Interview With Nikki Myers, Founder of Y12SR
Nikki Myers is a yoga therapist, teacher and somatic experiencing practitioner who founded CITYOGA School of Yoga and Health in Indianapolis, IN. She launched Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) in 2004 based on her own personal struggles with addiction.
The Power of Yoga to Support Recovery
I had the pleasure of meeting Nikki at the She Recovers event in New York City, in May. She gave a keynote talk on codependency in addiction and the power of yoga to support recovery. I wanted to learn more about what she spoke of and had the pleasure of interviewing her.
Let’s kick off with a food question: What have you had for breakfast today?
Nikki: Lemon water, seasonal berries, and coffee. Later delicious banana bread.
Moving to your story, you had treatment for a substance addiction in 1987, when you were introduced to the 12-step program. You said it absolutely saved your life. What did your life look like back then? And from what were you saved?
Nikki: To answer the last questions first, I was pretty much saved from myself.
Twelve step programs speak about jails, institutions, and death. All three of these things are familiar to me.
The death was not only witnessing amazing people around me die from the disease of addiction, it was also the death of my own soul.
By the time I walked into the rooms of a 12 step program, I was in bad shape, barely putting a sentence together well.
In those rooms, I found people who truly did love me until I could learn how to love myself.
After eight years in recovery you relapsed and ‘relived hell’. When you rejoined 12-step based recovery, you re-immersed yourself into the study of yoga. What was it about yoga that intrigued you enough to relinquish the 12 step program, in favor of using only yoga philosophy and practices as your support?
Nikki: I fell in love with the discipline and the mind/body connection I experienced from practicing Ashtanga yoga. However, it was when I had the opportunity to teach yoga to middle schoolers that I made the decision to let go of the 12 step program and use yoga as my sole support.
After witnessing the awareness and focus the practice engendered in the kids, I began to fully immerse myself in yoga philosophy.
I found so many similarities to the 12 step program, that I decided that all I needed was yoga.
After four years of that practice, you relapsed. You talked of your discovery: “I realized at least for me, there had to be a union between the cognitive approach to addiction recovery offered by 12-step programs, and the somatic approach to healing offered through yoga.” Can you elaborate on that union and what the somatic approach brings to 12 step recovery?
Nikki: The 12 step program offers a very structured way to cognitively look at what yoga calls avidya and what the 12 step program calls ‘stinkin thinkin.’
Avidya is misperception or false understanding, usually as it relates to ourselves. The 12 step program takes a deep and pragmatic cognitive approach to this investigation.
I found this approach very useful for the radical honesty it takes for sustainable recovery.
In Y12SR we speak about a ‘platform for sustainable addiction recovery.’ What a therapeutic yoga practice can add to the platform is a way to support release of ‘the issues living in our tissues’ through the effective use of asana, pranayama and meditation.
In an interview with LA yoga, when asked about how yoga is supportive practice, you said “There are many ways that yoga is supportive for me: Asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation, and sangha (community) are all tools for deeper connection and integration of body, energy, intellect, behavior, and heart. When those align, my experience is that a shift occurs that orients every dimension of my being toward a state of balance and wholeness.” How does a state of integration, balance, and wholeness, impact one’s recovery?
Nikki: In a state of wholeness, I am more prone to speaking, thinking and acting in a way that supports my values…for me, this is the definition of integrity.
One of the things that I’ve personally realized is that I am prone to relapse when I am out of integrity with myself.
Moving on to Y12SR, you said that it is a practice of connecting the dots between the ancient wisdom of yoga philosophy and practices, the very practical tools from the 12-step program, the neuroscience relative to how addiction affects the brain, and trauma healing. How do you connect the dots?
Nikki: The Y12SR curriculum looks deeply at each of these and their relationship with each other. Understanding the connections between the pathways in the brain affected by trauma and addiction, and using that knowledge along with yoga philosophy and practices and the practical tools from 12 step programs, supports developing a foundation for sustainable recovery.
I had the pleasure of listening to you speak at the event She Recovers NYC. During your talk about co-dependency, you said “I assert that co-dependency is the root of all addiction.” Can you elaborate on that?
Nikki: I assert that codependency is sorely misunderstood. It is often thought to focus very simplistically on a dependency on another person.
The definition that we use in Y12SR is that codependency is the disease of the lost self. We lose connection with ourselves. Anytime that I look outside myself for what can only be fulfilled from the inside, I’m in a codependent relationship with whatever that ‘it’ is. Using that definition, every addict is a codependent.
I’d like to explore more about the physical aspect of your recovery. How has your relationship with food changed in recovery? And how has your relationship with your physical body changed?
Nikki: My relationship with food totally changed when I truly comprehended that an object, like for instance an apple, when outside me is just that…an object. However, once I ingest the apple, it becomes me. That comprehension changed everything.
Now, as I recognize that there really is no separation between the body/mind/spirit, I listen and observe my physicality completely differently. I’ve relinquished the expectation that the body/mind/spirit should be today the way it was yesterday.
Lastly, what are your top five recovery tools?
Nikki: These are 5 tools I use often. They are not in a specific order, rather their use depends on the what is happening in life in the moment.
Grounding and breath, the serenity prayer, sangha (meetings), continuously cultivating gratitude, and working the steps as a way to honestly assess and deepen the spiritual principles that underlie them.
You can find out more about Y12SR on the website.
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