This is an interview with Jeff Finlin, who reached out to me after reading a few of the blogs in this series, “Yoga, How We Serve.”
Jeff’s yoga service career started basically in AA back in the early 2000s. Yogic philosophy and action started to weave its way into his own recovery in the form of working with others. He found a direct correlation in the steps of AA and how they related and intertwined with eastern spiritual thought. The connection deepened and found its way into his yoga practice and action around recovery, sobriety, and the spiritual connection of the program.
Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?
This work is a calling of my own predicament and experience as a recovering alcoholic, adult child of an alcoholic, and a trauma survivor. In the AA program we find that we must give away what we have in order to keep it. There is a tradition of service and giving that enables us to eventually transcend suffering. My journey started in AA, but in the end AA was not enough when it came to my trauma responses and conditioning. Yoga was ultimately the experiential answer.
Sober since 1997, I had done everything that the program of AA required, but after 12 years sober I was still wracked with PTSD. I would wake up every morning so terrified that I would almost have to vomit. The fear was poisoning my family and my work. Although I was able to move forward and manage the trauma response, I was trapped in this seemingly self-protecting bubble that kept me from experiencing a sense of ease, love from others, and a healthy, happy, and whole life. I could not pray it away, serve it away, or program it away.
Having been initiated into a kriya practice I finally got serious about yoga. I integrated the practices into my system over a 90-day period and then partook in a profound program that enabled me to access and experience the dimension of myself that lay beyond that traumatic conditioning. My trauma response has never returned. I am now able to live the life of freedom that is always talked about in AA.
It seems the only complete escape and pathway to freedom was to experience myself completely outside of the conditioning itself. Upon doing so the system re-remembers itself and resets, enabling transcendence of the conditioning. Having had this experience, it has become my mission to share it with others. I see so many people in recovery suffering from the effects of untreated trauma response and PTSD. I want people to know that freedom from it is possible.
As a result, I have founded recover.yoga, developed an online course, and offer workshops and private lessons to try and give people hope and start them on the path to recovery and transcendence. I also wrote a book integrating the practice of yoga and traditional 12-step recovery dynamics called “365 days of Recovery Yoga.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?
The most rewarding aspect of teaching is always the connection established between two people. Something happens when two minds come together in relationship to recovery and spiritual practice. We cannot do it alone, and that connection is the beginning of a highway toward freedom.
What are some of the things your students have taught you?
The student-teacher relationship is always a two-way street. My students remind me how much I’ve grown, learned, and how far I’ve come. They remind me and teach me over and over again that it’s impossible to recover and grow alone. They teach me that it always takes at least two to grow. The mirror of relationship is required. They teach me that service or Karma yoga is essential to moving forward. In essence, they always teach me that I am still a beginner. They teach me that I’m always a newcomer.
In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people recovering from addictions?
Yoga can offer unity through the sangha (Sanskrit term meaning “association” or “community”), and service to it. In sharing and engaging in service and community with others we learn to take that unity out into the world and embrace connection with society on a deeper level.
Often, we hear claims of yoga as a means to positively change the world. What in your mind is the relationship between a yoga practice and greater social change?
Ultimately, change in society can only happen through change in the heart and consciousness of the individual. Our outside world always has the quality of our inside world. I believe that society’s collective consciousness is the result of society’s collective inner consciousness, that we create our reality from the inside out—our exterior world is created on the inside—so we must always start with ourselves. So let’s start with the individual doing a yoga practice, one at a time. Only then can we have an effect on the world.
What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?
My hope lies in my willingness to continuously engage in my own practice, and in my own willingness to respond and be of service to others. All I have control over is my opportunity to give yoga and the practice of service. In doing so, I respond to life at its fullest and most profound levels.
Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.