She teaches Yoga to women who are recovering addicts, many of them recent mothers, at a Southern California Recover Home.
Sept. 10, 2012
I am greeted by the Director of the Recovery House as I walk in. She gives me the “heads up” that a new girl will be joining the class and might be a challenge. I thank her and am soon swept up in the activity of children, babies and moms all bustling about.
I brought some props to help the pregnant women with some of the poses. The group has been difficult to mentor and teach because the girls are in such varied conditions and states: pregnant, postpartum and mothers with newborn and very young babies. As usual the returnees are chatty and excited to see me.
The “new girl” is sitting on the couch and does not join the other girls whose mats are set up and ready to start. She looks emaciated, with bad and rotted teeth, acne, and sickly. I look into her eyes, which are the windows to her soul, and when I smile I see her respond.
I ask gently: ”Would like to join us?” She gets up slowly, and with a startlingly sunken chest, drags herself to her mat.
We start off with Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation), where I demonstrate what the movement and breathing look like. The other girls are very accepting of her, and the group’s collective excitement and humor once again unfolds. I feel grateful to know that I might make a difference in there lives.
The ladies alway have medical questions during the class. One pregnant girl has placenta previa, which, I tell her, I had with the birth of my second son. I reassure her that her baby has every chance to be born healthy. She is very heart-centered and I tell her to think thoughts of love and have confidence that all will be well.
I am quickly asked if flax-seed will make a recently pregnant woman’s stomach flat. “I wish it was that easy…”. I share with everyone the benefits of my health shake, and will bring copies of the recipe next week.
Moving through more poses, I can see the new girl is a natural yogini, with good flexibility and form. She tells me that her mom is a yoga teacher and was constantly telling her that yoga would help her get off her heroin habit. I am stunned as she opens up about her drug addictions but must refocus the group on the yoga practice.
The topic of mindfulness comes up as one of the girls tells the group that she often feels dizzy and sick during yoga. I explain to everyone the importance of a mind-body connection, where we must listen to and nurture our bodies. She reflects briefly and then states that she smokes, eats poorly and has been abusing her body for years.
This is so often the case with not only addicts, but many of us who do not nourish and take care of our bodies. The topic of the moon and a woman’s cycle comes up. I tell them that ideally we would want to menstruate during a “new moon”, as it is a time to go inward and truly nurture ourselves. We need to listen to our souls and ask: ”What do I need right now?”. By listening, we will have fewer hormonal difficulties.
In centuries past, the new moon was a time when women connected, helping to “lift the burdens of life” off one another’s shoulders. This communal gathering allowed for a replenishment and revitalization of souls and spirits.
Today, we still must listen and slow down in order to honor ourselves. The full moon is a time to celebrate and rejoice our womanhood. I told them the first step is to recognize when there are moon days. I will bring them a moon calendar so they have awareness, which is always the first step of our journey. .
At the end of the class, while preparing for meditation, the new girl says she feels so much better and really liked it. I feel so grateful that my own journey has brought me to a place that I can be with women who have been in jail, on the streets, and are in the depths of heavy drug abuse and feel completely connected! Life has given me a great gift, and although it has been a tough journey that has involved addictions with my sons, I have grown as a woman and can now share the gift.
My oldest son is coming up on 3 years of sobriety on Oct. 1 and I am so PROUD! It was difficult to see anything positive coming from the pain I have for him, but I can now see how special this experience has been. He has become an incredible young man. Thank you, son, for this journey, and for the fact that I can be here for these women.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller
August 20, 2012
I arrived at the Recovery House on a new day and time. Monday mornings at 9 am seemed to me to be ideal for the girls as they would be starting the yoga class earlier in the day and at the beginning of the week, and both would contribute in a positive way to their confidence and self-esteem.
They greeted me with warmth and excitement and I felt the energy spread through me like sunshine. I had already completed a vigorous home yoga practice, and felt a sense of renewal in their presence. I have come to respect these young women, challenged in life by broken homes, addictions and poor decisions.
