By Maria Zannides
Often there are happy endings but troubled beginnings. We can all have moments of losing hope, guilty of considering that losing our way – even our minds, is the end. To some extent this is true, however it could be the end of despondency, and the beginning of change.
I have been working alongside people in addiction recovery for some time now; both as a yoga teacher, a peer worker and an active member of the AA and Al-Anon programme. The merging of The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step recovery programme & yoga are tools for life; practised together they can bring about life changing results. But all too often our will can get in the way from accepting the help from others that is needed in order to kick start those changes.
Addiction is progressive and it kills. There is no doubt in my mind that the rock bottom that addicts ‘hit’ is the point in time where their illness becomes unmanageable, both for the addicts themselves, and for their loved ones. This is often before the medical profession and other rehabilitation support networks intervene, essentially the ‘roots’ of the illness – from the misery and despair before acceptance and powerlessness, through to the gratitude and release once awareness and working on oneself begins.
The important first step in overcoming addiction
Changing ingrained behaviour can be difficult, and often the hardest stage of all is recognising the need for change. Showing up or acknowledging the need for help is an important first step, moving towards being mindful – simply by moving, by breathing and just being. Addicts have very possibly been unkind to themselves and their bodies, and their pain and trauma are carried in every cell like a memory bank, stored and felt in any number of places in their bodies. Thankfully yoga can and does step in to fill the void felt by many suffering from addiction.
A story highlighting this comes to my mind. This lady whom we shall call Stephanie was – and still is as far as I am aware – a heroin addict. She had been for years. I knew her mother through the al-anon programme and her mother asked me to offer Stephanie one to one yoga sessions at their home. Stephanie had been very interested in yoga in her teens and twenties, and on my first visit to their home, I arrived to find the mum frantic and distressed. Even though Stephanie had promised her mum that she would stay ‘clean’ for our first yoga class, something had gone wrong and she had taken drugs that morning.
I went to Stephanie’s bedroom where it became clear to me she was in no fit state to practise yoga. She looked so dazed and unwell that her mum started calling an ambulance and begged me to stay until the ambulance arrived. I took Stephanie downstairs and for the next 45 minutes kept her breathing in between her bouts of momentarily passing out. By some miracle I had the impromptu idea of asking her to repeat a small sequence of ujjayi breathe. I asked her to look me directly in the eyes, before finally placing her hands in prayer – over and over again.
We repeated this mantra and it was working, She was breathing and partly focusing! The process, repetition and human connection were literally saving her life, and the ambulance crew confirmed that her unintentional overdose had almost killed her. Yes, I was there at the right time, but it was the power of yoga that saw us through a potentially dangerous and traumatic experience.
Time and time again I meet people who are fortunate to have recognised and surrendered to their disease of addiction, others continue to battle through it alone, often with dire consequences. Using sheer will power for abstinence is tough, and often their chaotic behaviours and lives continue. They’re often unaware that anger, obsessions, control issues and other emotional factors are the core issues, not the end result of using mind altering substances to avoid dealing with these issues in the first place.
So we have these two practical and spiritual processes of the AA 12-steps and yoga that allow a person to start the healing process, even if they start feeling broken, vulnerable and fearful. We can always begin from this place; all that is required is to surrender to the moment, and a desire for real change.
If you are interested in how Yoga can help with addictions, Shaura Hall, a Minded Institute senior lecturer, offers a renowned training in yoga therapy and mindfulness for addictions. For information regarding our next courses email firstname.lastname@example.org
Blog written by Maria Zannides.
Maria is a certified IYN yoga teacher specialising in the field of addiction therapy, within the NHS for people with mental health issues plus runs local yoga classes and retreats here and abroad. She can be found on Facebook at Let Go, Let Yoga