Rob: What emotionally connects you to give back the gift of yoga?
Nikki: The work that I do today is called Y12SR, which stands for Yoga of 12-Step Recovery. Y12SR was born out of my personal experiences with addiction relapse and recovery. Through treatment for a substance addiction in 1987, I was introduced to the 12-step program. It absolutely saved my life. In the course of the next eight years through recovery, I returned to school, cofounded a business, and coauthored a patent. And then, after eight years in recovery, I relapsed. After another bout in hell, I came back to 12-step-based recovery. It was during this period that I began a deep reimmersion in the study of yoga, and I stopped my 12-step program practices to use only yoga philosophy and practices as my support. Four years after the first relapse, I relapsed again.
It was after that second relapse, 12 years ago now, that I realized at least for me, there had to be a union between the cognitive approach to addiction recovery offered by 12-step programs, and the somatic approach to healing offered through yoga. Y12SR is just that; it weaves the healing art and science of yoga together with the very practical tools of 12-step addiction recovery programs. It's a relapse prevention program, based on the theme "the issues live in our tissues," that combines the 12-step cognitive model with the inclusion of a somatic approach.
Over the course of my years in the 12-step program, I've seen that there are many addicts in recovery just like me who are dealing with levels of disconnection that have roots way beyond the cognitive. Paradoxically, the emotional connection for me came through remembering the disconnection; the discomfort and suffering that I felt at every level of my being.
That said, the truth is that it is not all magnanimous. In the 12-step program there is a saying, "You can't keep what you have without giving it away." I have to give it away in order to keep balance for myself.
Rob: What changes occur during our asana, pranayama, or meditation practice that help us to get off our mats and "give back" to our communities the benefits we've received through the practice of yoga?
Nikki: For me, asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation, and sangha (community) are all tools for deeper connection and integration of body, energy, intellect, behavior, and heart. When those begin to align, my experience is that a shift occurs that orients every dimension of my being toward a state of balance and wholeness. Often even a single shift in perspective, muscular/skeletal alignment, energy expansion or contraction, behavior, or connection will realign everything, internally and often externally as well. In that experience, I recognize that there really is no separation between mind and body, heaven and earth, or me and you. From that place, giving to and receiving from others is organic.
Rob: How did you begin to serve?
Nikki: I felt like I had been infused with an incredible need/desire to do this work. When that happened I deepened all my practices, especially meditation and prayer. From there, my whole thing seemed to take on a grassroots life of its own. I did some program development and then all the right people, places, and things seemed to fall into place.
Rob: How can you serve without attachment to the outcome?
Nikki: When I start to get attached to outcomes, I come back to the knowing that none of this really about me. In fact, it is so much bigger than me that attachment of any kind harms the greater whole. When I am reminded of this I go back to the intention of service to the greater whole. This is something to which I have to consistently "keep coming back."
Rob: How do you deal with compassion fatigue?
Nikki: I've learned that when I experience compassion fatigue, its root is that I've moved from "being" to "doing," and then I know I need to use my tools. One of the Y12SR intervention tools we teach is called the pause button. It's a moment, a day, or a week or whatever it takes, of stopping and interiorizing attention in order to come back to yourself. What that does for me is expand clarity and then I can do the next good, right, honest thing.
Rob: How do you model leadership when working with unserved populations?
Nikki: I can't truthfully say that I consciously work to model anything. I think of the work more in terms of being a catalyst for empowerment and support.
Rob: What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of "service yoga" in America in the next decade?
Nikki: I am gratefully seeing many ideas and hopes beginning to manifest right before my eyes. There are now more than 50 donation-based Y12SR meetings offering this combined approach throughout the country. As the curriculum has begun spreading to treatment centers across the United States, its effectiveness continues to be proven helpful not only with substance addiction (including eating disorders and food addiction), but process addictions like gambling, compulsive spending, and media addiction. In addition, relapse prevention services are now being introduced to underresourced, underserved populations through a recently established foundation, which supplements pay to Y12SR leaders willing to serve.
All of that notwithstanding, I would love to see a similar model used for addiction prevention and mental health services.
This interview originally appeared in the Huffington Post. Posted with permission of Rob Schware and Nikki Myers.