That they could experience the benefits of yoga, both the physical practice and spiritual mindfulness that it produces, is something that they will take away from their time at the recovery home and could enhance their lives later on.
July 18, 2012
As I walk into the Recovery House, I can tell the some of the girls were feeling low. When we start the asanas, I witness their moods and spirits lifting in a very positive way. Yoga has an amazing effect on its practitioners as long as you maintain breath, movement and dristi (focus).
One of the girls tells the group how much more balanced she feels when doing her head stand since she’s been sober. This is a reflection of her self-esteem improving as she can focus and be in the moment. As a group, we worked quite a bit on standing asanas and most of the women are thrilled that they could complete them.
It always amazes me how we transform our spirit with this ancient practice of yoga. These ladies are all going through a challenging and stressful time in their lives, including pregnancy and childbirth, and if they can stay centered and grounded through this period and begin healing, they will make it through.
I was able to find important medical studies that have shown how beneficial yoga can be with people who suffer from depression:
“In a sample of 17 people with partially remitted depression who attended a 20-session Iyengar yoga class (which emphasizes posture, balance, and alignment) depression scores decreased significantly from before to after the intervention… Over the course of the sessions, average levels of “happy” increased and the increases in “happy” from before to after class became greater as the course progressed.”
“The Oxford Handbook of Stress, Health, and Coping” by Susan Folkman, Peter E. Nathan
June 20, 2012
I told her that presenting the gift of yoga allowed my soul to give back some of the beautiful calm and peace I felt during times of great pain…
June 6, 2012
The girls are all very chatty today as I walk into the Recovery House. They are clearly enjoying these yoga sessions, and today they must sense I will be able to answer their medical questions as well.
Most of them want to know more about their cycles, and I take this time to talk about the importance of a healthy ”mind-body connection”.
The premenstrual period is a time to self-reflect, our time to go inward…honor yourself by listening very closely and you will find what your soul’s needs are.
The girls feel safe and accepted when they are practicing yoga…if they could have a room, a sanctuary, where they could escape the pressure they are under and have a healing environment…
I could feel the sense of shame that filled the room after the two girls were forced to leave. We quickly moved into a heart-opening asanas. I started with the “camel” pose, arching backwards from a kneeling position. The girls started to giggle; it is now a standing joke among them regarding a camel and sex. I have learned to go with flow here and we all have a good laugh.
These girls are recovering addicts, from every walk of life, and I will not judge any of them…we are connected as women.
It was an important, and life-changing realization for me when I was caring for and dealing with my son’s addictions: Do not stand in judgment. On my first trips to his recovery centers, I expected to find parents in denial and mentally “checked out”. But the opposite was true. Some of the parents themselves were recovering addicts, but all genuinely loved and supported their children.
There is a tremendous need for unconditional love for young people in recovery. With my son, he needed me and I was the only one he had. We made it to the other side, away from the dark grip of using and into the light of recovery, one step at a time. Now, coming up on being three years clean, I can look back and feel the blessings and gratitude that he is alive. I almost lost him.
It my turn to give back now, and I gladly share the gift of yoga. If these young recovering addicts can stay present, in the moment, true to their bodies and emotions, I feel the hour I spend with them will help them stay clean and sober.
By sharing my journey, and opening my heart, I hope these young women will realize their own uniqueness, and embrace the goddess that they are.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller
May 30, 2012
It is always a challenge in life to “start from the beginning”, but it is essential in re-connecting to our mind, body and spirit. The women greeting me in the Recovery Home included many new faces, but this week’s group seemed to connect naturally to asanas.
Yoga has allowed many of these recovering addicts to experience important, “positive” breakthroughs that have not been a part of their recent lives. One woman that I had observed “sitting” on her mat for the past few months, refusing to participate, was now the first one in the room setting everything up. She came up to me just after I arrived and asked how far I had to drive here, and wanted to know how she could continue learning yoga from me once she left the recovery home.
My heart filled with joy as this young mother had “connected” her mind, body and spirit through the gift of yoga…truly a sense of peace and stability had come into her heart.
