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Yoga teachers Tommy Rosen, Kia Miller, Nikki Myers, Rolf Gates, and Vinnie Marino talk about their addictions and how coming to the mat helped their recovery and renewal.
Yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly popular tools for helping people deal with addictions of all kinds—from drugs, alcohol, and food to people, money, and technology. Chances are you’ve dealt with at least one of these habits yourself or know a friend or family member who has. Yoga Journal asked Kundalini yoga teacher and addiction expert Tommy Rosen if he could riff off his new book, Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life (Hay House 2014), and reach out to people who have used yoga in their recoveries. “I naturally turned to the yoga teacher community because so many of us have had and overcome these types of struggles,” says Rosen. “Here you will find what five of us have to say about the power of yoga as a catalyst for personal transformation in the lives of people who face addiction.”
For more on how you can develop your own Kundalini-inspired bad-habit-breaking practice, read Kundalini Yoga: The Key to Kicking Bad Habits for Good, written by Rosen and his partner and yoga teacher Kia Miller.
Tommy Rosen on Gambling
Gambling addiction is among the strangest forms of human behavior. Through risking money on games of chance we are able to create an inner chemistry that rivals the euphoric power of almost any drug. I was creating the internal equivalent of a cocaine high every time I gambled. My hands would sweat. My heart rate would increase, my breathing would become shallow and my adrenals started firing as they will always do when I am in a fight-or-flight situation. Gambling is precisely that. There were moments in casinos where I felt as if I my heart might explode—precisely the feeling I was after.
My last gambling binge ended up leaving me crippled for six months. Sitting on my ass for about 72 hours at a high-stakes blackjack table without much food, I was dehydrated and amped up on strong black tea and sugar. I stressed my way through the loss of a ton of money that I had borrowed from the casino to gamble with. A few days later I was dancing at a concert when a painful nervy ringing went down my legs. That was it. I was simply unable to move without terrible pain for the next six months. An MRI revealed severe degenerative disk disease, which the doctors told me would require a lifelong pain management program and eventually surgery.
Through a bizarre set of circumstances, I found my way to a Kundalini Yoga teacher named Guruprem, who expertly guided me through the application of yogic principles and practices to my life. Though it is very different from a drug-like experience, I found that Kundalini Yoga does pack a euphoric punch. Through gambling I was looking to tinker with my endocrine system to produce a high” similar to a drug-induced experience. Through yoga, I am looking to connect to my body, mind, and spirit and I have found that also produces a high. Only the high I get from yoga has no comedown, no hangover, and no negative consequences. It is a short-term, long-term gain proposition, which brings connection and joy. I have not gambled in over 10 years now. My body has recovered. My financial life has recovered. Yoga and a lot of support from teachers and friends is the central piece of that story. Blessed!
See alsoYoga for Addiction Recovery
Kia Miller on Bulimia
I had been throwing up my food for eight years when I told my closest friends about it. It had become unbearable for me to continue a behavior that went so blatantly against my heart’s desire to connect in a deep spiritual way.
By this time I had been practicing hatha yoga regularly for a few years. It was the central practice of my life and helped me to learn to connect with my body and breath. I was also a successful model during this period. I was used to being judged for the way I looked, yet had very little connection to who I was inside. When faced with uncomfortable emotions and situations I would disassociate and throw up. At photo shoots I felt a quiet desperation as the image I was portraying was far from my inner experience that I was not enough, and that surely I was going to be ‘found out’ at any moment.
My yoga practice became my refuge and sanctuary. I began to trust my body and connect to my breath. The most powerful transformation happened some years later while doing a strong navel set in a Kundalini yoga class. I got a glimpse of myself beyond the masks that I experienced life through. After the class, I sat there. My mind was quiet. I felt an inner presence and a strong sense of who I am, rather than who others thought I should be. This was the beginning of true healing and an ability to live from my own sense of self.
Nikki Myers on Codependence
The term codependent, coined some 40 years ago, originally came into being as the replacement term for the partners of alcoholics then called co-alcoholics. Over the years, the definition of the term broadened so much that for many it’s now confusing and unclear.
