of them college.
They became yoga students. They wanted to learn. They were showing up on time and look forward to the class. I wanted them to feel empowered and independent, to know that they can make it happen. They can make all their dreams come true. And most of all that they could find love for themselves on the yoga mat and they could overcome the disease by creating a daily practice that supported their road to health and recovery.
Sometimes I wonder who is learning more.... me or them? Truth is, I have learned so much from them and I feel honored to be a part of their growth and transformation, and to be accepted into their lives as a teacher, friend and role model.
Written by a Trini Foundation instructor