niyama

Lessons From NEDA Awareness Week 2018

Each year I participate in the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) Awareness Week. I have done something for it every year since I began recovery, roughly six years ago-I honestly can’t remember. Is that bad? Each year I have done more and more to raise awareness and try to make each year bigger, better, and more impactful. I am passionate about NEDA Awareness Week because to me it reminds me so much of the 12th Step, “having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we carry this message to other(s) {insert addiction} and practice these principles in all our affairs”.  I use this to educate others, draw awareness to this deadly disease, and also use this week to focus on full support for others who have been through this. Even providing them a platform to share their stories and perspectives. This year I took the last step and took twelve ginormous steps and went all out for this week.

 

 

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What did I do? One of the many things I did was host an Instagram challenge. I partnered with my recovery and yoga soul sister in Tulsa, Cassandra McCoy, to start a challenge. Then Cassandra and I got a sponsor (who turned out to be a new friend!), Jamie at Evolve Fitness OKC. We wanted a challenge that was accessible to everyone and be more than crazy yoga poses. Our challenge was, Spread ED Awareness. Each day we would provide either a statistic or blurb about eating disorders. Then we had a word that was inspired by the post with a corresponding challenge. Challenges were:

  1. A yoga pose that makes you feel confident
  2. What activity did you do that you “failed ” at? Did you try it again?
  3. How have you been resourceful in your workout(s)/Got creative with them
  4. What activity or life event has made you feel strong?
  5. What is something that you have done that made you feel uneasy and vulnerable?
  6. Who supported you during recovery? Maybe you supported someone, who were they?
  7. Last but not least, share your story!

 

 

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I’m not going to lie, I thought this would be “successful” (you’ll see why I use quotes around that). I thought people would be down to participate, especially since we had some cool prizes lined up and it was for a cause. However, I came to realize this wasn’t the case. People “liked” the idea but only a handful of people participated. I was hurt. I was sad. I was disappointed. Cassandra, Jamie, and myself had put so much time into these posts, deciding what to present, etc…and the turn out was low. Somedays I didn’t want to participate in my own challenge. I thought to myself, “if this was a handstand IG challenge or an inversion challenge more people would do this“.

 

Then I saw a post from someone I follow on IG (Justin Wolfer) talking about how it doesn’t matter the size of your following or audience, it’s what you do with it. Talk about a perspective change! I realized my ego was in the way and it was hidden by good intentions. I lost sight of the twelfth step. I told myself, ” It’s not about participants its about spreading awareness and educating”. I then began to focus on all the engagements my posts were getting, the people who were commenting on them, or reaching out to me. That right there is what #NEDAAwarenessWeek is all about.

 

 

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My donation class at Evolve Fitness

 

 

In addition to this challenge I wanted to host a clothing drive. Clothing drives are a great way to practice yoga because it is yoga. Donating clothes is a practice of:

  1. Brahmacharya (non-excess)
  2. Aparigraha (non-greed, non-possessiveness)
  3. Saucha (purity, cleanliness)
  4. Karma (action, generating)

 

I didn’t want just one clothing drive and for me to be the only one participating (which would have a limited reach). I wanted the whole community to get involved. So I decided to reach out to all the fellow yoga teachers and ask if anyone wanted to host a clothing drive for our local YWCA. Much to my surprise I got three other studios involved! Cycle 3Sixty wanted to host a clothing drive/free class AND they did a #WearYourPurple day-every tag/person who wore purple they matched one dollar and donated to NEDA. My pals at Hidden Dragon Yoga in Edmond wanted to have a box for a week. Evolve Fitness, the sponsor for the IG challenge, had a day of free classes for clothes. Then I had my class at Core Nutrition.  When the week had come to a close I counted over 50 bags of clothes!

 

 

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It touched my heart to see so many people come together and do something for other people. To clean out their closets and their hearts, to make space for love. To build community and unite for a cause–being close to Spring and the itch to spring clean doesn’t hurt either….Sometimes it is hard to see the goodness in people, especially in our social media and headline driven world.

