“Life is sweet,” says Durga Leela in her soft Scottish brogue.
“What we really are looking for in life is sweetness, and the sweetness is all around us. It’s just that we’ve reduced it to what we put in our mouths.”
Durga, a Sivananda-trained Yoga teacher who created and teaches Yoga of Recovery internationally, came to Yoga and Ayurveda shortly after sidelining some of her personal addictions using traditional Twelve-Step programs. When she was in early sobriety, a medical counselor suggested that she use an antidepressant drug, but she saw the irony, felt the miracle and looked to the long-term future instead of dragging the past into her new life. Instead of using prescription drugs, Durga found solutions in Yoga and Ayurveda for the depression and nicotine dependency that had followed her into sobriety.
Addiction to drugs, alcohol, food or people is recognized by most of the medical and psychological community as a disease, and considered by Twelve-Step programs to be a disease of the spirit as well as the body.
“The Twelve Steps of the AA movement gave this disease a very unusual label as a spiritual malady,” Durga says. “It is beyond the physician to cure; there must be a spiritual component.” Unfortunately, both the addict and his or her culture tend to blame the patient for having the disease of addiction.
“If you have cancer, people assume that you will take all the treatment in your power to overcome it.” Durga says. “There are hospitals, and people go to hospitals to get cured. Cancer is seen as the uninvited guest. But with addiction, even the person who has it thinks that they did something to bring it on themselves and that they continue to do something to bring it on themselves. That’s the down side of what we’re dealing with – the stigma, the shame.”
“Your family is ashamed. The addict has the personal and social shame. Physicians in the hospitals are not really people you can turn to. The treatment centers are outside the hospital. Sitting to the side of this is the incredible Twelve-Step system.”
Even when addicts are cured of their physical dependency – whether to drugs, alcohol, food or people – they find that they still crave “something.” Durga and a lot of other people in the recovery community believe that “something” is connection to the divine and to community.
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous, perhaps the best-known of the Twelve-Step programs, recommends that its members come to believe in a God of their own understanding. Just as Yoga emphasizes the importance of uniting the individual with the divine, AA emphasizes the importance of harnessing one’s will to a “Higher Power,” something more than the “little self.”
“In the Twelve-Step model, one’s Higher Power is loosely defined,” Durga says. Because addicts often come into recovery with unhappy associations with God and religion, a loose definition can be a good way – often the only way – to start, but it may not serve the person over the long-term.
“What happens because of that loose definition is that people wind up with a loose connection,” Durga says. “If we firm up our idea of who the Higher Power is that we are in relationship with, then our connection will be stronger when we need it.”
Like Bhakti Yoga, Twelve-Step programs advocate daily devotional practice. And as in Raja Yoga, taking time out for prayer and meditation establishes a conscious contact with one’s Higher Power and helps one resist temptation when it arises. “It’s easier to make the connection (when the need for help arises) if you’ve worn a path to the door,” Durga says.
Raised in the Roman Catholic religion, Durga says she still holds Jesus as a divinity. “But I was drawn to the female, and I was drawn to service. I made a rock garden for Mary. I had a Bhakti nature. Pitta kicked in in my teen years, and when people wouldn’t answer my questions, I was disgusted. I felt that the people in the system had failed me, and my Jnana nature kicked in.
“The aspect of divinity that I’ve related to for some time now is Durga (her namesake). But nature is also an acceptable form of divinity. If your concept of God is the river, make it the river. It’s all good; it’s all God. It will help in your stability, in your sobriety.”
Like Karma Yoga, AA strongly urges its members to participate in selfless service to those in need, saying, “To keep it, we have to give it away.” When new people come into AA, more experienced members steer them into ways that they can serve the group.
Depth psychology, while potentially helpful to the addict or alcoholic, sometimes over complicates the road to recovery. Don’t think either the retreat or the course is just for the alcoholic/addict, or just for the professional (therapist or addiction counselor). It’s for all of us. It deals with the myriad behaviors and habits that stand as obstacles in our path to deeper understanding of our true nature.
Durga’s 10-day certification course gives counselors and Yoga teachers “the skills to introduce the healing potential of the holistic sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga into your own life and (the lives of) those around you.”
In the three-day retreat, Durga Leela shows participants how to apply the principals of Yoga and Ayurveda to their sobriety in ways that support it and make it “sweeter.”
Yoga of Recovery Retreat will be held June 20-23, 2013. The retreat will address every age group and all addictive and self-destructive tendencies. It will explore the root causes of addiction and healing focusing on healing the physical body, strengthening the mind and cultivating Sattva—peace and serenity.
The Yoga of Recovery Certification Course for Counselors & Teachers will be held September 29-October 6, 2013. The certification course combines Ayurveda and Yoga with traditional recovery tools for a holistic mind, body and spirit approach to addictive and self-destructive behaviors. It includes Ayurveda workshops to understand addiction through the doshas, Tools of Recovery workshops that integrate Yoga practices with the Twelve Steps, and Open Twelve-Step meetings in which those in recovery talk about their experience and those not in recovery can find out what those meetings are like.
Prema Lynn Felder empowers people living with cancer and chronic illness to take charge of their recovery with Yoga. She teaches Yoga for cancer patients in research studies and ongoing classes for patients, their family members and friends at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston- Salem, NC. She is the co-director of the Yoga Gallery where she teaches a variety of classes, and she is the author of the DVD, Gentle Yoga for Cancer Patients: Reconnecting Body, Mind and Spirit, which she created in association with WFU/BMC. She is also a writer, editor and public speaker whose most popular keynote is “The Big Yes!” She can be contacted through www.artsofyoga.com.
(by Prema Lynn Felder, from the August, 2011 IYTA Newsletter)