My name is Tracey...and I am NOT an alcoholic.
However, I am not immune to the issues that alcohol and alcoholism causes. My family lineage is steeped in the stuff. So when Gwen R. approached me about co-teachng the Yoga4Sobriety teacher training with her, I certainly knew that I could bring some worthwhile information - in addition to yoga - to the table. As with most things, you never know the full extent of what you can or will learn from a situation until you have done it and time is under your belt. And although I had a rich amount of information to share with respect to yoga, I really did not understand the 12 Steps or how the program worked. Having taught as of this writing 11 rounds of this training, I can honestly say that it has changed me and helped me to become an even better person as well as a better yoga teacher. In the light of the 12 Steps, I figured I would relate how they correlate to my own yoga teachings and life...
Step 1: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."
The reality is that we are all powerless over many things. Control is an absolute illusion. As a teacher I am powerless over who shows up for my yoga classes or what they will walk in the door feeling like. Most yoga teachers figure out a sequence or plan a class before they walk in to do it. I do not. Sometimes I have a theme in mind or some readings I want to share, but even that sometimes just doesn't work for the moment. I teach my yoga teachers to be open and let go, to teach from the heart center or 4th chakra and not the ego or 3rd chakra. In my life I have learned - and continue to be reminded - that when I let my ego take control of a situation that something in my life will become unmanageable - and that isn't limited to when teaching yoga. We talk a lot about personal power, empowerment and strength and these are all important qualities. But being able to bend like a bamboo in the strong wind is even more key.
Step 2: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."
Through letting go of the mind, settling into the breath and becoming calm, I am restored to sanity. My mind can really create lots of problems for me if I let it. I used to worry about the studio being slow or classes not being well attended one week and really let myself get down. But I truly believe that what I am doing is for a purpose: it is my dharma. And so the Universe is going to get behind me to make it all happen...and it always does. When I am disconnected from this connection to Spirit my mind/ego has a field day and I find myself way off balance. So I keep coming back to the connection to Spirit, and continually teach my students ways to connect as well. Through this the class is taken to a deeper level - that which is way beyond the physical - and the effects are often quite powerful for people.
Step 3: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
One of the ways that we connect to Spirit in yoga is through chanting the Divine Name. When I do, I am in the flow with God/Universe/Spirit/Goddess...Consciousness...whatever you want to call it. I go through phases with chanting. I teach some then I get away from it. I now try to either consistently chant OR do a prayer in class. I have found this to be quiet powerful. When I come in to the studio, I try to light at least one candle and perhaps some incense (although it tends to bother some people, it is an offering for the alter and many students really love it). Invoking Spirit is an important factor in me facilitating a class that meets everyone's individual needs, but it is also a strong importance in my everyday life. When I do this, it is so that I am offering myself to work in accordance to God's will. And that always makes all the difference.
Step 4: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
Everyone that has taken yoga teacher training has read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and know of the 8-Limbs of yoga. But many teachers can't recite them 6 months later because they do not practice them on a regular basis. But the yamas and the niyamas are there for this purpose. These are the yogi's moral code and do's and don'ts. Living in this way brings authenticity to the teacher. And so I am reminded with this step to continue to look at these yoga codes of ethics and walk the walk. Lucky for me, each round of teacher training that I do, also invites me to explore these codes and ethics, so I am deeply aware of them and continue to work with them. Now they are etched into me like a piece of my own DNA. I am always aware of them and where I am faltering. It's quite a constant humbling experience to be that plugged in to moral inventory. Sometimes I can be a little hard on myself because of it. Then I try to remember to let that go because ultimately, thanks to God's grace, I have done some pretty good things too. I try to put those on my inventory list as well.
Step 5: "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."
