The Therapeutic Value of Yoga and 12 Step Recovery
By Blakey Elkhart Kornfeld, Guest Contributor
I am a yoga student and teacher. I am a wife, mother, daughter, and granddaughter. I am a friend, lover, servant, and queen. All of these roles are possible through the 12 steps of recovery.
By the time I reached puberty, it was clear to my parents and teachers that I was on a dangerous path of self destruction. They tried everything they could to help me right the ship, but I was impervious to most of it.
When I was 14-years-old, my mother took me to my first yoga class. This was at a time when yoga was taught in series by yogis in people's homes, or in this case, the basement of a new age book store. I was immediately attracted to the ritual of the mat placement and the offerings on the altar at one end of the room. I was intrigued by the teacher's instruction of nadi shodana (this is still my favorite pranayama). The teacher offered a lovely explanation that sounded both scientific and spiritual.
We made our way through a standing series of asanas and then went to the mat for abdominals. As I closed my eyes for savasana, I felt a quiet peace envelop me that I had not experienced since I was a small child.
This quiet peace was my communing with my higher power, my Isvara Pranidhana (surrendering [pranidhana] to a higher source [Ishvara]. This surrender was safe.
I drifted into the space between awake and asleep, certain that I was not alone in the universe. When my mother put her hand on my shoulder to bring me back to my body on the mat, I felt as though I was waking from a well needed rest.
Many memories have faded and years have been lost in active addiction, but that moment has remained clear in my mind.
Over the next 16 years, as I waded through active addiction, I made several attempts to return to that safe feeling through yoga, drugs, prayer, and sex. None of it worked. Addiction is a disease of the spirit. It covers the light of the Atman (the soul) in an illusion of separateness and self-sufficiency. Finally, in 2003, I was given the gift of utter desperation and the willingness to surrender to recovery.
I embarked on a journey to live a life based on spiritual principles through the 12 steps. I began to recall those childhood experiences of communing with my higher power and rekindled my desire to be of service to humanity. I returned to moving my body and honoring it as my home rather than a burden. I returned to meditation. I returned to practicing yoga at a studio with others.
In 2007, as I rested in savasana, my heart bursting with gratitude to be alive, I knew that someday I would help others combine the therapeutic value of 12 step recovery and yoga.
Yoga and the 12 Steps
Yoga and the 12 steps are two converging paths that ask us to engage in deep self-examination so that we may be of service to others. Once we are committed to the 12 steps and yoga, the shape and direction of the path evolves and changes. Both are life-long endeavors.
The 12 steps work primarily with cognitive and behavior modification that is driven by a desire to connect with a higher power and to become better able to serve others. Yoga adds the element of moving meditation, being able to not just modify behavior but use the body as a messenger of the divine messages held within. In this way, physical movement and spiritual serenity are not separate activities.
Yoga for 12 Step Recovery meetings combine the bonding of the safe sharing circle with the embodiment practices of yoga. In the words of Nikki Myers (founder of Y12SR), "issues live in our tissues."
No amount of talking or writing can release the energy held in the body. We've got to move.
When we connect the mind, body, and breath in movement, we create space for the Atman to shine through the light of the heart. Embodiment practices also give tangible experiences to esoteric concepts like surrender and gratitude.
What I've Learned
I had a dream of combining and sharing my love of recovery and yoga, and my dream has come true. Now, as a yoga teacher, I hold the space for the first Yoga of 12 Step Recovery meeting in Philadelphia.
Here are the top eight things the 12 steps taught me about teaching yoga:
1. Class starts and ends on time.
2. My real value is in being myself. Offer the class, and let it go.
3. We all have our own relationship with our higher power. Let the students have their experience on the mat.
4. Experience shared from the heart is more effective than expert advice. Teach from experience.
5. I am not the final authority on anything. I'm the guide for the class that day.
6. Gratitude speaks when I share. Thank the students for sharing their practice.
7. Keep coming back, even when there are no students.
8. Miracles are possible. This applies to everything!
Yoga and the 12 steps are my way of life, and I am honored every time I share these empowering, enlightening paths with others.
Blakey went to her first Yoga class in 1987 and never forgot the power of the stillness that she found there. In 2006 she returned to yoga as a way to improve her health and deepen her recovery from drug addiction. In 2013 the stars aligned and she began her first Teacher Training with Bridget Yanni at the Ammayanni studio in Glenside, PA, where she completing 500 hours of training in 2015.
In 2014 Blakey also had the honor of studying with Nikki Myers and Y12SR, and is delighted to hold the space for the first Yoga of 12 Step Recovery Meeting in Philadelphia.
Blakey practices and teaches yoga with the belief that the body holds keys to tapping into our own divinity, creating reverence, and mirth. (After all, angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!) Her teaching is guided by this light-hearted, down-to-earth attitude with the hope that students will experience the power and comfort of their own true self.
Check out Blakey's website to see her teaching schedule and learn about her budding energy work practice.
I invite you to share your yoga story here on the Chime blog. Email me for more information. I look forward to hearing from you!