The definition that resonates most for me comes from the book Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition, by Charles L. Whitfield. In that book, codependence is generally described as “the disease of looking elsewhere.” It’s the belief that something outside of ourselves, including people, places, things, behaviors, or experiences, can bring true fulfillment and joy. Codependence is the disease that manifests when we lose ourselves.
It has been said that codependence is not only the most common addiction, but it is also the root from which all other addictive behavior arises.
Even after many years of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, I found that a very deep sense of disappointment with life and even loneliness pervaded me. My outward success was apparent; I’d gone back to school, received a master’s degree, repaired relationships, and had even received acknowledgment and accolades as a yoga teacher and therapist. However, I knew that there was something eating me up from the inside. My intimate relationships reminded me of “Groundhog Day.” I kept choosing the same dysfunctional person in a different form and I even thought I enjoyed it. I worked myself to burnout. I had fallen into the trap of looking for something outside of myself to make me whole.
Experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem, setting functional boundaries, making decisions and/or verbalizing requests can be difficult for codependents. They are commonly seen as reactionaries, fixers, martyrs, saviors, perfectionists, addicts or “the lost child.”
A serious disorder with life-threatening implications under certain conditions, codependency is often expressed as the need to control or be controlled, approval seeking, or confrontation avoidance. At its heart, codependency is about our search for our true selves. When we find our true self and connect it with some bigger energy or higher power, we’re free to relate to others in a way that opens deeply fulfilling relationships with ourselves, others, and the Divine.
Rolf Gates on Alcohol
My addiction to alcohol was a response to my inability to feel safe or settled. Unless I was watching TV, reading a book, or playing a sport, my experience of everyday life was that it was something to endure without the prospect of things getting better. It was as if I was born into the wrong world and managing the stress of this predicament was my only priority. The people who helped me get sober provided me with excellent principles to live by but the problem of managing my inner life remained.
Yoga poses and the quiet reverent settings they were offered in taught me a new way to become settled and to feel safe. I loved it. In yoga I learned to rest in the felt experience of the body and the breath, first in class but eventually whenever I was willing to move from thinking to feeling. Meditation deepened and broadened my relationship to the body and the breath teaching me to be with the ebb and flow of sensations from a place of calm, awake, non-attached involvement. Eventually this “being with” practice grew to include the experience of the larger body, life itself.
The long-term practice of yoga poses and meditation has healed my relationship to life. I find peace, wonder, and clarity each time I reconnect to the present moment and with the help of my teachers, their teachings, and my community. I am choosing to be here more and more often.
Vinnie Marino on Drugs
I started practicing yoga when I was in high school in the 1970s. Paradoxically, I was also using a lot of pot, pills, and psychedelics. My drug use progressed and my yoga practice disappeared. I was introduced to shooting cocaine in Haight-Ashbury when I was 20 years old and I loved it, but cocaine can make you paranoid and freaked with intense cravings for more! Then I found out that combining it with heroin was the perfect combination: the crazy rush of coke mixed with the calm, detached numbness of heroin.
I followed this path for the next six years, losing jobs, getting arrested, getting sick. All in search of the perfect high. Finally, at 26 years old, living in NYC, I got clean and sober by going to support group meetings. My life got better and five years later I moved to Los Angeles where I took my first Vinyasa flow class. I absolutely loved it. The intensity, the challenge, the movement mixed with the slow deep poses, and the stillness of Savasana had filled me with the rush and the release I used to experience from doing drugs.
I sat up after that experience and thought: I really dig this. And, like a true junkie: when can I do it again? I was hooked in all the right ways. After the practice I felt calm, but energized and comfortable in my own skin. I knew that drugs where not a sustainable path because they nearly killed me, but this yoga thing seemed like a really positive healthy thing to do while I was staying clean. After practicing for about six years I took the teacher training program I’ve been teaching for the last 17 years at YogaWorks in Los Angeles.
Using drugs was my misguided search for joy and contentment. One of the goals of yoga is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. And while all humans experience to some extent the state of constant thinking called “monkey mind,” addicts seem to experience it with an exhausting intensity that I think of as “gorilla mind.”
I meet a lot of people in recovery for whom yoga has become an important part of their path. I’m very grateful that practicing yoga and meditation has been such a big part of my recovery. I’ll be 30 years clean this year, and what a long, strange trip it’s been!