Today we are talking with Gwen R., an inspiring woman in long term recovery. She is a certified yoga instructor and specializes in Yoga 4 Sobriety. Additionally, she is the owner of twelvebeads.com, a website that sells prayer beads to help you put prayer and meditation into practice.
What is Yoga 4 Sobriety and how can you engage safely when pursuing yoga in addiction recovery? Gwen shines some light here and provides us with some ways to get back to the inner work of a daily prayer or yoga practice. We ask her more about prayer, yoga, and meditation here… and invite your questions and comments for Gwen at the end.
ADDICTION BLOG: Hi Gwen. It’s great to join you in the virtual space. I’m going to start with a question of personal and timely interest to me: How can you kick start a prayer or meditation practice in recovery? Do you have suggestions for those of us that have fallen away from practicing the 11th Step?
GWEN R: It really has to come from within. In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions page 105 it says “All of us, without exception, pass through times when we can pray only with the greatest exertion of will.”
Most importantly, we should not beat ourselves up over the struggle to do this. Page 105 continues to say “When these things happen we should not think to ill of ourselves. We should simply resume prayer as soon as we can, doing what we know to be good for us.”
I personally have found being too rigid with this practice is self defeating. Being gentle with yourself and exerting the effort to practice prayer and meditation each day doing the best you can is all that is needed. Joining a meditation and or prayer group can be very helpful. Additionally attending a religious service or yoga class can help as well.
ADDICTION BLOG: In your experience, what is the core value of a prayer?
GWEN R: For me, the core value of prayer gets me out of myself and lets me focus on the needs of others. My experience with repeatedly reciting the Third Step prayer, Seventh Step prayer, and Eleventh Step prayer has taught me it is all about helping others. At Step Three I am asking to take away my difficulties so I may help others. I am praying to remove my defects of character using the Seventh Step prayer but it is the ones that stand in the way of my usefulness to others. In the Eleventh Step prayer it is all about letting my stuff go and being there for the other person.
ADDICTION BLOG: You’ve said, “A friend told me that it takes six repetitions of something for the brain to truly process it. When I prayed I started to repeat my prayers six times using my fingers to keep track of my count.” First, Why six?
GWEN R: I wish I could answer “why six.” My friend is trained in many types of bodywork including cranial sacral therapy. When she told me this I jumped into the idea of the repetitions. I believe repetition can somehow change our neural pathways in the brain. To be honest if she had told me to stand on my head and sing a song in order to feel better I would have. In my further seeking I found repetitive prayer and mantras have been used for thousands of years and in many cultures. In conclusion I have to say if it is working keep working it.
ADDICTION BLOG: Second, in lieu of prayer beads or our own fingers, what else can we use at home to keep track of prayers?
GWEN R: Originally pebbles and seeds were used to keep track of prayers. The rich and elite used gemstones. You could collect acorns, use toothpicks, cheerios, buttons, or any other small item you have several of.
ADDICTION BLOG: You’ve also mentioned that you came to yoga through your meditation practice. Can you tell us a little more about how realizations manifest during meditation?
GWEN R: It is absolutely amazing what happens to me when I am quiet and still for any amount of time. I began yoga because I would get uncomfortable sitting for periods of time. If I sat in a cozy chair the ability to slump down and get sleepy was to easy. Sitting up straight and being physically present was what I was aiming for. Much of my creativity has come from being still and quiet for a period of time. Even as little as five minutes can be helpful. Yoga has enabled my body to be present without discomfort during meditation.
ADDICTION BLOG: OK, so now about Yoga 4 Sobriety. I’m intrigued. I’ve practiced Astanga yoga and been exposed to Iyengar yoga. So, how do you combine recovery and yoga?
GWEN R: There are many philosophies in yoga that go hand in hand with recovery. To give you an idea, ahimsa. Ahimsa is non-harming. When we get sober or let go of any addiction we begin the practice of ahimsa. We stop harming ourselves and others with our behaviors. I may do a class based on ahimsa and string the idea of not harming yourself through the class. I teach the students to listen to their bodies and honor this practice. I will encourage the students to go to their edge and let go if they start to struggle. The idea is to bring the awareness to the physical body to fully embrace all facets of our recovery..
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you need a instructor to practice Yoga 4 Sobriety?
GWEN R: If you have no experience with yoga you should work with a teacher. On any level, recovery based or not. It is important for your safety to learn the postures correctly. If you already have a yoga practice you can incorporate many recovery ideas into your practice. A very popular one, even in non recovery based classes, is letting go. Surrender. You can do this in child’s pose and forward folds and it feels wonderful to just let go physically.
ADDICTION BLOG: For those of us looking for a second spiritual awakening, under what condition have you found that this is most likely to occur?
GWEN R: I was driven to my second spiritual awakening. It was only through pain, as when I first came into recovery, that I found this awakening. I guess I had gotten comfortable in my recovery and was coasting. Coasting got me to a place of being very sick emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It is only by the grace of God I did not pick up.
ADDICTION BLOG: In other words, do we need a breakdown in order to open up? Or can this be avoided?
GWEN R: Pain is not a requirement, that is just how it happened for me. Slow and steady practice can have the same results, they just happen slowly over time instead of being hit over the head. More like a flower opening instead of the rug being pulled out from under. I continue to have small awakenings all the time.
ADDICTION BLOG: Finally, for those of us needing to get back to the inner work, do you have some words of wisdom?
GWEN R: Seek, seek, seek. If you are having trouble on your own I would highly recommend joining a group or taking a class that is about spirituality and or prayer. Go on a retreat without your friends. Visit an ashram. Enroll in a bible study. Start a spiritual book club or your own meditation group. Never stop seeking new ways to connect with your higher power and the people around you. Be open to events happening in your community. Get involved in your spiritual growth. I firmly believe God works through people. For me being involved with other spiritual seekers has provided substantial growth.
ADDICTION BLOG: Would you like to add anything else?
GWEN R: Yes, I would love to say that we all are on our own journeys. There are so many ways to deepen your spiritual practices. My experience may not be yours. The point is to continue walking your walk and trust the process. Have faith and pray hard. No matter how hard it may feel, it always gets better.