After many failed attempts, with much encouragement, and moving through the feelings of ”vulnerability” we all confront during a challenge in life, she completed the “crow” pose and connected her body with the vision of success she had in her mind…
One of the women approached me and said: “This is my first yoga class and for some odd reason I don’t feel like smoking. I have wanted to quit for my young child. I’ve been smoking since I was 15 and now I’m 42″.
May 23, 2012
The girls at the recovery housewere all in a good place today. With several having left in the last week with their babies, I said a silent prayer for mother and child for a safe and loving journey together.
One of the “veteran” girls who never participated in our yoga sessions decided to join in. And it was not long before she was “all in”, and with encouragement I could feel her confidence growing. Pausing halfway through, and with a smile, she wanted to tell me something:
She had to get drug tested three times a week and every time she would have to give urine, she had anxiety. It took her three hours yesterday.
As the other girls were clearly supporting her, I stopped the class to focus on her. After asking a few questions, I discovered that as a young girl in elementary school she had made fun of a teacher while she was using the bathroom. Both she and her girlfriend had laughed at the woman.
Sensing an opportunity, I asked her if we could role-play and re-enact that day years ago. I guided her to reconnect with her feelings that day, and ultimately to the point where she could forgive herself.
And at the right moment, I held my hand over my heart and told her I forgave her.
The young woman instantly felt relief and I could tell that she had shut off emotions from this and other actions in her past.
I had her think of some positive mantras that she could say when she had to be drug tested. She embraced the concept. I told her to focus on being grateful for the beautiful newborn baby that was smiling up at her. And that she was “drug-free” and while learning to navigate life while living clean.
It is a daily struggle for these addict mothers to trust and share. And I am grateful that they have chosen to trust me and open up to the possibility of a new world.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller
May 16, 2012
I walked into the recovery house and noticed right away that we had a smaller group of women. This would be an ideal time to have a more individual focus; I would give each one of them an Asana that they had not tried before.It is in this way yoga allows us to push forward through fear and uncertainty, bringing new experiences into our lives.
Through each small success, it is possible to conquer our inner fears.
It is magnified with these women, who will need to go back out into the world one day. They need to know that they can achieve whatever they put their hearts and minds to. Through my personal yoga practice I know that overcoming a hard asana makes you stronger as a person.
By encouraging each of them to try something new, I was trying to break their dependency on the sameness that felt comfortable.
Hardened by life at such a young age, each of the women resisted pushing physical and mental limits. It was necessary to bring them back to movements and sequences they could master. Ultimately, only one of the girls was gave a serious effort to the exercise.
Even as I cheered her on she shut down, unable to give herself credit for the achievement.
The women relaxed as we closed with a meditation, comfortable with “being” and no longer “doing”. They could easily connect and were able to let go. I hold one of the newborn children so that the mother can have a momentary break with her responsibilities, and rejoice with the others.
I resolve that next week we will build on today’s small successes, moving the group to confront their fears and challenging them to experience the rewards that life can bring.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller
May 4, 2012
Arriving Wednesday at the substance abuse recovery home, I was aware of just how much more comfortable and open I felt teaching yoga here. I knew that many of the young women truly looked forward to our time together. They knew that we would share some laughs and possibly discover some new aspect of addiction recovery together. I was hopeful that each of them could experience a moment of self-realization and acceptance. I prayed for a touching moment for each of us to remember.
Was the mother using while pregnant? Did this baby have to go through withdrawals?
There is hope, and I feel it in my soul.
Unconditional love, if only for a few moments, will make a difference.
Holding this young life and knowing he is our future.
Holding hope that these woman continue on this stable course to recovery.
April 25, 2012:
Each time I walk into the Recovery Home I think: “Here we go”. I never know what I will encounter. As class starts, a small girl (in my eyes) walks in. She was not feeling well and because she was pregnant, I thought she had morning sickness. I comfort her . After she walked back out of the room, the other girls inform me: “She is dope sick”. My heart sinks and I feel my stomach getting queasy.