It is surprising how much people are recovering from stuff, and not just AA, not just addicts and alcoholics, but more people are given prescription drugs because of a car accident or an injury at work or something like that, and then they slip into a way of living that they are not used to, and it comes with strange behaviors. I have been in AA for 17 or 18 years, and I used to think alcoholics and addicts are different, but the more I interact with people in recovery, the more I see people being susceptible to addiction because of the way the medical practice uses prescription drugs.

One of the big things in Recovery and in Yoga, particularly the yoga tradition I work with, is the idea of relationship, and that’s what’s been interrupted. Often the doctors that prescribe these drugs don’t have enough time to spend with people and so instead of getting help, people just get medicine, and that breaks down the relationship. It is through relationship with people that we understand ourselves better.

The basis of our yoga is what is my mind doing, what is my heart doing, what is my breath doing. This is not the basis of most yoga, which is more about stretching and getting farther along in some capacity. Instead of trying to get toward a goal, we develop relationship with the body and with the teacher, and then the body begins to trust itself a little bit more, letting go of what holds you back and removing obstacles in your body, in your mind, and in your heart. This approach can be hard for people who haven’t been in a really difficult place to comprehend, because it goes against the norm to say, “I’m not going to push my body too far, I’m not going to work overly hard, I am just going to take care of myself.”

It is counterintuitive, but my body responds better to starting with slow, simple movements, simple breathing, and mental focus on things that are not complex. These are small steps that help your body trust your decisions again. You have broken your body’s judgment when you think you have to turn to a pill or some kind of chemical. Those chemicals work so that they change your body so that your body needs that chemical, so it’s a downward spiral, chaining the body, so that it is no longer addressing what it was originally addressing, and it is just this chemical relationship. When you get to a very difficult place in life and experience and you say this is no longer working, then you are willing to say, “I’m looking at what’s going on, and it’s hard to come out of it.” But simple practice, simple breathing, simple movements all build this idea of trust so that your body starts to respond to your judgment again.

Rebuilding this trust doesn’t happen over a week or a month, but over time, which is why the relationship is so important. Start with a teacher for guidance, and then work with yourself so that when you sit still with your mind, breath, and body, you can inquire, “What does my body need at this moment?” Rather than provide the solution, you are just constantly asking, and through that process of asking, the answers come; you don’t have to seek them. The body instinctively knows I shouldn’t move this far or hard in this pose because it is causing strain in my back or in my shoulder. Over time, as I become more sensitive to that, my body starts to open up its physical capacity. I’m not trying to do more, but because I am listening to what my body says, my body will open up and allow more to happen because it knows I am listening. I can do more now in my 40s than I could in my 20s.

The difficulty with this practice is that it is a process. We are used to paying for something, getting it, and leaving. We are not used to someone saying, “Just be here, stay here for a few minutes and be at peace.” But this is how we rebuild these broken relationships, especially the trust we have broken with our bodies.

People derive different kinds of benefits from a yoga practice. Yoga and other eastern practices differ from most western forms of physical activity because you really have to incorporate the mind into the practice. With aerobic oriented activity like running or swimming, you can just let your mind drift off. With yoga, the mind focus brings a greater benefit in addition to the physical benefits of greater strength, flexibility, and balance. A lot of people sleep better, feel calmer, and breathe better. You don’t have to go in with the intention to get those benefits, they just result from doing a good yoga asana practice.

Yoga also helps people find what is challenging for them, be it physical, mental, or emotional, and helps find a way to address it. People often do yoga positions way too quickly. They will say their shoulder hurts, and I’ll say give it 6 months. Give pain time to resolve. Pain is a very good teacher and yoga is not a pain free practice. When people come to class with pain, they need to recognize that yoga is not an immediate cure all but that there are great benefits to a regular practice.

Yoga is a practice for people of all levels. HaLe’ has students ages 20 to 80, so don’t let fitness or age keep you away. Find a teacher that resonates with you and then stick with them. Don’t try for a lot of variety; go deeper instead of wider. Allow your class to become a community that develops over time. That’s a very supportive group to be in.

Also, don’t avoid props and don’t underestimate restorative yoga. Props like blocks, straps, and chairs make yoga much more accessible to people and allows them to achieve a comfortable practice with a properly aligned body. Restorative yoga is key to improving breath, awareness, and observations skills, even though a lot of people really resist it when they are new to yoga practice because they feel restless, want to exercise, and don’t see the value. It is an important part of a yoga practice; don’t ignore it.

A yoga practice, because it incorporates mind and body instead of being just body, comes with a lot of benefits. A good asana practice should be both convenient and enjoyable, and doing the yoga postures properly has different benefits for everyone. Most of all, though, don’t take it too seriously. It should also be fun.