Well, it is one thing to be aware of your short-comings, but it is entirely another one to say it out loud and share it with someone other than your dog who is going to love you regardless. We can beat ourselves up about things that we did wrong. We can worry about how someone is going to judge us. But when we share it and say it out loud, we discharge the power that it has over us. When I catch myself screwing up a yama or niyama, I discuss it with a tight circle of friends who meet every month. This is my community and I honor that time immensely. I cannot imagine a life where I did not have this outlet in which to share and let go of my wrongs. I highly recommend getting your own "circle of trust."
Step 6: "Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."
On the yoga mat we always come across issues. Maybe we can't lift off the mat high enough, or we can't stretch deep enough, but whatever it is, we will often struggle with it and "practice" the poses over and over again with the intention of "getting it." But anyone who has practiced yoga for some time will tell you, you truly "get" a pose the moment you give up the need to achieve it. It's letting go again. It is releasing the ego. It is trusting in the Universe - your Higher Power. And when we relinquish the desire, we often find that things show up.
Step 7: "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."
More and more and more humility...I always tell my students, "yoga is a truly humbling practice." Yoga is union or joining together. The state of Yoga has nothing to do with postures and breathing. But in our process of realigning with our light and our higher good, we have some house cleaning to do. You won't do it, though, if you always have good hair days. If you never faced a difficult situation then you would not understand the joy and bliss that comes when you finally have a good day. We get there eventually when we let go of ego, drop to our knees and employ the assistance of that higher power (in yoga we might say our higher self).
Step 8: "Made a list of persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all."
We have to come to realize that through our journey we may have hurt others. And most likely we have hurt ourselves too. The worst thing that can happen for a yoga teacher is for a student to get hurt as a result of their class or teaching. Yet it sometimes happens. I try not to push my students and I tell them to honor their body. Do they always listen? No. Am I sometimes at fault? Maybe, but I certainly try to not be. I know I am not perfect. In my real life it is the same. Inadvertently I may have hurt another person. When I realize this I am always willing to apologize and release that energy. I've come to understand that the very last thing I ever want to do is hold on to negative energy from the past.
Step 9: "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
Well this isn't just being willing to know when you are wrong, but this is actually making direct apologies for it. At home the fuse can be even shorter with loved ones. If I get into an argument or are short with a family member or friend I feel horrible and make it a point to remember not to let it go unsaid. I used to spend way too much time holding on to powerful and poisonous feelings with respect to others. I no longer wish to have that energy hanging over me. I release it as soon as I can by making swift apologies, and when I cannot do so directly, I write it down and burn it to release it through fire of transformation.
Step 10: "Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it."
So, this gets easier the more you do it. It is an ongoing journey. In yoga we talk about the causes of suffering. I personally do not want to suffer. I realize that being human I am going to sometimes. But I do not want to be driving the vehicle that causes it. When I make a mistake in class, I say it out loud, we laugh about it, and we move on. Case closed - nothing more to see here. Move it along.
Step 11: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."
Meditation. This is key. What is yoga without meditation? What is meditation? Well, the ways to meditate are many, but at the end of the day it is become 'one' with the object in which you are concentrating on. The idea is for all other thoughts, ego and selfish desires to fall away so that we can be in the effortless flow of consciousness. Ultimately we come to realize that everything is connected in Oneness and that we are a part of this effortless energetic flow. We just need to work continually to be in alignment with it.
Step 12: "Having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
Yoga has truly enriched and changed my life for the better. I knew this was why I had to teach it to people. And the more I teach, the more I want to help people. I have more irons in the fire with different communicates that can benefit from yoga. Once you have this calling, you just want to do it and help people. The more you practice or teach, the more authentic the practice becomes for you.
Even though I am not an alcoholic or in the program myself, I can relate to many of the steps. I have dug deeper into my own issues just by coming to know the steps in greater detail. I certainly believe that every person can benefit from learning the 12-steps. They are a great tool for doing inner work and continuing to heal and become a better person.
Yoga and the 12 steps fit together. You don't have to be an addict to realize the benefits. Maybe you'll want to drop by a Yoga4Sobriety class and see for yourself.
In love & light.