What got you into yoga, and what does the practice mean to you?
Pure grace! I once heard a yoga teacher say, “Trust that the universe is conspiring to bring you into wholeness.” I truly believe that.
I came to yoga disembodied, diseased, and disconnected. In early 2000, I moved back to Massachusetts where I was born and grew up after living in Connecticut for a couple of years. I wanted a fresh start and didn’t want to move back to my hometown. I’ve always loved Boston’s South Shore, specifically Plymouth for its beautiful scenery, charm, and ocean which I have always felt a connection to.
I purchased my first home in the next town over, working again in corporate finance in Boston. I didn’t know anyone in this new town. I had recently stopped engaging in behaviors that would leave me feeling less than physically, emotionally, and spiritually like drinking alcohol. I’d tell you that I didn’t have a problem, although when I drank I never knew what would happen or where I’d end up. I just stopped the behavior and didn’t look at the underlying causes. I didn’t know there were any. I also didn’t know how to be or live in a world where there was alcohol or people so I opted out. For the first three years living in my new town I didn’t make one friend. I didn’t date. I didn’t know how to be in a relationship with myself, others, or the world around me. All I did was commute to work by train, go to a local health club, and take Pilates classes twice a week. If you’d asked, I’d tell you I was managing just fine. That local health club offered yoga, and I had taken a few classes. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I was willing to take another sip. I soon learned the reason for my past aversion to yoga. It slowed me down in all ways, and not knowing how to be in a relationship with myself, it was extremely uncomfortable. I had what I now call the disses. I was dis-embodied, dis-eased, and dis-connected.
Let’s back up a bit. As a preteen, I started experimenting with alcohol and other substances. I was rebellious and sassy. I was lonely and wanted attention. I wanted to be loved, protected, cared for, and I wanted to belong somewhere, anywhere. By the time I was sixteen and just starting junior year, my guidance counselor, Mr. K, came into my geometry class and asked me to step out in the hall. I was used to being called out, sent to the principal’s office and often to detention. Mr. K said, “You’re not going to make it. You have two options: drop out of high school or start attending an alternative high school for at-risk youth.” HUH! Dumbfounded and petrified, I opted for the latter and on my own negotiated the transition to the alternative high school. There were only 8 or 10 of us students and I knew everyone there I just didn’t know where they had gone. No one in my family questioned it, asked what was going on, or if I was OK or needed help. This was 1984. I spent my junior year at the alternative high school and managed to work my way back into normal high school and graduate with my class by the skin of my teeth. I wasn’t preparing to go to college, but a part of me knew that education was my path out of poverty–not just financial poverty, but mental, emotional, and spiritual poverty. I started attending classes at a two-year community college. It took me three years to earn an associate’s degree because I was still drinking alcohol and using other substances, in an abusive relationship, and couldn’t pull myself together. I then transferred to a four-year state university and earned a B.S. in finance. I used to joke that I must have earned a degree because I have a diploma, but I don’t remember going. I managed to secure a job in a bank while still in college and so began my career in finance. Disembodied, diseased, and disconnected.
In 2001 grace guided me back to try yoga again and I stayed. My thirst to learn more about the philosophy, practices, and principles of yoga led me to my first teacher training. I had no intention of teaching. I had been teaching Pilates at the same health club where I took class and where the yoga classes were also held. Occasionally I would sub for the yoga class when needed. When the yoga teacher left the health club, I took over the class. This yoga teacher also encouraged and arranged for me to join her teaching at the local YMCA. I’ve been teaching there every Sunday morning since 2006.
What does the practice of yoga mean to me?
Yoga asana guided me back into my body, my vessel. Merriam-Webster defines vessel as “a person into whom some quality (such as grace) is infused.” The yogic philosophy, practices, and principles guide me to remember who I am–my true essence, which is grace–and who we are to each other. I get to share that and remind others.
Yoga and the 12-step program of recovery brought me from disembodied, diseased, and disconnected to embodied and healed. I now have a relationship with myself, others, the world around me, and with a power greater than myself who resides in me and all around me. I share my experience, strength, and hope just as others have graciously shared theirs with me. Future suffering can be avoided. Grace lives within. There is a solution. I’ve found the healing is in the sharing of our stories, our time, our attention, and our care. In the 12-step program there is a saying, “you can’t keep it unless you give it away.” I can’t not give away what was so freely given to me. I recognize the double negative, but it’s doubly important! It’s my duty to be of service. It’s my dharma.
Tell us a little bit about the work you do. How do you bring the therapeutic benefits of yoga to people with limited access to this practice?
In June 2009 I attended an Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) leadership training at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It was my first time meeting the founders of OTM–Seane Corn, Hala Khouri, and Suzanne Sterling. Nikki Myers, the founder of Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR), was also there. As soon as she began to speak, I was immediately drawn to her. Over the weekend I learned more about her and the Y12SR program, “a holistic model designed to address the physical, mental, and spiritual disease of addiction.” It combines “the somatic approach of yoga with the cognitive approach of the 12-step recovery model.” Y12SR is a donation-based, sustainable relapse prevention and integration program. It’s a yoga practice and 12-step based discussion meeting open to anyone dealing with addictive behavior or affected by the addictive behavior of others. Y12SR is a rich and powerful framework designed to inspire compassionate awareness, change, and healing.
Not long after meeting Nikki Myers, I became a certified Y12SR space holder and have been offering a weekly Y12SR group every Sunday in Plymouth since May 2010. In the beginning there were few participants. I vowed to continue to show up if they did. Over time the group grew and we had to move to a larger space. I have also brought the Y12SR program to various at-risk youth recovery centers.
In addition to being a certified Y12SR space holder, I am also a Y12SR leadership trainer, meaning I train others so that they too can share this incredible offering in their communities. A silver lining to the pandemic is that Y12SR is now offered online. It is anywhere and everywhere!
Are there any small victories you’ve experienced recently that you’d like to share with us?
The healing continues. In August 2021 I celebrated twenty-one years of sobriety. I went back to school and earned a graduate degree in Global Post-Disaster Studies with a 3.9 GPA. I left corporate finance and have been working for the Clinton Foundation as a senior finance manager for the last ten years.
Yoga and the 12-step program of recovery are part of my daily life. I am eternally grateful to those who came before me, shared their experience, strength, and hope, and freely offered their time, care, and attention. I didn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to do it alone. I carry the message and give away what was freely given to me. I get to bear witness to the miracle of recovery in other people’s lives and those they touch. It’s remarkable. It’s grace!