Alcoholics Anonymous - Is it Yoga?

Many of you will enjoy this long holiday weekend, some will not. I originally posted this just after the New Year 2009. I've been told that holidays can be particularly stressful for people with additions. Some of this is likely due to being thrust (back) into family situations that exacerbate addiction triggers. So I am re-posting this article, as my show of support to anyone who may not be 100% comfortable wherever they are spending this Labor Day long weekend. I may not be able to empathize, but I can sympathize and keep you in my thoughts. May you find your moment(s) of peace this weekend.

Hello, my name is Deborah and I'm a yoga teacher. I am not an addict, but last night I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with a friend who is an addict.

I was awed to tears by the camaraderie, openness, and seeming absence of judgment.

I was struck by the ways the meeting's qualities seemed to embody what yoga is all about: inclusion, non-judgment, focused attention, community,awareness, truthfulness, surrender to a higher power, and starting where you are.

Everyone was welcomed with a smile and hello. No one seemed to judge what anyone else was wearing, what they had been doing earlier that day, how much money they made, whether they were married or not. When someone was speaking, without exception the rest of the room was focused entirely on that person, almost as if in the first stage of meditation, dharana.

Although some of the writings are rooted in Christianity, a closer look at the Twelve Steps, explicitly welcomes and encourages all belief systems in the step of "surrendering" to something greater than ourselves. This is much the same idea as the nyama (yogic rule for living), ishvarapranidhana or "devotion, surrender to the the universe, lord or your own interpretation".

There was talk of nurturing mind, body and spirit and letting go of the grasping that overwhelms and can destroy an addict. This is the same teaching we learn in the yama (law of life), aparigraha (non-grasping, non-clinging). Perhaps not to the same extreme, but the principle is no different.

And then there is the raw truthfulness. There was no sugar coating stories, there was not pretending not to have felt the emotions that were felt during the stories being recounted. Never have I heard such unguarded speech. This language, these stories not only help purge the speaker's demons, but equally as important demonstrate to the newcomers and the long timers that THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

Nothing anyone in the room has experienced is unique to any of the other peoples' experiences. This telling and retelling of the stories, seemed to me a way of purging, letting-go of the old, making room for purity and god. In the meditations I practice, I include a lot of energy seemed remarkably similar to the AA process of telling stories. But my clearing my own baggage in silence doesn't directly serve other people as does this community cleansing.

I found myself envious and feeling left out during the meeting because I wasn't a part of this strong, structured, faith-based community. I then felt shameful for wishing I had an addiction, something I don't really understand and something I know has plagued each of the members of the meeting. I told myself, at least I was aware of how I was feeling. However, I don't like that I felt that way, and I'm sure if I lived a day in the life of an addict, I would not continue to feel that way. That was my raw truth, I suppose, lame as it seems as I write it.

But perhaps nothing more accurately describes the similarities between AA and yoga as, the teachings of "vinyasa krama, "starting where you are". Anyone, no matter how short a time they have been sober is welcome to come back to a meeting and start again. And again. You are allowed to start over and encouraged to do so, without judgment.

I don't know a lot of communities with such a powerful combination of support, forgiveness and discipline.
Quote from the meeting: "I don't know how these meetings work, but all I know is that when I come, I don't drink, when I stop coming I start to drink."
Quote from my yoga teacher Diane Featherstone: "Don't analyze what the practice is all about so much. Just do the practice and all will follow."

Bookmark and Share


miro-gal said...

Hi Deborah-- I think that Pat felt a familiar comfort when he entered the yoga room for the first time. I only had vague thoughts about it over the years, which you've helped to clarify. And the honesty about the sort of envy - that too I "get"--about wanting to belong, unjudged, in a safe environment. While feeling so alone in our own skins. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts so honestly.

Florian said...

Such an interesting point about yoga classes feeling like the same safe, non-judged environment. Thanks for the comment. Deb