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Yoga Helped Me Maintain My Sobriety During the Pandemic

In the past, I would have picked up a drink to escape pandemic stress. This time, I tried a yoga class instead.

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Hands over heart center, eyes closed, seat anchored, I breathe deeply. 

Love, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

My breaths deepen, in and out, until all I notice is my breath. That, and an overwhelming sense of peace. Of presence. Of actually feeling those words in my suddenly still body.

It’s the first time I think I’ve breathed for two years.

For 24 months I’ve been ping-ponging my way from what felt like one thing-I-cannot-change crisis to the next: Navigating the dissolution of my 18-year marriage, adjusting to my ex moving in with the suddenly-single neighbor and her kids, unpacking and repacking myself every week so the kids could stay in their childhood home—oh, and a global pandemic. 

In the past, I would have picked up a drink to escape it all. But I’ve been sober for nearly three years—and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. 

See also: After More Than a Year of Pandemic Life, We’re Stressed Out and Putting Our Health at Risk

Week after week, as headlines reported the dangerous increases in COVID-related binge-drinking, I listened to broken-hearted souls at recovery meetings, now relegated to Zoom, talk about their relapses. And while I fully credit working Alcoholic Anonymous’s 12-step program for my sobriety, I was starting to feel stuck (what the Big Book calls “restless, irritable, and discontent”). That’s when a friend suggested I check out Y12SR, a hybrid practice that’s part 12-step meeting, part yoga class.  

It sounded pretty good to me: re-integrating and prioritizing the health of my body, since addiction is a dis-ease of body (hello!), mind, and spirit.

The first half of the 90-minute online meeting, led by Y12SR founder Nikki Myers, is like a traditional 12-step meeting. Participants (alcoholics, addicts, co-dependents—anyone touched by any type of addiction) speak about their personal experience with self-abandonment, which is today’s topic. 

One after the other, we share our successes and struggles with, say, looking outside of ourselves for something we need on the inside, or with forgetting to trust and rely on a power greater than ourselves. When it’s my turn, I talk about how I struggle at times with maintaining my peace—my serenity—given the circus outside my door.

When it’s her turn, Meyers talks about how she sometimes relies on her “blame-thrower” when confronted with her disease of the lost self—how easy it is to put the focus on others when, really, it’s all an inside job. She talks about how yoga allows her to physically sense when she is off her path. “That is why breath work is so important to me,” says Myers. “It gives me that pause to know, to feel in my body, when I am out of alignment with my thoughts, speech, and actions,” she says. “And I relapse when I am out of integrity with myself.”     

After taking deep, healing breaths between each share, we move into the yoga practice. Thankfully for a newbie like me, the poses are simple—twists and heart openers and longer holds to release tension and ground ourselves right where we are. And always, always, coming back to the breath.

See also: The Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

As we do so, I literally feel the pent-up tension escape from my body. Myers offers encouraging invitations to make conscious contact with an energy that is bigger than ourselves, to connect with gratitude (“a grateful addict won’t use”), and to come back to our intentions.

It’s hard to explain, but there is something very different about feeling this serenity in my body, as opposed to just accessing it with my mind, as I do with a traditional 12 step meeting. And, as I have found since continuing with Y12SR, I can take this practice off the mat and into my life, pausing when confronted with that circus outside my door and my body floods with tension, breathing and coming back to the present to move gently through it. “Finding the middle path,” Myers says at the end of class. “That is where I have access to the wisdom that knows the difference.”

See also: How Yoga Helped Me Cope With Childhood Trauma & Loss

Outside+ members:  Learn more about Y12SR—and try a heart-opening practice with Nikki Myers based on the serenity prayer. Not a member yet? There’s never been a better time to join.

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