Substance Abuse

 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

At the end of our time together, we closed with meditation. Two of the girls got in a cat fight and the group’s reaction was humor with statements about being at peace after yoga class. The women looked over at me and saw that I did not get drawn into the drama. I was just standing there smiling which caused everyone to start laughing together.
Yoga teaches us to stay balanced as we navigate  through life. I reflected to myself that I have supported several friends who, suffering anxiety attacks, were able to calm themselves with a simple practice of breathing to calm the body. Breathing is our lifeline, and the ability to find humor in most situations can allow all of us to make it through challenges, and live happier live.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller
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June 20, 2012

Walking through the doors at the Recovery House, the ladies came up to me with a request: they wanted to see a picture of me before I started yoga. “I bet you always looked like this” said one. The group’s interest turned into a discussion of one of the big benefits of yoga: getting in shape after having a baby. These questions and others are all very honest and touching, reflecting how concerned they are with their appearance and bodies.
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A question then came up about whether my yoga practice excited my husband when I was married, again showing the physical and sexual interest the poses had in their minds. I then told them about very painful parts of my life, where yoga helped me to process my grief, to the point where I am now able to laugh at many of these traumatic times.
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I could feel, and see in their eyes, that my words were very comforting to these women, all of whom were dealing with trauma and change in their lives. One of the young ladies asked me why I volunteered here.
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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…

They were all very moved and I knew some were true believers. I felt my heart sing with joy that they could understand. I began to work on some individual asanas with a few of the girls. At first they are scared in trying something new, but three of the girls all nail the “crow” pose. I was cheering and clapping and didn’t know who was more excited.
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A girl in the back of the room asked me what poses would help her tighten her stomach and lose weight. I told her that yoga connects our minds and bodies, and that by maintaining the connection while eating, she could learn to eat only until feeling full. This honors the body as it is the temple for our soul.
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Nearing the end of our time together, I hear that one of the girls is cleaning a yoga mat to take to her room to practice, while another one is listening to a yoga tape. I can see the slow progress we are making, and know in my heart that if you can touch one life you’ve made a difference in the world. On my way out they bring their babies over…the beauty of connecting with the human spirit.

June 6, 2012

Heart-Opening “Camel” Pose (Ustrasana)

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”.

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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.
I am humbled by the attention paid to my words. We have clearly connected and I listen to them talk about the week since our last meeting. Each of them updates me, and I enjoy seeing where they are at. However, one of the girls had entered the room late and was crying. She didn’t want to share and I calm her, and give her permission to cry all she wanted. And in a beautiful, recurring ritual, another girl asked to bring her three-year old daughter in.
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Our yoga class finally begins, but two of the girls are called out and have to leave the room. I say a prayer that they haven’t started using.
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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

“…the crow pose (“Bakasana”) connected her body with the vision of success she had in her mind…”

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.

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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.

In another breakthrough, a woman who had remained very aloof and “hardened” in her demeanor, which signaled her “alpha” status in the room, was continuing to struggle through new asanas. I knew she was capable and had encouraged her last week to attempt the ”crow”, an important ”arm balance” posture in yoga.
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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…

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It is only through “failure” that we experience our greatest successes in life. Yoga presents us with many challenging asanas, or positions, that challenge our mind as much as our bodies. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and as the saying goes, “nothing breeds success like success”. A wave of excitement moved through the group as they attempted various “challenging” poses. The women all asked me to demonstrate difficult postures, which allowed me to share that it was only with many years of practice, and many failures, that I was able to progress with my yoga practice.
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Addictions bring women and girls so much darkness, and I was able to connect with them through the beautiful “light” that is yoga. In keeping with tradition, we ended our time together with mediation.
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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″.

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I smiled, grateful for the feeling of joy that I felt in the woman’s words, truly a “wow” moment. That one yoga class had connected this woman’s mind with what her body and soul knew at a spiritual level: that smoking was dangerous to her and her child. I look forward to more stories of hope and strength of the human spirit.
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Namaste, Jennifer Miller

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

“…yoga allows us to push forward through fear and uncertainty, bringing new experiences into our lives…”

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.

As we begin the yoga practice, I sense the increased level of trust in the room; my previous sessions clearly represented an initiation process as this is not an easy group to be accepted into. But many remain shut down emotionally.
For the most part they like me; the few that had brought the energy in the room down are not there. Funny how life works. The women have all embraced meditation as they seem to enjoy this time of letting go. I pass out lavender-scented washcloths as part of aroma therapy and they place it over their eyes.
One of the girls, who has a 4-week old newborn, wants to do the meditation but  her baby starts to cry. I offer to hold this precious child and a beautiful calm settles over the room. Starting with a “guided meditation”, I gaze upon this bundle of life and so many feelings go through my mind.

