Sitting cross-legged on my mat I twist my rings around my fingers, fumble with my props, smile nervously at the woman to my left. I’ve entered a Y12SR meeting as a reporter, but I feel a bit like a voyeur. The men and women around me, before they launch into their introductions — Hello my name is … and I’m an addict — nod and smile at me. I won’t give away their identities, I won’t publish their names. They trust me, these people I’ve never met. And then they tell their stories.
Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR), created by yoga therapist Nikki Myers, is a simple, therapeutic style of yoga class designed to specifically address the effects of addiction and trauma. Local Y12SR leader, urban outreach project coordinator, and founder of White Flag Recovery Yoga, Kimberly Thompson leads Sunday evening Y12SR sessions at Serenity Now yoga studio in Mt. Pleasant. Fellow Y12SR leader Gail Corvette leads meetings on Monday evenings in the Charleston Center, an addiction treatment center downtown. I attended both meetings earlier this year.
During her class at Serenity Now, Thompson passed around a poem for everyone, Rumi’s “The Guest House.” The poem begins: “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!” Thompson asked everyone at this meeting to think about the dark and light sides of their lives, maybe even of their days. Each meeting has a theme — from gratitude to forgiveness.
If you’ve never been to a 12-step meeting, the format is simple. Ground rules are laid down including refraining from cross talk and limiting sharing time to 3-5 minutes. Specifically in a Y12SR meeting, half of the time is spent talking and the other half is spent practicing yoga.
And now the Charleston public — those in recovery or in any way touched by addiction (everyone, really), can see the benefits of the Y12SR program for themselves. On Sat. March 16 yoga teachers, treatment and addiction specialists, and people currently in residence at local treatment facilities, come together for a special event, Raise and Rise. Money raised by this event goes to support Y12SR’s Urban Outreach Program, which brings these meetings into under-resourced treatment centers, rehab facilities, and halfway houses that would not otherwise have the funds.
“Recovery is gnarly,” says Thompson. “Treatment centers across the country are getting it, that there needs to be a relapse program for when [patients] leave. It’s something to do when they get out of treatment centers, a practice that supports them.” This weekend’s event is a great introduction to what Y12SR offers — and a reminder that both the Serenity Now and Charleston Center classes occur weekly, are donation-based, and open to the public.
Thompson reiterates that Y12SR is not a replacement for a regular 12-step program or a sponsor. As the Y12SR manual reads: “It is an adjunct providing what we believe is another helpful tool in addressing the physical, mental, and spiritual disease of addiction.”
“It’s got to be a whole body experience,” says Thompson, discussing recovery. “There’s so much trauma in our bodies.” Both Thompson and Corvette are in recovery — not a requirement for a Y12SR leader, but certainly a quality that resonates with Y12SR attendees. “I personally held so much of that trauma in my body, then you find other ways to get that same feeling in life,” says Thompson. “Until you address that, you’re gonna stay in some sort of imbalance and separation from your body.”
In her Serenity Now class, Thompson echoed a catchphrase of sorts that Myers uses to describe the importance of Y12SR: Issues live in the tissues. While I was there, Thompson led us through a yoga nidra practice, a kind of yoga that involves really getting in tune with your body while lying down; it’s a practice intended to lead you to the doorstep of sleep. This being alone with yourself — and a steady leader’s voice — is scary. It’s also reminiscent of the first step in the 12 steps: We admit we are powerless over something. We all have something, don’t we? For me, it’s negative thinking. “I am powerless over negative thinking. My life has become unmanageable.”
“The Dalai Lama said that the 12 steps is the most Eastern Western program there is,” says Thompson. “It’s just a matter of living mindfully and clearing out the clutter and living consciously.”
This mindfulness showed up in Corvette’s class at the Charleston Center, too. She asked us to come into a Warrior 2 position and then stay with ourselves. My quads shook, my arms wavered. Corvette asked the room if addiction and recovery are hard. She said if we can get through recovery, we can get through a yoga pose. Perspective. Breath. Full body experience. It’s all about learning lessons on the mat, and then taking them into your daily life. Most importantly, Y12SR serves as a space for those in recovery to continue their practice, even after they’ve left inpatient facilities like the Charleston Center.
Corvette leads people in the center’s outpatient group as well as the inpatient (the meeting I attended). “There was a woman in the outpatient group who came back and was telling the security guard how much yoga was a big part of her sobriety,” says Corvette. “She’d never heard of anything about yoga until she came to the Charleston Center. Yoga might not be for everyone — some may find spiritual awakening with running, but with yoga we get to explore the spiritual connection that you don’t really explore in any other exercise modality.”
“Our patients find a lot of value in recovery yoga for a number of reasons,” says Charleston Center’s director, Dr. Chanda Brown. “They recognize the importance of taking care of the whole person. Our patients say that it has helped their recovery by working on their physical, mental, and spiritual selves and brings balance to their recovery.”
Thompson hosts a White Flag Recovery Yoga retreat this May at the Om Sanctuary in Asheville. She says that the retreat is for everyone, not just people who identify as addicts. “It’s for people touched by addiction somehow,” says Thompson. “It doesn’t have to be personally. Anybody can come, some people are bringing their daughters. It’s for anybody that’s a human being.”
Raise and Rise takes place on Sat. March 16 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and is a donation-based event. Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St. Downtown. y12sr.com