Could yoga be part of the solution to addiction?
Several Tulsa programs have seen success with the inclusion of yoga alongside more traditional therapy.
Nicole Peltier Hall leads a Raven Yoga class, which is designed for those battling addiction. Raven Yoga focuses on simple movement and allows students to reflect and tune in to their bodies.
For those working to overcome addiction, yoga can be a refreshing and powerful way to reconnect and focus. Yoga for Recovery classes are available at some Tulsa-area nonprofits, a few treatment centers and even traditional yoga studios.
Many treatment centers and social service providers have embraced this practice by including yoga and mindfulness classes alongside traditional substance abuse treatment programs. Specialized training for yoga instructors — which can range from $1,000 to $1,200 per session per instructor — is supported by local philanthropic agencies such as the Hardesty Family Foundation, which has grant-funded these programs for nearly three years.
“I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years, and there is empirical evidence that it lowers stress and anxiety, helps with depression and gives people an overall sense of well-being, which are major drivers when dealing with recovery, domestic abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Michelle Hardesty, executive director of the Hardesty Family Foundation.
“What yoga teaches you is that when you’re on your mat, what happens and how you react is the same way you can approach situations when you’re off the mat. You can learn those behaviors and take them out into the real world.”
An alternative treatment with very real benefits
One of the agencies the Hardesty Family Foundation funds is 12&12 Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center. Some 22 yoga instructors teach Yoga for Recovery classes to supplement patients’ aftercare, says Brad Collins, the center’s director of community relations, research and efficacy.
Collins emphasizes that the center doesn’t advocate yoga as a substitute for other types of professional medical and counseling treatment for addiction, but he believes it can be a helpful tool that can aid a person in recovery.
“It’s not this or that; it’s this and that,” he says. “The more types of resources someone has, the more opportunity they have for long-term, sustainable recovery.”
Hardesty offers the analogy that recovery is like a piece of Swiss cheese. “If you layer your cheese, eventually all the holes get covered,” she explains. “One is your (addiction recovery) program, one is meditation, another is yoga. It is good to have many support systems in place when dealing with addiction so when one fails or is insufficient you have others as a backup.”
Collins says his interest in Yoga for Recovery is personal; he has been in recovery from addiction for 21 years, and he says adding yoga “took my recovery to a new level.”
“I became a fan personally, then did the research and the intentional work.”
In 2015, 12&12 began offering yoga two to three times a week. Now it offers yoga classes every day and has added meditation classes and a mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) program. In partnership with the Hardesty Family Foundation, Collins says instructors from places such as Colorado, Washington and San Jose, California, were brought to Tulsa to train 12&12 instructors.
“We see the evidence-based value in every single nuance in yoga-based recovery and MBRP we can get our hands on,” he says.
Local yoga instructor battles addiction, and helps other do the same
Nicole Peltier Hall, owner of the Yoga Room, says her yoga journey led her to Yoga for Recovery.
“My story is so different. I started with yoga and then found myself in recovery,” says Peltier Hall, who identifies as a recovering alcoholic. “For me, I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years, teaching movement for 18 years, and I’ve now been teaching recovery yoga for two. Usually it’s the other way around.”
She created a class called Raven Yoga, which she offers for all levels each Sunday at 4:15 p.m. at the Yoga Room. The class focuses on addressing negative or unhealthy habit patterns, and language is geared more toward how participants are living outside of the yoga class. She says the goals at Raven Yoga — the physical expression of recovery — are different than those in a typical yoga class.
Peltier Hall says she named the class for the raven — a symbol of freedom and flying.
“When I see a bird flying, it represents the ultimate freedom,” she says. “Recovery is rediscovering and uncovering who you really are — as if you were in a cage. It’s like being a butterfly under a blanket, and when in recovery, you feel finally uncovered.”
The class isn’t the typical power yoga or hot yoga class that many people use for physical fitness. People don’t have to bend themselves into difficult poses to participate.“It’s very simple physical movement; we’re really kind,” Peltier Hall says.
“People don’t want their butts kicked in recovery — they need it, but they’ll often reject it. So we need to take them where they are willing to go: gentle self-love and reflecting.” Peltier Hall quotes Yoga of 12 Step Recovery creator Nikki Myers: “The issues live in the tissues.”
All students have to do is walk through the doors of the Yoga Room, which moved after 17 years to 4329 S. Peoria Ave., Suite 350.
Recovery yoga versus fitness yoga
Because the students are in recovery, “We protect them in a way,” she says. “The words we use are different. I’m in recovery, so I know what they’re going through.”
Hardesty says students of Yoga for Recovery can use physical challenges they experience in the class to help with life situations.
“If you’re holding a pose and it starts to get really uncomfortable, you can hear yourself start to say, ‘I am not good enough. Do I just quit?’” she says. “But you learn those techniques to react to negative stimuli. You start to say, ‘If I just breathe and relax, I know this is only temporary.’ Then you can cope with anything and take that into the real world.”
Peltier Hall says Raven Yoga is a powerful tool to help recovering addicts pause, breathe and become tuned into their bodies and minds. It teaches the idea of the “sacred pause” to address cravings, using these moments as an opportunity to make a choice.
“In general, people take yoga because they want to be fitter,” she says. “In recovery yoga, it’s re-entering the body. When you’re addicted, you leave your body — you leave the building, we like to say. They come here and they don’t know how they feel because they’ve been vacant for so long. Yoga is coming home.”