Parallel Practices

Yoga with Recovery

Once upon a time, a long time ago…

Wait a minute: That once is here and that time is now. And this is where my story begins.

My name is Julie Karsky, and I am a woman in long-term recovery.

I am also a wife, daughter, sister, in-law (sometimes "outlaw"), employee, yoga instructor, gardener, homesteader and breadmaker. All these aspects of my life create the whole of who I am today. With this wholeness, I can expand into fuller, richer living with life, on life’s terms.

My first yoga class was in 1977. Attending was not a decision to improve my body or mind with a mindful practice; it was a decision not to be alone. At that time, my husband and I were beginning to build our home. We were living in a fiberglass lean-to building without electricity, water or a phone. He worked evenings. I was alone, in the woods, in this lean-to and afraid of imagined bogeymen. When I heard of a yoga class being offered in the evenings, I quickly signed up. This, I thought, would rid me of the bogeymen. Much to my surprise, I soon was in a practice that brought out the bogeymen that lived inside of me! Example: As my teacher led me into the triangle pose, she asked that I move my feet and hands far apart. When I did not step out, she asked, “Julie, what are you afraid of in life, not to step out?” My shame-based, guilt-ridden, alcoholic self had the perfect answer to that question—quit yoga and drink more! So that’s exactly what I did. My teacher knew I was trying to become invisible: by not stepping out, and staying small, I remained unnoticed. This was a practice that encouraged other alcoholic behaviors: hiding; lying; cheating; and denying. My drinking career continued for several decades. When I hit bottom and there was nowhere else to hide, lie, cheat, or deny, my recovery began.

I returned to my yoga practice, and on one specific moment on my mat, I experienced what some call a spiritual awakening. In mountain pose, I stood tall with alignment, feet grounding with balance, and began connecting with breath. This moment of aligning and connecting with breath gave me the gift of belonging to myself! After years of disconnecting through alcoholism, I felt at home with me.

That moment gave me the decision to begin yoga teacher training. Through the schooling of yoga practices and philosophy, I have come to believe yoga and recovery have a dance that complements and flows together.

Allow me to introduce the parallel practices of yoga with recovery, paraphrasing Kyczy Hawk's Yoga and the Twelve-Step Path.

  • Step One: In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, we begin the journey of honestly accepting our self as we are today, surrendering the illusion that we can control our addiction.
  • Step Two: Hope and faith are the cornerstones of this Step. Letting go and turning it over. In our yoga practice, we breathe in the will of our Higher Power, breathe out self-will.
  • Step Three: We welcome willingness and faith. In our yoga practice, we turn over the results and remain in the moment.
  • Step Four: We step up with courage. In our yoga practice, we use discipline and contemplation.
  • Step Five: We align with integrity. Yoga continues with spiritual house-cleaning through contemplation and self-inquiry.
  • Step Six: We become willing. Our practice will lead us into challenges – find right effort – let go wrong thinking.
  • Step Seven: We dwell in humility. Yoga helps us practice being the right size.
  • Step Eight: We rise with self-discipline. Practicing with forgiveness; willingness to change.
  • Step Nine: We open to love. Practicing without harm; be with breath to check in.
  • Step Ten: We practice perseverance. Taking a physical inventory of our self and “promptly” releasing stress that no longer serves us.
  • Step Eleven: We recognize spiritual awareness. While practicing, pause in communion with your spiritual guide.
  • Step Twelve: We serve. We take our learning into action and serve others.

May you enjoy the journey of exploring who you really are. And perhaps, there will be a time, not so far away, where we will find ourselves together on yoga mats.

"We celebrate the place within, where our souls have met. Namaste."

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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