Was the mother using while pregnant? Did this baby have to go through withdrawals?

It has been rough journey for this young mother and baby. I gently rock the newborn with a gentle, loving motion. I feel gratitude that there there are clean, safe places for these women with children in recovery.

There is hope, and I feel it in my soul.

During this precious hour I feel connected to these brave souls, knowing that we are all one connected to a higher purpose.

Unconditional love, if only for a few moments, will make a difference.

I feel my myself going into another realm, joining these women on a higher plane where peace, harmony and serenity take exist. The responsibilities of their world are momentarily at bay.

Holding this young life and knowing he is our future.

Holding hope that these woman continue on this stable course to recovery.

As the class ends and I prepare to leave, one of the girls asks me if it would be ok if she brought her daughter, who is four, to the class next week. I answer “YES” with a big smile, knowing that another young life could be touched by yoga. Another young yogini.
” May we all be open and accepting of all. We may look and feel different from one another, but in the end we are all “ONE”.
Namaste, Jennifer Miller

April 25, 2012:

“I am here to rejoice with these girls who are in recovery; to see that their young babies and children have a chance.”

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.

But I must move forward and continue teaching yoga to the other girls, all in different states of recovery. But my mind streaks back to ”how could she do that to the growing baby inside?” I feel a “state of judgment” overwhelming me .
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“I am not here to judge…I am here to spread the light and the beauty of yoga….”

“I am here to rejoice with these girls who are in recovery; to see that their young babies and children have a chance.”

That they have hope: isn’t that what recovery is all about? Spreading hope? I have been there with my son. I have seen the depths that addiction can take a young man or woman..

“We must  support and not judge.”

To rely on the rational mind, there is seldom any understanding. So I go to my heart and find everything I need: Hope and Belief in these young women’s lives.

“But am I reaching them?”

When I left yesterday one of the girls said: “You are the highlight of my week. I look forward to you being here all week. Thank you”. Those words meant everything to me.
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At the end, the women brought their young children and babies to meet me. The love that mother’s have for their children is universal; no matter how far apart our worlds may seem, we are all connected by the love felt for these babies.
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The older children walked up to me with huge grins on their faces; they felt connected. These little angels are gifts put here on earth. No words were spoken as we stood there smiling, connected in our hearts.
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Namaster, Jennifer Miller
April 18, 2012:
I walked into the substance abuse recovery home, filled with young women in various stages of recovery.  Some were pregnant and some were with young children. Many had tattoos and were smoking.  The “younger” me might have stood there “in judgement”; the older, and wiser woman walked in with open arms of love and support,  knowing that I could make a difference in their lives.  I want to teach them yoga and connect them with their body, mind and spirit.

I had to first prove myself to them to be accepted into their tribe.  I showed them two asanas that were quite difficult. There was a hush in the room and I felt that I had mad a good start. I shared with them that I almost lost my son to drug addiction. I could tell they were pretty “shut down” emotionally and not ready to go there. I would not judge them and so I moved forward.
I had noticed immediately that the girls wanted to sexualize every posture. This told me that they were very detached from their bodies. I went along with their humor. I knew that they began to see that their bodies could work for them rather than against them.
Some of the girls were laughing which was another distraction, but eventually they were able to come back to the present moment. I feel that having hope for the future is incredibly important. Though some were mothers, or soon to be mothers, the girls were still young and immature.  I gave them all a candle and a stone and shared a story about manifestation and intention.  I asked the girls to put a wish into the Universe. I led them through a meditation which they all seemed to enjoy and they began to relax, until one of the girl’s pants caught on fire.
We gathered in a circle and I shared what Namaste meant. We all put our hands in prayer and bowed. I thanked them and as I looked around, they thanked me from their hearts. I could feel sincere gratitude. I had given a little bit of my heart and made a difference in a few of the young girl’s lives.
My prayer for these girls is, first, that they can connect with their body, mind and spirit . Second, to have hope for the future. Third, that they will be able to mother these babies and pass on the gift of unconditional love. Finally, that they can forgive themselves and love the beautiful woman that they are.
I thank yoga for all that it has given me and give thanks for the gift of my practice.
Namaste, Jennifer
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