Yoga, Growth & Holistic Recovery

Finding a Spiritual Connection in a Mind-Body Exercise

As a woman in long-term addiction recovery, I am always seeking new directions to learn and grow.

That's also my wish for our patients at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Dan Anderson Renewal Center, where I am a yoga instructor. I want them to find or renew a passion for continuous progress, striving and growth. I want them to discover the humility and instinct to constantly ask: What more is there to know and experience?

When it comes to recovery from substance use problems and mental health concerns, we are forever blessed with never-ending opportunities to move forward, whether in our thinking, spirituality, physical health, relationships, or otherwise. That's why, at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, we treat our patients comprehensively and set them on a path toward holistic addiction recovery and a lifetime of potential growth.

Yoga is a significant and growing part of our holistic approach—a powerful mind-body exercise through which many find spiritual connection. It is limitless in terms of growth and development potential, as well as being readily accessible to people of all ages. As our patients establish unique recovery paths and lifestyles that work for them, we're seeing more and more incorporate the practice of yoga.

For me, it's no surprise yoga is taking off in the recovery world. What is a bit surprising is seeing addiction recovery get more attention in the yoga industry. I was grateful to attend the recent Minneapolis Yoga Conference where the keynote speaker was Tommy Rosen, who shared years of expertise on recovery with an audience that was there primarily for yoga.

It was a beautiful thing—seeing hundreds of people introduced to recovery in a way that made sense to them. Most had experienced the holistic benefits of yoga and could relate to the idea he presented of recovery being something more than sobriety, and instead a process of movement toward a meaningful, purposeful and satisfying life.

As one of the nation's leading teachers and thinkers on the intersections of yoga and recovery, Tommy smashed some of the stigma associated with addiction simply by being there. That's what happens when people in recovery stand up and speak out; we shed new light on the nature of the problem, making it easier for others to see addiction as an illness that can affect anyone and be overcome. Stigma-smashing also is part of the magic that happens when people with disparate backgrounds and experiences are drawn together closely for a common cause—in this case, not yoga per se, or recovery per se, but personal growth and optimal living.

Tommy connected us all by explaining that addiction—or addictive thinking and behavior—includes much more than substance use problems. My problem was with alcohol. But as Tommy said, most, if not all, people have problems with something—drugs, sex, relationships, food, work, electronics, you name it. And those problems all involve trying to cope and get through the challenging experience of life as an imperfect human being. Certainly everyone can relate to that.

We came to agree that addiction problems come in all forms, sizes, shapes and degrees, and can be the result of any thinking or acting out that becomes an obsession.

In one of the conference workshops, Tommy asked us to follow our minds' activity as we held our postures for three minutes and as we moved from one asana (location and posture) to another.

In the middle of our postures, I distinctly remember thinking, "This is easy … now it's hard … I don't want to do this anymore … I have to continue … everyone else is … how many minutes left before we stop," and so on.

Thoughts I have had in alcohol recovery, too, especially in early recovery. Thoughts I have had in life.

His message: Our minds continuously create thoughts. And our thoughts lead to actions. But if we act on our first next thought, it may be coming from addictive thinking. On the other hand, if we pause and continue what we are doing just a bit longer, we create the space for a new next thought and a new next action—hopefully better than the first.

This is the simple essence of mindfulness that yoga helps instill through practice. It is so basic and yet so profound. It is something to take immediately from my yoga mat into my day-to-day lifestyle. And something that can benefit every person in recovery and all people wanting to optimize their life.

I'm grateful and proud that our Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy sponsors Tommy's twice annual Recovery 2.0 online conferences, and encourage all readers to stay tuned for the next one coming up in September 2016.

As the Minneapolis Yoga Conference did, Tommy's online events always reinforce the strong benefits of yoga, mindfulness and meditation to people recovering from addiction.

Such practices certainly have been powerful for me personally, connecting closely to my Twelve Step spiritual path and my journey through all of life—consistently providing deep insightful takeaways for my daily living.

I am grateful to share those practices with our patients at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and to constantly learn and grow alongside them. If you are in or seeking recovery from a substance use disorder or any other problematic thinking or behavior, I invite you to explore these paths as well.


Julie KarskyJulie Karsky, yoga instructor at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center, is certified in all levels of YogaFit. She teaches young children, elders, first-timers, experienced practitioners, and those with chronic pain, sharing an extraordinary level of love and light. Learn more about Dan Anderson Renewal Center retreats.
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