I am a yoga student and teacher. I am a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter. I am a friend, lover, servant, and queen. All of these are possible through the 12 steps of recovery. I had a dream of combining and sharing my love of recovery and yoga. This dream has come true.
By the time I reached puberty, it was clear to my parents and teachers that I was on a dangerous path of self destruction. They tried everything they could think of to help me right the ship, I was impervious to most of it.
When I was 14 years old my mother took me to first yoga class. This was a time when yoga was taught in series by yogis in peoples homes, or in this case, the basement of a new age book store. I was immediately attracted to the ritual of the mat placement, the offerings on the altar at one end of the room and intrigued by the teacher's instruction of nadi shodana. This is still my favorite pranayama. The teacher had a lovely explanation that sounded scientific and spiritual. We made our way through a standing series of asanas and then went to the mat for abdominals. As I closed my eyes for svasana I felt a quiet peace that I had not experienced since being a small child.
This quiet peace was the communing with my higher power, my Isvara Pranadhana, this surrender was safe. I drifted into the space between awake and asleep, certain that I was not alone in the universe. When my mother put her hand on my shoulder to bring me back to my body on the mat I felt as though I was waking from a well needed rest. Many memories have faded and years have been lost in active addiction, but that moment has remained clear in my mind.
Over the next 16 years as I waded through active addiction, I made several attempts to return to that feeling through yoga, drugs, prayer, and sex. None of it worked. Addiction is a disease of the spirit, covering the light of the Atman in an illusion of separateness and self-sufficiency. Finally in 2003 I was given the gift of utter desperation and the willingness to surrender to Recovery.
I embarked on journey to live a life based on spiritual principles through the 12 steps. I began to recall those childhood experiences of communing with my higher power, rekindling my desire to be of service to humanity. I returned to moving my body as my home, rather than a burden. I returned to meditation. I returned to practicing yoga at a studio with others. In 2007 as I rested in svasana, my heart bursting with gratitude to be alive, I knew that someday I would help others combine the therapeutic value of 12 step recovery and yoga.
Yoga and the 12 steps are two converging paths that ask us to engage in deep self examination so that we may be of service to others. Once we are committed to the 12 steps and yoga, the shape and direction of the path evolves and changes. Both are lifelong endeavors.
The 12 steps work primarily with cognitive and behavior modification that is driven by a desire to connect with a higher power and to become better able to serve others. Yoga adds the element of moving meditation, being able to not just modify behavior, but use the body as a messenger of the divine messages held within. Physical movement and spiritual serenity are not separate activities.
Yoga for 12 Step Recovery meetings combine the bonding of the safe sharing circle with embodiment practices of yoga. As Nikki Myers (founder of Y12SR) says "issues live in our tissues", no amount of talking or writing can release the energy held in the body, we've got to move. When we connect the mind, body and breath in movement we create space for the Atman to shine through the light of the heart. Embodiment practices also give tangible experiences to esoteric concepts like surrender and gratitude. Yoga and the 12 steps are my way of life and I am honored every time I share these empowering, enlightening paths with people.
Eight things the 12 steps taught me about teaching yoga:
1. Class starts and ends on time.
2. My real value is in being myself, offer the class and let it go.
3. We all have our own relationship with our higher power, let the students have their experience on the mat.
4. Experience shared from the heart is more effective than "expert" advice, teach from experience.
5. I am not the final authority on anything, I'm the guide for the class that day.
6. Gratitude speaks when I share, thank the students for sharing their practice.
7. Keep coming back, even when there are no students.
8. Miracles are possible, this applies to everything!
The Human experience is messy, painful, exhilarating, and mysterious. Thanks to Yoga and the 12 Steps I can embrace all facets of life. On the mat the breath carries me through each pose. Off the mat each breath carries me through grief, gratitude, hope, despair, joy and pain, allowing for a full experience of Life.
BLAKEY ELKHART KORNFELD
YOGA FOR RECOVERY TRAINING DIRECTOR
Blakey’s mother took her to her first yoga class in 1987, as a troubled teen, the peace that she found on the mat had a profound impact on her life. In 2006 Blakey returned to a regular practice of Yoga as a way to improve her physical health and deepen her recovery from drug addiction; she knew then that she wanted to share the healing power of yoga with others seeking recovery. Since completing her first yoga teacher training, Blakey has been leading classes focused on the therapeutic value of yoga on the body and mind. She has completed several trainings in trauma sensitive yoga as well as 500hrs of yoga therapeutics. Blakey continues to deepen her understanding of the spirit/body connection through regular trainings and self study. She is delighted and honored to be a part of the Transformation Yoga Project.