When an approach to a challenge works, people tend to stick with it. When two different approaches to related challenges work, sometimes they create a harmony that enhances or even surpasses the benefit of either one alone.
Such is the case with Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, also known as Y12SR, a donation-based program that offers 12-step recovery meetings combined with yoga. In combination, yoga and 12-step recovery techniques merge into a unique type of somatic therapy, a body-centered approach which relies on the connection of mind and body for holistic healing.
Y12SR instructor Ayanna Parrent of Harwich fell in love with yoga while she was in rehab, and as she prepares to celebrate four years of sobriety, she attributes her transformation and success to yoga. She opened her own coaching and consulting business, B FREE Coaching and Consulting, in 2017. B FREE stands for Find, Recover, Evolve, Enjoy.
“Lots of people ask me how I maintain my positive attitude and healthy way of life,” Parrent said. “My response is always breath, stillness, yoga and meditation. I figured out that it was the one thing that could connect my breath to my body and my thoughts, which then meant I had control over how I felt. Once those things clicked for me, nothing was the same.”
The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to join” or “to unite.” This is often interpreted by practitioners of yoga as a joining of body and mind, or body and spirit, or even the union of one individual practitioner into a community of yogis. Yoga can also serve as a unifying force for those who have experienced isolation and loss as a result of addiction and associated trauma. As yoga helps to unite practitioners with their physical bodies and spirits, it can also unite them with a supportive community, a safe space to heal, and a means to change their lives through use of the 12 steps, a set of guiding principles that have helped those struggling with alcoholism and other types of addiction for decades.
Part of the pain experienced by those suffering from addiction is caused by its tendency to separate the one suffering, as well as children, partners and their loved ones, from their community. The community available through 12-step programs – such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) for those raised in alcoholic families or families touched by other addictions, Al-Anon/Alateen for family and friends of alcoholics, as well as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for those addicted to narcotics, and groups for addictions to gambling, sex and other behaviors – provide a means to address these addictions and their effects, along with safe, welcoming support.
With the vital importance of connection and community for those in recovery firmly in mind, Parrent expressed her concern for those in recovery as the COVID-19 pandemic has whittled away the ability to safely gather and receive the support so needed by those going through the 12 steps.
“As we know, 'The opposite of addiction is connection,' as (author and journalist) Johann Hari said so beautifully in his book, 'Lost Connections,' and his Ted Talk,” Parrent said. “If you take the connection away, people relapse.”
Parrent is not currently teaching Y12SR in her studio, but plans to do so when safety allows to help people stay connected, both to themselves and to each other. She holds a Refuge Recovery meeting on Tuesday nights at 6:30 p.m. which incorporates meditation and Buddhist practices of recovery. The free, donation-based meeting is open to everyone, no registration required.
Since Y12SR founder Nikki Myers began to offer Yoga of 12-Step Recovery intensives in 2003, demand has grown for this integrated practice which brings yoga and the support of 12-step communities together. Weekly meetings held by certified Y12SR leaders are offered across the country and grow in number every year. In addition, many addiction recovery treatment centers offer Y12SR as supportive therapy for those undergoing treatment for addiction.
Yoga provides a safe, quiet space in which to slow down, focus on the breath and appreciate the body-mind connection. In addition to the physical benefits of increased strength, balance and flexibility, for some practitioners yoga has been shown to decrease stress, relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, reduces pain, can increase sleep quality, and may even provide relief from migraines. Many yoga practitioners are surprised to find that the benefits of their practice extend well beyond the hour they spend on the mat in class every week, helping them to find calm and flexibility when navigating the challenges of their lives in unexpected ways.
“I believe that incorporating the 12 steps with yoga is one of best ways to stay healthy,” Parrent said. “The class is offered not just for those in recovery but for those who have been affected by addiction in any way. I have found that the joint conversations after yoga are empowering, healing and life changing. There is something about moving the body and then being able to connect with others either through sharing, breath, or stillness that is so powerful.”
Parrent, a licensed independent clinical social worker, certified school adjustment counselor, a Harwich Chamber of Commerce board member and a fitness instructor for over 10 years, offers individual movement and mindfulness coaching and therapy. Parrent currently has openings available at a sliding scale if needed, and will begin accepting insurance in January 2021. Visit bfreewell.com for more information, call 508-418-8504 or visit Parrent's B FREE Coaching and Consulting Facebook page at facebook.com/bfreewell.