How dare you play small? Interview with Nikki Myers Part 2

 This is the Part 2 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.

Photo Credit: Seegull Media

CR: So we’ve been talking about the work you’re doing to bring together Yoga and 12 Step Recovery. But what we haven’t talked about yet is that there’s a piece of your dharma in this…. the path you’ve walked has led you here, right?


NM: Oh yes, absolutely.


CR: The one thing that’s struck me while I’ve been here (at the Yoga & Addictions Recovery Conference) is the realization that what gives people authority and integrity in the (12 step meeting) rooms is the fact that they’ve walked the path themselves. So I wonder how that shows up in what you’re doing?


NM: Absolutely it does. You know I do a lot of work in — and part of my history and story is — domestic violence. So, I can walk in a room and work with women that have dealt with that in their life, and I can just look at them and they can look at me and they know I know. You know? We don’t even have to say a word to each other. They  know, I know.

And with that, there’s just an immediate trust there, a willingness to… to go just a little bit deeper. To allow a little more…. You know, I love the word intimacy. I’ve often heard it described as “in… to… me… I… see.” So with that seeing into one other, they just allow me a little deeper. Because they know we have this shared experience.


CR: I guess the same is true of anything, right? If you are willing to speak your truth — whether it pertains to addiction, death, alcohol, domestic violence, whatever — you give yourself the opportunity to connect with people who have resonance with it.

But it makes me wonder… Was there ever a time… you’ve obviously walked a strong path, done a lot of work. Was there ever a time you were afraid….?


NM: …afraid to speak it?


CR: Yes. Were you ever afraid to share your past?


NM: Yes. Absolutely. And I’ll tell you. You’re going to crack up too, Chelsea. I have to tell you this story…

It happened with Seane Corn. At the time, I had opened my yoga school and was really stressed out. Basically, my daughter and husband told me, “We don’t care where you go, but get the f*#% out. Just go someplace! You’re stressed out, you’re stressing me out, just go!”

And so, I just picked something. I just picked someplace to go. It turned out to be a weekend workshop with Seane Corn. I didn’t really know anything of her at the time, I’d not done any work with her at all. I just ended up there.

So we’re in this workshop, and she starts telling stories about her work in the HIV/AIDS community. Particularly the work she was doing in India, in a home where there were child prostitutes — she was teaching yoga there. At the time, I was also doing work in the HIV/AIDS community in Indianapolis and we just connected. It was a great weekend, and when I left it I knew I really wanted to study with her again.

Photo Credit: Seegull Media

About six months later she was doing a workshop in Helena, Montana and I ended up going. There were twenty women there. And, as you do in these workshops, we got raw and deep… it was really something. There were a couple women there who were also talking about their work in brothels in India and Cambodia. And all of a sudden I’m listening to their conversation, and I could feel myself just totally shrink. I had been a prostitute. I knew that life. I knew what they’re talking about. And my whole being in the midst of this workshop just totally shrank. I found myself isolating, not sleeping and all kinds of things.

But we were doing deep yoga — deep, deep chakra work. By the last day of that workshop we had a sharing circle, and we were going around the room and all of a sudden it just kinda came out of my mouth. I was embarrassed to even speak; this incredible shame just totally came over me. I just said, “I know what you’re talking about as far as brothels are concerned. My history is prostitution.” I just let it all out.

And, it was almost like miraculous. I knew within that moment… how dare I not do this work? How dare I play small? How dare I play small? It just came up and out of me. It was just incredible. I knew after that time — I’d been teaching yoga before, and there was always this piece of me I couldn’t let the students know. After that, it all shifted.


CR: Wow.


NM: It totally shifted. It was amazing. I just knew I couldn’t play small anymore. I was playing small. It was like… You found something that helped you, and you’ve seen now how it has the possibility to help a whole lot of others in the world. How DARE you?

I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was like at that point, it took me.


CR: And how many other people have you given permission to come into their own healing, just by speaking that truth? Ya know? Yes, you’ve created an amazing program. But in delivering that program and being as open as you are — using that AA model of standing up in a room full of strangers and sharing your story — well, you’ve basically given countless other permission to speak their’s as well.


NM: I think it’s very important in the yoga community. The Y12SR program, for me, marries yoga and the twelve steps. The twelve steps saved my life. But I happen to think that if you’re not using the twelve step model, some other model like it is just as important. Having a safe space to talk about our stories and feelings is just as important for the yoga community as Y12SR is for people with addiction.

The reader’s digest version is this: We truly are (and this quote comes from Wayne Dyer): “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I love that quote. It’s true. We are very much spiritual beings, but we’ve equally got our foot in our own humanity. Often you will see in the yoga world everything’s in the world of the spiritual.

We think we’re enlightened. We use a lot of platitudes. And a lot of times within all of that theres a running away from feeling. I’ve seen people use their mats to run away from the feeling. Yes, we’re spiritual beings. But you cannot deny the human feelings and the human experience. We have our foot in both worlds.


CR: Yes. And I guess the twelve steps kind of force you to the feeling… So, for people who don’t consider themselves addicts, what would the model be it isn’t the twelve steps?


NM: Oh, there are lots of programs out there that do this kind of thing. Even working with a therapist does it. Anything that brings you to the feeling. The twelve step program is just so wonderful. It’s accessible, it’s free… it makes it accessible to a lot of the population that I work with.


CR: And it seems like they can be relevant to anybody! I mean, I’ve been wondering that this week, are we all addicts? I mean sure there’s different levels… but, do you believe we’re all addicts?


NM: Yes I do. (laughing)


CR: (laughing) Well good. Glad I’m not the only one.


NM: Yes, I do. I mean, if you think even about obsessive thinking — we talk about that as the root of addiction. We all think the same shit over and over again… obsessively.


CR: We’re addicted to our thoughts!


NM: Yes. Addicted to our thoughts.


CR: One last question. Where would you like to see the Y12SR go in the next five years?


NM: The vision for the program is that you’ll be able to find a Y12SR meeting just like you can an AA meeting. That there will be as many of those around as there are any of the anonymous (AA, NA, OA, etc) meetings. I want people to be able to find a Y12SR meeting anywhere. I want people to be able to go to our website, type in their zip code, and find a meeting near them. That’s the vision… that it will be easy and accessible to anyone.


CR: And what do you need to make that happen?


NM: A lot of things are going to have to happen. We’re training leaders for Y12SR, but what I’m working on now is to create a container for those leaders. A way to support them. What we need now is a really good organizational structure beneath Y12SR. I have someone doing some volunteer coordination, but at this point… There have been 100 leaders that have come through the training program. 20 of those have gone out and started meetings within their own communities. That’s a great thing. But now there needs to be support, additional training and materials, all that kind of stuff for people who want to run groups in their own community. So I’m working on putting together the support structure. To organizationally support this work.


CR: That’s wonderful! And how can people get involved if they’re interested?


NM:  Come to a Y12SR 12-Step Study Intensive and/or Leadership Training, or host one in your local community. The training equips yoga teachers, correctional center and rehab counselors, social workers, therapists, and more to hold Y12SR meetings in their local communities.

You can visit also visit our website for more information, or contact if you’re interested in hosting a training in your community.  And stay tuned for more information about monthly conference calls that will begin in January.  We welcome all who are interested to join the movement!

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Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

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