Recent Art of Living Retreat Center retreat host Nikki Myers has created a revolutionary, holistic approach to addiction recovery that combines yoga philosophy and the tools of the traditional 12-step program. We recently spoke with Nikki about how these two philosophies work together, the role of sacred transformation, and her own road to recovery.
A practice born from lived experience
Here’s the story: my life was in the thrall of addiction for many years. There’s a phrase used in 12-step programs that goes ‘jails, institutions, and death’ — well, all of those I understand, and all of those I have experience with. My inspiration to create this program comes out of my own lived experience with addiction and recovery.
I found my way into 12-step programs by the grace of something bigger than myself. The 12-step program absolutely, positively saved my life. For 8 years, I was immersed in this program, but even after 8 years clean, I relapsed, and found myself falling back into addictive behavior all over again.
After my first relapse, I was reintroduced to yoga. I’d had experience with yoga before, but coming back to it, I truly fell in love with the practice for the first time, and began to understand how closely the philosophy and practice of yoga relates to the 12-step program.
Working together to heal addiction
There were so many connections that I saw between yoga and the program, and after four years of studying yoga and staying clean, I decided that I didn’t need the program anymore. And you know what? I relapsed again. It was only after that second relapse that I came to realize that I was keeping these two practices in separate boxes. What I really needed to sustain recovery was a marriage between the two.
Y12SR was created out of my personal experience, and along the way, I discovered there were so many more people like me. The 12-step program deals with the cognitive aspects of addiction, but yoga helps with the somatic aspect, and together, they create a full-system set of teachings.
There is a model in yoga philosophy that comes from the yoga sutras, stating how the root of so many problems is in Avidya, which ultimately is a misconception of who we are. We think we’re separate from each other and from nature, from the universe, and even from our own bodies.
The founders of the 12-step program address the same problem, but a little differently. They call it “stinkin’ thinkin'”, but it’s the same thing as misconception. We look at things through the lens of our own subjective experience, which can lead us to misinterpretation of the world around us and ourselves.
One of my teachers says the answer to everything is ‘it depends’. When the pain of not doing something at all became greater than the pain of taking a step forward, then I knew it was time to take the step forward.
This step could simply be an investigation. I tell people all the time to just try some things on. One of the things I personally tried early on was giving up — if you want to see if you’re addicted to something, watch what happens when you take it away. Your mood, your attitude, even your physiology can change. If you experience these kinds of changes, it could be an indicator of a serious problem.
A spiritual solution to a spiritual problem
There are many avenues to combat addiction. Of course, there are 12-step programs, which are absolutely brilliant, and do tie very closely to yoga. You could try yoga, or online resources. There are many ways to begin the journey to recovery.
At its heart, the crisis of addiction is a spiritual problem, a spiritual crisis. We’ve taken a pharmaceutical approach to it, and in my experience, what I assert is that there will never be a pharmacological answer to a spiritual crisis. Both yoga and the 12-step program affirm this. Addiction is a spiritual issue that needs a spiritual remedy.
What I love about the combination of yoga and the cognitive pieces of the 12-step program is that together, they offer tools and processes to begin to support that spiritual transformation, that sacred road to recovery.
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