My First Experience at 12 Step Yoga

As you might have noticed from my posts lately I’ve ventured into the yoga world a bit more. I have done yoga on and off since high school, but back then I thought yoga was a type of exercise. And yoga does get your heart rate up and your juices flowing, depending on what type of yoga you do. However, yoga wasn’t historically meant for exercise. Yoga was developed in India over 5,000 years ago and the first mention of the word yoga was in the old sacred texts, the Rig Vega. Yoga started out as a philosophy and oral tradition, later the discipline of hatha yoga became the physical aspect of yoga. It was originally developed as a “vehicle for meditation.” Hatha yoga is the yoga of activity that addresses the body and mind together.

As yoga has become more westernized, you get a white girl from the suburbs like me who grew up thinking it was nothing more than an exercise routine. Boy, was I wrong. Yoga is spiritual and it wasn’t until I got sober did I begin to understand that there is healing through yoga. It wasn’t until I took a workshop with Seane Corne that I realized you shouldn’t push yourself into poses that strain you. She said poses should be challenging but you shouldn’t feel strained enough to lose your pattern of breath. Yoga should be spiritual and healing.

That brought me to the curiosity of 12 step yoga. I had heard about it a few years back and I searched for classes near me in Florida. No luck. They only had available classes in Miami, West Palm Beach area, and farther north in Sarasota. I thought maybe one day I would travel to take a class, but it was hard because they were only offered every other Thursday or other unusual times. As I’ve started to explore local yoga establishments in a quest to deepen my spirituality, I’ve joined some Facebook groups that promote yoga events and specials here in Southwest Florida. That’s where I first saw the flyer for 12 step yoga in my area! It’s being held at a yoga studio in Bonita Springs, which is still about 40 minutes from where I live, but I knew I had to try it.

It’s being held on the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month and last Friday I drove down to get my first 12 step yoga experience.

History of 12 Step Yoga

Founder Nikki Myers began Yoga of 12 step recovery in 2003 to integrate her yoga practice and 12 step communities. As popularity and demand grew, the program evolved into structured weekly meetings with trainings that teach leaders how to bring Y12SR (its official acronym) into their own communities. In 2012 Y12SR became a non-profit program of Off the Mat Into the World, which provides expansion of services to under-resourced communities where addiction treatment is not available. As of this year, there are over 800 active Y12SR leaders and over 250 meetings around the world.

Y12SR connects the tools of 12 step programs, the research on trauma healing and neurobiology, and the ancient wisdom of yoga. This type of yoga creates a safe space where trauma can be worked through and released on the mat. The program and practice can help people recover from all areas of addiction from substance use to finding healing from a loved one’s addiction. All “A’s” are welcome and you do not have to be a current member of the 12 step community in order to attend.

What to expect at 12 Step Yoga

The session I went to was designed as 45 minutes of a meeting, followed by 45 minutes of yoga practice. I was a few minutes late so I missed what is called the “ground rules,” or the participation guidelines that are read at every meeting. The ground rules are what keep the meeting safe for everyone in attendance. When I finally wandered in, I was told the topic was “Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.” I joined the other participants on my yoga mat as they began to share. Each person went around and shared about the topic, what it means to them and how they are feeling. After a person shared we would all close our eyes and take a big healing breath with that person. When it was my turn to share I talked about my post-wedding depression and some emotions I have been having concerning some friendships. Of course, I cried. It was healing. After sharing we moved on to our yoga practice. It was a gentle form of Vinyasa yoga and we would often pause while our facilitator would real meditations, quotes, and passages that had to do with awareness, acceptance, and action in the recovery space. We also concentrated on breathing. It was a beautiful practice. When we reached shavasana I was ready to meditate all the wonderful passages and quotes our facilitator had read about acceptance. Following shavasana we closed our practice with a Namaste and just like that, it was over. I felt like I could have stayed for another hour.

I’ve noticed that yoga has been helping me lately, to work through resentments and other heavy emotions. I’m glad I finally learned that it’s ok to cry on your mat and that yoga isn’t just for exercise. For me, it’s spiritual and it’s a part of my recovery.