 

In addition to having my faith restored in people, seeing the light, and changing my perspective about Instagram (for the one billionth time hah!) this was the biggest thing I learned: Something Small Can Have a Big Impact. I guess I always knew that but it wasn’t till this week and reflecting upon these lessons did I really see it/understand it.  Not only is this shown through the clothing drives–these clothes will go to our local chapter of the YWCA– but I saw it through my friend, recovery warrior,  only participant, and winner: Nikki. Nikki pledged to do this challenge about a month ago then her son died. She almost didn’t participate but decided to anyway. I told her I hoped she found some healing and used this as a way to deal with her grief. Nikki told me that it did help her. That right there is more than enough. That statement is why I did what did and made it all worth it. She got what she needed to go on and live life.

 

What did you do for NEDA Awareness Week? Share below!

 

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Yamas, Niyamas, and the 12 Steps

For yoga teacher training we had to write a research paper. I really wanted my paper to be a reflection of what myself and where I want to take yoga. I want to take yoga in the theraupetic route, helping those with ED’s, mental illness, and other addictions overcome their mountain. As we studied two of the eight limbs of yoga: yamas and niyamas, I realized how similar they are to the 12 Steps. I use the 12 Steps as much as I can and I was starting to incorporate the yamas and niyamas in my life, I realized that they can be a great tool for those in recovery. This is how I got the idea for my research paper. My paper is a brief overview of a bigger topic and hopefully one day I can dive deeper and expand on this topic.

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“To the pure of heart comes also a quiet spirit, one-pointed thought, the victory over sensuality, and fitness to behold the soul.” Yoga Sutras II.41

 

Patanjali encompassed the essence of self-realization, self discovery, and the journey of a recovered life in this sutra. That particular sutra can be about embarking on the yoga journey or a journey of a recovered life from codependency, eating disorders, addictions, or unhealthy behaviors. Yoga can be used in combination with the 12 Steps to help a person who is recovery to become the best version of themselves. Though some people may think that the 12 Steps are unrelated to yoga, they would think otherwise after reviewing the two limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali: the Yamas (moral disciplines) and Niyamas (moral guidelines). Even after review, the similarities between the yamas and niyamas and the 12 steps are apparent. The two limbs and the 12 Steps can help complement each other and together help an individual on their recovery journey.

The 12 Steps were written by Bill Wilson, a prominent businessman and alcoholic, who also founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. In 1938, his teachings and the 12 Steps were published in what is known as the Big Book (www.12step.com). The steps are faith based, meaning that they use spiritual concepts and the surrender of the participant to a power. Each step is a continuation of the next, they must be completed in order to be effective. When one begins they start with the first step, admitting they are powerless over their addiction or affliction. From there they go on through the following:

2)a power great than us can restore us, 3)we made a decision to turn our will and lives over to God as we understand him, 4) we made a fearless moral inventory, 5)we admitted to God and another our wrongdoings, 6)we’re entirely ready to have God remove these defects, 7)we asked God to remove them, 8)we made a list of all persons harmed, 9)we made direct amends with those we hurt, unless it would cause direct harm, 10) we continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong we admit it, 11)through prayer and meditation we come closer to God, 12)having been enlightened by these steps we are to carry this out to others. (Anonymous)

The yamas and niyamas are two parts of the eight limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. When one is on the yogic path these are observances and guidelines that yogi’s or yogini’s abide by. The yamas are known as moral disciplines. They are: ahimsa-non harming, satya-truth, asteya-non-stealing, brahmacharya-purity, and aparigraha-non covetedness/non hoarding/detachment. After that there are the niyamas, moral guidelines. They are: saucha-cleanliness, santosa-contentment, tapas-zeal/passion, svadhyaya-self study, and Isvara Pranidhana-dedication to the Lord through actions (Gates, 2002) (Iyengar, 1976).

As a person delves deeper into the meanings of both the 12 Steps and the first two limbs of yoga begin to notice the similarities. According to Kyczy Hwk, the 12 Steps, yamas, and niyamas provide ways to help with recovery from a variety of addictions with the 12 Steps being a more spiritual practice while the yamas and niyamas and yoga are more of a physical practice (Hawk).When a person on a recovery journey practice the yamas and niyamas they can better understand the Steps because they all have “a spiritual union with ones higher power” (Hawk). Some of the 12 Steps have more than one yama or niyama to go with it while some only have one. There are also some aspects of the first two limbs of yoga that are overarching concepts in the 12 Steps.

