The Bigger Yes: A Workshop For Self-Reflection And Continued Sobriety
By Nikita Mehta
For most of the events that I attend for SF Yoga Magazine, my turn-around time on the articles is 2-3 days. I can’t wait to get home and write about the lecture/ yoga class/ music program. I want to share the experience with all of you as soon as possible. Last Sunday, October 8th, I attended Laura McKowen’s workshop ‘The Bigger Yes’ at Love Story Yoga. The large studio space was packed with (what I presume to be) women in recovery who have used yoga as a tool for their continued sobriety. The workshop was part yin yoga, part self-reflection and journaling, with an added Kundalini meditation (that we live streamed and was done by Holly Whitaker, founder of Hip Sobriety). For the last part of the workshop, Laura had us face a stranger and stare into their eyes for 10 minutes (yep, I did this twice in 2 days with two different beautiful souls). I cried, my partner cried and at the end of the interaction, we promised to meet at the Sacré-coeur (a church in Pairs) soon. The entire event was amazing and uplifting and I left feeling like I have removed some of the blocks that I so easily hide behind when a break-through is on the horizon.
I went back to my SF house and packed for a few days at my Calistoga house. I was going home to teach yoga and go to Santa Rosa for a few appointments. I drove down 19th, past the park, where people were still jamming out to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, over the Golden Gate Bridge and down the 101. I got off on Mark West Springs Rd and stopped to get ice cream right next to the Mark West Estates. I drove up and over the hill at 9:15pm. I passed Safari West and the Petrified Forest and all the houses on Franz Valley School Road. I drove into Calistoga and turned onto Tubbs Lane, my beautiful street. This is the place I have fallen down only to rise back up, where I have created sangha and memories for the past decade. And two hours after I made that journey, all of those things that I passed, places and landmarks that I have driven past so many times that I take them for granted, were on fire. I stood in my backyard and watched the fire rage and grow as the 70 mph winds pushed them farther and farther away from Calistoga. I packed a bag when the fire circled back around and threatened my last escape route up into Middletown. I told you all of this in the context of a review for Laura’s workshop for one reason. I am still sober.
That might not sound like a miracle to you, but if you are a person who has struggled with addiction, I think you can understand. Four years ago, heck, two years ago, this event would have driven me to drink. But I have laid down a foundation for my sobriety now, and I did it with the help of people like Laura and Holly Whitaker (and their amazing podcast, The Home Podcast) and AA, and yoga and community. Laura’s workshop was a reminder that I don’t have to go back to hiding behind something fake, even in the face of disaster, because I have a community of real all around me. If you are a seeker of light and you are struggling with addiction, I am your community. This is just the first of many articles in which we will talk about the interaction of sobriety and yoga. Stay tuned, but for now, follow Laura and Holly on Instagram (@laura_mckowen and @hipsobriety), download the podcast (The Home Podcast) and read on for my very short interview with these amazing women (the rest of the interview is being used for another piece… patience, grasshopper.)
There seems to be a rise in the number of people who are integrating yoga into the recovery modalities. We saw it at Wanderlust a few year ago with Tommy Rosen and Noah Levine, and the response was amazing. Why do you think it is so important for yoga to be a part of a recovery journey?
Laura: I think the biggest thing is that, often times when we experience addiction, all the times, we disconnect from our bodies. And for good reasons, trauma, it’s not a safe place, for women we usually disconnect with our bodies at a certain age. And our bodies hold this deep intelligence, and yoga allows us to be in our bodies, which allows us to release a lot of our stories, a lot of our trauma. It allows us the safe space to confront some of the things that we have been guarding against by using or drinking. And for me there is so much more healing in that. The discharge of trauma stored in up your body. More than any therapy or anything else. So yoga is just particularly effective because you have to slow down a little bit and it integrates the mind and the body. But other things work to. But for addiction it’s just particularly effective because it allows you to release the trauma, really its trauma. Lots of study have data that show the connection between trauma and addiction. It always starts with trauma. Or almost always. But if you can address that, it allows people to release. But also to make your body somewhere you can be and breathe. And give you confidence to get through some discomfort. Because just sitting can be uncomfortable, especially if you have been addicted to something. To just stop. And yoga allows the space to do that, to build the muscle.
