By Jennifer Miller
I can feel the positive and upbeat energy as I enter the Recovery House to be with ’The Girls”. The veterans, who have improved greatly during our sessions, along with three new girls, are excited and ready to go.One of the ladies, a recovering heroin addict who joined us for the first time last week, was all smiles. I looked at her as she stretched and said:
“Yes! How good does that feel?”
I have observed, in my own practice and now with these women in recovery, that the ancient art of yoga has a primal, and even mystical effect on people.
There are many different yoga schools and philosophies today, but they all are based on the discipline of quieting the mind in order to first accomplish and then perfect the movements and postures of the yoga practice.
I shared with the ladies the asana that I was currently working on in my ashtanga third series practice. I have spent several months trying to perfect Urdvha Kukkutasana (translated as “upward rooster”), which is a series of three postures requiring a great deal of “bandha” (interior body lock) strength.
After finishing the third pose, one of the girls says ”you could probably take us all out”. I am continually amazed by the honesty of the comments by these women in transition in their lives. She had observed the power that is generated in yoga, strength that does not come from bulging muscles but from focus and form.
I explained that if we can get past our ego, and observe through “witness consciousness” what the asana teaches us about our physical selves, we will succeed in connecting mind-body-spirit. Several of the girls have an “aha! moment” and compare the yoga asanas to the 12 Steps of Recovery.
One of the pregnant women came up to me and stated that she really wants to stop smoking. She looks up at me and asks: “What can I do?”. I tell her that she must get herself centered right before she starts to smoke. Then say to yourself:
No Guilt, No Judgment, No Shame.
I told her to light a candle in a ceremonial ritual and breathe in. Then, when she lights the cigarette, to be present as the smoke is inhaled into her lungs and be aware of the sensations as it moves through her body. Without distraction, be one with the smoke as she inhales and exhales again.
No Guilt, No Judgment, No Shame.
Tears were streaming down her face. She understands that there is a beautiful baby growing and developing inside her. To honor herself and her child, she must honor her body. She knows that I am not judging her actions, just wanting her to focus on what is best for her health and future.
I have everyone working on Bakasana, the “crow pose”. It requires balance, and builds confidence and self-esteem as you master it. One of the girls who has struggled and resisted it for months has just nailed it and the group cheers. I am so excited that I am jumping up and down and clapping. I run to my car so I can take a picture of her and how incredible she looks. She can barely speak because of her emotions at the moment. I want her to truly feel the success that she has worked for.
As we near the end, I demonstrate the importance of the alignment of the “hasta” (hands) and ”pada” (feet). I stand on my mat and recite the Sanscrit prayers that begin and end my practice. They have become very interested in the spiritual side of yoga, which again connects them with the primal and mystical aspects of yoga.
I bring my hands to namaste, center myself, and after several deep breaths, close my eyes and chant the prayers. ”Om…” (or “aum”), which is comes from “aumkara” (om syllable), translated from Sanskrit to mean “that which is sounded out loudly”. I open my eyes and can feel their energy, as if they have been enlightened from within.
“How did you learn that?”, they asked. I explain the meaning behind the words in the prayers and invite them to learn and memorize it. I close with meditation and we end a beautiful session with insight and connection. I know in my heart that yoga is changing these young women’s lives.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller