This is the Part 1 of a two-part interview series with Nikki Myers, cofounder of the Yoga of 12-Step Recovery program and co-owner of CITYOGA School of Yoga & Health. Nikki is an accomplished yoga therapist and teacher with a particular emphasis on the integration of yoga in healing. This interview was recorded at the Yoga & Addictions Recovery Conference.
CR: Can you start off by just introducing yourself and sharing what you’re up to in the world?
NM: Sure. My name is Nikki Myers, and I own a co-own CITYOGA School of Yoga and Health in Indianapolis, Indiana with my daughter. I’m a yoga teacher, therapist, and somatic experiencing practitioner. My work couples yoga therapy and trauma healing, and the primary focus of that work is in area of addictions. Basically, I use yoga therapy and somatic experiencing to work deeply with addictions of all types. So I work in the world!
CR: And the program you created is called?
NM: The program is called the Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR). And what it does is couple the ancient wisdom of yoga with the very practical tools of the twelve step program to create this new model in which — for real, for real — the physical, mental, and spiritual dis-ease of addiction is addressed.
CR: (laughter) For real, for real, huh?
NM: (laughter) Yes, I say that a lot. For real, for real!
So, in the 12 step program they speak about addiction as a physical, mental, and spiritual dis-ease. Within that model the cognitive — the mental part — is pretty well addressed, and there’s a toll tap in the spiritual. However, there’s not much at all at the level of the physical.
So this particular program really marries the three — the physical, mental, and spiritual. We address the underlying pieces of the dis-ease.
CR: Can you define addiction for me? I mean as a spiritual, mental, and physical dis-ease it sounds like… but what’s the difference between say, someone who is abusing habits and someone who is actually addicted to those habits/substances?
NM: I think of addiction very simply… When someone asks me, “Do you think I’m an addict?” I will often ask them to consider two questions:
First, I often ask people to look at how the substance/behavior they’re concerned about is affecting what they say is of primary importance in their life. Usually what you hear is “what’s most important to me is my relationship with my children or my husband or someone else.” So I would say, “Is it affecting your relationship with your marriage, your work?” Are you having consequences with what you say is most important?
The second question I ask is, “Are you using or doing this when you really don’t want to?” That was a pretty good indication, in my own case, that I was addicted to drugs. For a long time I really wanted to quit using drugs, but couldn’t. Even at one point I said “I’m giving this up for Lent!” I considered myself a very spiritual person, and that was very important to me. And I couldn’t give up the drugs and alcohol for Lent. That was a big, big red flag for me. I used when I really didn’t want to.
CR: Danger, Danger, WIll Robinson!
NM: (laughter) Danger, danger Will Robinson, yes. So those are the two questions: How is this affecting what you say is most important to you, and are you doing this when you really don’t want to?
CR: How does addiction show up on a physical level? I mean, it’s apparent how it manifests at a somatic level when you’re drinking, when you’re doing heroin… of course it’s affecting you physically. But when we’re talking about the need for somatic work in twelve step programs… Why the need to address addiction on a physical level after the detox?
NM: The key phrase of Y12SR is, “The issues live in your tissues.” And it’s very true. You can often see it as tension, right? It’s more than in the physical body, you see it in the emotional body. The truth is, all the bodies are related. What you do to one affects all the others. So you often times you see that the years of abusing drugs, alcohol, whatever shows up at the level of tension. You see issues stored in the shoulders, the low back, etc.
CR: And how does Y12SR address that? What would someone get from Y12SR that they wouldn’t get in a regular twelve step meeting?
NM: Y12SR is a relapse-prevention program. A lot of times what happens is you get clean, and most times it’s not so much the getting clean that’s the hard part. It’s staying clean. Life starts happening. Things come back in. The tendency is to go back to the substance or behavior to relieve the suffering and pain of life showing up again.
So what we teach in Y12SR is how to recognize energies (in the body), how to recognize warning signs, and dangers…. and replace those with tools from the 12 steps, tools from yoga, anything needed to not start the behavior again.
Coming back to the somatic piece, usually the best place to begin recognizing signs of relapse is in the body. The body bears the burden. We teach people how to recognize — at the level of sensation — that OKAY, this is a danger sign. I need to call my sponsor. I need to get on my mat. I need to… whatever it is they need to do in that moment to prevent them from picking up the substance again, to regulate a dysregulated nervous system. We teach them the signs to recognize when their nervous system is activated.
CR: So like, my heart is beating out of my chest? I must be anxious?
NM: Right! That’s a sign your nervous system is activated. For an addict, that’s a sign to do a self-intervention. Now that I have the awareness, I can call my sponsor. I can do some breath-work. I can get on my mat.
CR: I’m listening to you, and I’m like man… Most people — addicts or not — would benefit from these skills!
NM: Absolutely. I’ve chosen to couple yoga with the twelve steps. But most people on the planet could use some real good hints about how to effectively work with their nervous system.
I just feel the twelve steps are already such a brilliant model. It’s hands down the most effective model for treating addictions, so coupling yoga with it just… made sense. When I realized the connection between the two, I just felt they were made for each other.
Stay tuned for Part 2…