The first step has multiple niyamas that are related. Rolf Gates in his book, Meditations from the Mat, says it best, “We can count on the new and the unfamiliar to be awkward. But the awkwardness of that first step is no reason for us to deny ourselves the opportunity to have balance in a given area of our lives. We will have the degree of grace in our lives that we permit ourselves to have”   (Gates, 59). With that grace and the help of their higher power, the participant can then work on certain aspects of aparigraha and saucha. Aparigraha is “about the end of all attachment: letting go of our fears, letting go of our desires, becoming free” (Gates,67), which is an essence of Step 1. Saucha has similarities to Step 1 because of the crazy talk, insanity that is in his or her lives before that first step. Step 2 and 3 could also have some similarities with aparigraha and saucha as well because he or she is letting go of what doesn’t serve them, their addiction of dysfunction, to become free.

Step Four, making a fearless moral inventory, has similarities to asteya and the whole aspect of yoga. When the person on the recovery journey sits down to take their inventory they cover all wrongdoings and “defects of character” (Anonymous). This is something that is constantly done time and time again in the recovered life. Without taking regular inventory the recovered cannot stay recovered and progress in their life and spiritual walk with their higher power. When a yogi or yogini practices asteya they are paying “closer attention to what [they] do, and to put [their] faith in [their] ability to heal” (Gates,46) which is their version of making their own personal inventory.

Step 5 is all about admitting. He or she admits to God, themselves, and someone else (usually in AA it is a sponsor) all their wrongdoings and insight collected from their Step 4 inventory. Satya is the yama that has similarities to Step 5. As Rolf Gates puts clearly in Meditations from the Mat satya is “letting go of pretense and telling the truth about ourselves to another human being” (pg 31); Step 5 and satya is all about speaking truthfully and living that truth.

The next steps that are similar with one or two of the first limbs of yoga are Step 8 and 9. They are about making contact with people the individual has harmed and make direct amends with them. Here is another aspect of aparigraha at work because the individual is making a list of resentments and letting them go. Satya also makes another appearance here because satya is all about truth and the individual is speaking truth to those they have hurt.

After that comes Step 11 where the individual seeks conscious contact with God/higher power to help with their daily life and to better understand God through prayer and meditation. This has similarities to brahmacharya and self study. On the yogic path one practices brahmacharya or purity as a way to keep themselves close to God. In the 12 Steps the individual practices the same and keeps themselves pure by repentance, praying, and working to get their disease under control. As it is stated in Meditations from the Mat, “prayer enables us to tap into the healing power of the universe” (Gates, pg 52).

Lastly is Step 12, where he or she takes what she learns and shares it. In some 12 Step groups they will use the term spiritual awakening to showcase the life changing they undergo. Tapas and santosha are the two niyamas that work with Step 12. Tapas, or burning passion, relates to Step 12 because it is an “enthusiasm for health” (Gates) and it is all about inquiry. Being passionate to inquire about themselves which is the overarching idea of the 12 Steps; to be constantly evaluating your life, what the individual is doing in order to be the best person they can be in keeping the addiction or disease under control. As Gates states,

“Tapas is the spirit of inquiry; it is about having the heart of an explorer. It is the willingness to work hard in practice, the desire to know oneself, the will to be honest. But all of these virtues are predicted on a genuine desire for spiritual health. This desire will give us consistency. We will have good days and bad days, days when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and days when the opposite is the case. Years of consistent practice are not built on rigid self-discipline; they are built on the desire to know more.” (Gates, 103)

Santosa is similar to Step 12 because santosa is an alternate way of approaching life, it is a different way to view life. The 12 Steps, just like the yamas and niyamas are about ways to approach different aspects of life, be it a recovered life or not.

In conclusion, there are many similarities between the 12 Steps and the yamas and niyamas of yoga. All three help individuals live a better life and give each individual a moral guidebook and road map to navigate life. With an understanding of the 12 Steps, yamas, and niyamas can help the individual on the road to recovery to better stay on that road and have a greater success rate and a lower chance of relapse.

 

Sources:

Light on Yoga, Iyengar

Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates

EDA 12 Steps

12steps.com

Yoga and the 12 Step Path, Hawk