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In 1987, I found a 12-step program for my addiction recovery and stayed sober for eight years. Then, on a business trip to Germany, I made a bad decision to have one drink that led to many more. Within a week, I found myself in Amsterdam, where I knew exactly who to be, what to do, where to go, and how to talk my way into getting my drug of choice: crack cocaine.
After Amsterdam, I got back into a 12-step program and discovered yoga. I saw all the similarities between yoga and the 12-step program, and I eventually made the decision to let go of the program. I thought a daily ashtanga yoga practice would be enough for dealing with my addiction issues.
I stayed clean for four years, then relapsed again in 2000. At that point, I realized I couldn’t put the 12-step program, which gave me a cognitive base for recovery, in a separate box from yoga, which gave me somatic tools. So in 2003—after receiving training from the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute and the American Viniyoga Institute—I created Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR), which combines cognitive and somatic practices for sustainable addiction recovery.
The following sequence is the first one I teach to recovering addicts. It’s also the one I come back to most often myself, because it’s all about building a solid foundation. In each posture, ask: Do I feel balanced? Can I find my center—even when I feel overwhelmed? Sustainable recovery requires continually asking these questions—and continually finding our ground.
1. Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Sit in a comfortable, seated position with your legs crossed and your sitting bones propped up on a blanket, bolster, or meditation cushion. Become aware of your breath without changing anything. Begin to deepen your breathing, eventually arriving at a comfortable maximum inhalation and exhalation. Notice what’s present for you in your five bodies: physical, emotional, thinking, character, and heart. Stay here, breathing slowly and deeply, for 90 seconds or longer.
2. Marjaryasana and Bitilasana (Cat-Cow Pose, variation)
Come to all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. As you inhale, find a lift in your chest (Cow Pose, shown); as you exhale, bring your chest toward your thighs and your hips toward your heels, so you’re in a modified Balasana (Child’s Pose). Repeat this movement slowly, allowing the inhalations and exhalations to lengthen and deepen with each repetition.
3. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Rest your chest on your thighs with your arms stretched out in front of you—or along your sides. If you don’t find this pose deeply comfortable, feel free to move into a different one that feels more restorative. Stay here for 8 long, deep breaths. This is the “pause button” pose, a reminder that it’s OK to slow down when life starts feeling out of control.
4. Bhujangasana (Cobra pose, variation)
Lie on your belly with your hands beside your rib cage on the mat. On an inhalation, lift your chest up into Cobra Pose; on an exhalation, lower back down. On your next inhalation, lift to Cobra again, this time raising your right leg; exhale to come back down, and repeat on the other side. Then inhale and lift both legs as you come into Cobra. Exhale with your legs and chest lifted; inhale and lift a little higher, spreading your legs apart behind you. On your next exhalation, bring your legs and chest down. Repeat this sequence 5 times.
5. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Beginning in Child’s Pose, inhale to all fours, and then exhale to lift your knees and hips into Downward-Facing Dog. Press into your hands, and soften your elbows to avoid hyperextension. Drop your shoulders away from your ears, and then stabilize them by bringing your shoulder blades onto your back. Slowly move back down to all fours and into Child’s Pose. Repeat 4 times. After your final repetition, hold Down Dog for 8 breaths, keeping in mind you can rest in Child’s Pose at any time.
6. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
From Down Dog, walk to the top of your mat. On an inhalation, press your feet into the ground. Find your core by hugging your lower-body muscles into your bones, dropping your tailbone toward the earth. From your core, lift your chest and open your heart, slowly coming to stand. With your hips, spine, and shoulders aligned, let your heart open, knowing your back is protected. Stay here for 3 breaths. Then, on an exhalation, bring your hands to your heart center in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal).
See also Meet in the Middle: Anjali Mudra
7. High Lunge, Variation
From Tadasana, step your left foot back, and bend your right knee so you’re in a High Lunge with your fingertips on the mat. Heel-toe your right foot to the right, and drop deeper into the lunge, keeping your right knee above your right ankle. To go deeper, move your right hand inside your right foot, and bring your elbows to the mat. Can you find your center in this asymmetric pose? This can help you reinforce your commitment to finding your center when life doesn’t go the way you want it to. Hold here for 8 breaths or longer. Repeat on the other side, finishing in Tadasana.
8. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Step your left foot back, then turn both feet toward the long edge of your mat. Find symmetry in your pelvis and torso here, then turn your right foot forward and bend your right knee, making sure it’s directly above your right ankle. On an inhalation, raise your arms parallel to the floor. Stay here for 1 breath. On an exhalation, place your right hand on a block (or the floor to the inside of your right foot) and sweep your left arm overhead, coming into Extended Side Angle Pose. Hold here for 1 breath. Repeat 4 times, then hold Extended Side Angle Pose for 8–10 breaths. Return to a wide-legged stance, then repeat on the other side.
See also Revolved Side Angle Pose
9. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)
With your feet 3–4 feet apart and facing the long edge of your mat, bring your hands to your hips. Inhale, and lift your chest as your tailbone roots toward the floor. Exhale, and contract your lower abdominal muscles as you slide your hands down the backs of your legs, keeping your knees soft while gently folding forward. Maintain even weight in both feet, and keep your hands on your ankles (or lower calves). Repeat 4 times, then hold the Forward Bend for 6–8 slow, deep breaths.
10. Skandasana (Pose Dedicated to the God of War)
From a Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend, exhale and bend your right knee. Lean toward the right, keeping your left leg straight and feeling a deep stretch in your inner left thigh. Stay here for a few breaths, inhale, and come back to center. On an exhalation, move toward the other side, bending your left knee. Lean toward the left, straightening your right leg. Move slowly from one side to the other 4 times, then hold on each side for 6 breaths. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Your issues live in your tissues.” Think about this as you release anything that’s “stuck” in these areas. When you’re finished, come to Tadasana, then lie down on your mat, face up.
11. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose, variation)
Bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are on the floor, hip-width apart below your knees. On an inhalation, slowly lift your bottom off the mat toward Bridge Pose; on an exhalation, roll back down. Repeat this rolling Bridge 3–4 times, then hold Bridge Pose for 30–45 seconds. On an exhalation, come back down to lie flat on your mat, and draw your knees in toward your chest.
12. Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist)
Lie on your back, cross your left thigh over your right, and stretch your arms out on either side to a T position. On an exhalation, begin twisting to your right as you look to the left; on an inhalation, return to center. Repeat this twisting action 4 times, progressively lengthening the exhale. Then hold the full twist for 6 breaths. If comfortable, extend your top leg fully, holding your calf or ankle with your opposite hand to deepen the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
13. Constructive Rest, variation
Bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are on the floor, mat-width apart. On an exhalation, allow your knees to fall in toward one another. Pause here for 2 breaths. On an inhalation, separate your knees. On your next exhalation, allow both knees to fall toward the right. Pause here for 1–2 breaths. On an inhalation, bring both knees back to center. On an exhalation, allow your knees to fall to the left, pausing for 1–2 breaths. Repeat this flow, moving your knees from one side to the other, extending the pauses each time.
14. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, turning your palms up and aligning your body so you feel balanced. Relax your shoulders down into the mat. Turn your head from one side to the other before allowing it to find center. Relax the muscles of your face, and then consciously invite your entire body to let go of muscle tension. Stay here, enjoying the sweetness of letting go for at least 5 minutes.
See also The Subtle Struggle of Savasana
15. Virasana (Hero Pose, variation)
Slowly come out of Savasana, and kneel on your mat. Slide your feet apart, draw the flesh of your calf muscles toward your heels, and sit down between your feet (or on a blanket, bolster, or block). Slowly begin to deepen your breath, eventually inhaling for a count of 6 and holding the inhale for a count of 3—then exhaling for a count of 6, holding the exhale for a count of 3. Repeat this cycle 3 times, then deepen and lengthen your breath so you’re inhaling and exhaling for a count of 8, holding the inhalations and exhalations for a count of 4. Repeat this cycle of deeper, longer breathing at least 3 times, then bring your hands to your heart center.
See also Reclining Hero Pose
16. Seated Meditation
Find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and return to regular breathing. Try not to chase or fight your thoughts; as thoughts pop up (and they will), simply let them go. Stay here for at least 1 minute, then bring your hands to your heart center in Anjali Mudra. Take a moment to notice how your body, energy, and mind feel now.
See also 5 to 15 Minute Meditation
About Our Pros
Teacher Nikki Myers is a yoga therapist, teacher, somatic-experiencing practitioner, and founder of Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR). Practice Y12SR with her at yogaanytime.com/go/Y12SR. Model Bhakti White is yoga teacher in Boulder, Colorado.