Holly: I think there are two ways to answer that. First, people seek transcendence through drugs and alcohol, it is a means for people, and it is a misguided attempt at transcendence. One of the parts of why it is important is that it channels something that we are seeking through artificial means, and it channels it back to the actual nature of being a seeker. I think the most important thing is that it is a channeling and that it makes sense. For me it made sense because I wanted to push the limits of myself with drugs and alcohol, this allowed me to push the limits of myself. And it has an infinite capacity. So I think that’s the first.. But the second, I don’t think it’s new that in recovers, Y12SR has been happening for a long time. A lot of teachers, my teacher, Stephanie Synder, Tommy Rosen, so many teachers have found or been attracted to being a seeker. Second, I am into Kundalini yoga. And Kundalini not only allowed me to find that transcendence I was talking about but also to balance my endocrine system. And also helped me work with my anxiety in ways, and to rebuild my pre-frontal cortex. It helped me to, most importantly, stay in deeply uncomfortable states on my yoga mat, without running, which then in turn helped me to stay in deeply uncomfortable states in real life. The most important part of it, the thing that works the most and the thing that most people can benefit from in a yoga practice for people who are in recovery is coming up against our edge, at the point where we usually give up or give in or stop, and actually staying with ourselves and the burn, the tapas. The burn of the change. It is something that we learn on our mats and take around with us for the rest of our lives.
Did you come to yoga before you got sober?
Laura: Yes. I started taking yoga and teaching about 10 years before I got sober. I was just drawn to it. I was drawn to the physical practice first, and then I was drawn to, I knew there was something there that I wanted.. I have always been a seeker, I’ve always been interested in psychology and philosophy, and I knew there was something deeper. So it was a tool that I started to develop before I got sober. But by the end of my drinking, I couldn’t do yoga anymore. I couldn’t be with myself like that. But it became different when I got sober. I can show up for myself in this way. I can be with myself, I can be with other people. The other things is that it’s really lonely when you first get sober. And the yoga community tends to have a whole lot of people who are dealing with sh*t, it’s not always addiction, its stuff. There are always people in the rooms that are dealing with stuff. So it’s a little bit of community too. But it’s more than that. I like to say that I keep meeting myself on the mat. Meeting myself and meeting myself and meeting myself, again and again. And when you are getting sober you meet yourself all over again, sometimes for the first time. But it really teaches you, we are really just doing this breath by breath. And you asked what the connection was, we think we are our mind voice, the critic, and the thing that is running the show. And when we slow down enough, or we are physically pushed enough in a practice, our mind has to stop and we can tune in to different intelligence. Our body intelligence and our soul intelligence.
Holly: I started practicing yoga in 2003, I started taking Bikram yoga when I came to San Francisco and I started practicing Vinyasa, and did that for years before I got sober. Kundalini was new to me when I got sober.
How did you two meet and come up with the idea for the Home Podcast?
Laura: We actually met on Instagram in 2015, so 2 years ago. We met on Instagram because we were both talking about sober stuff. I wasn’t sober yet, she had been sober for like a year and we just became really good friends almost immediately. And we always had the idea that we wanted to work together somehow, we just really didn’t know what that meant. I begged her for like 6 months to do the podcast and she was just not interested at all, she just really didn’t have time for it. And she also just didn’t see the point. And then one day she was listening to Dear Sugar podcast and the way they were responding to a question she was like, “oh my gosh, I can answer so much better than that, I have something to say about that.” And so she called me and said, “Okay we are doing this.” And we always knew it would be about addiction and you know this world that we are both in. But we wanted to have the conversations that no one else was having, you know not like going to a meeting and having 12 step conversations. We wanted to talk about everything through the lens of this thing that we have experienced. So covering everything, sex and relationships and money. All of it, through this lens. And so we started it and Home came from, we came up with all kinds of names, but Home ultimately went out because this is like coming Home.
To learn more about workshops happening at Love Story Yoga visit www.lovestoryyoga.com.