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The Yoga Of 12-Step Recovery

Ishvara pranidhana. Surrendering to a higher power. Most of us are familiar with this fundamental spiritual principle from the venerable Sutras. It also forms the basis of Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) a unique blend of AA and yoga that is now coming to New York City.

Y12SR) teacher Cindee Rifkin will be leading classes at Reflections Center for Conscious Living and Yoga on February 7th and 21st. She is eager to help others in the city discover its healing power, having found yoga to be the saving grace from a long history of addiction that started when she began drinking at age 12.

"Yoga saved my life more than anything ever did," says Rifkin, 44, who went into rehab at 16 for what had become multiple addictions, but said she found every other way to escape over the years, including eating, drinking and gambling, and eventually ended up relapsing.

"I wanted to become whole. I felt like pieces of me were missing or damaged from all the things I did in my life and how I treated my body," she says. "When I got on the mat the first time in 2003 I didn't understand anything the yoga teacher said. All I know is, I was able to relax my mind. Even if it was only for a moment, that was more than I ever had." When a high-stress job in the financial industry ended for her in 2008, she devoted herself to yoga full-time, practicing at home every day and eventually finding Y12SR.

Y12SR founder Nikki Myers created the program in 2003 following her own history of addiction, and recovery. Myers describes Y12SR as "a relapse prevention program based on Yoga Sutra 2:16 : ‘Future suffering can be avoided'." (Heyam dukham anagatam.)

"It is not getting sober but staying sober that is the biggest challenge for addicts," says Myers. She says yoga helps us recognize the signs of imbalance that can lead to relapse and gives us tools to address them. By its nature, yoga also addresses the sense of separation that is at the root of addictive behavior.

"I didn't know that suffering was optional," says Rifkin. As she began to believe in the idea that a higher power could restore her to sanity (Step 2), her faith began to build. "Addictions bankrupted me from everything and my spirit received no attention or nurture. I knew from this time forward that I no longer needed to suffer if I took the actions to heal."

Y12SR classes begin with a 12-Step meeting centered on a theme, such as honesty, hope, faith or courage, then continue with a Yoga class built upon that theme. While there may be flowing movement, Rifkin says her classes feature fewer postures than a traditional vinyasa class, and they are held for longer. "When you're getting people that are first sober or have been sober for a while, you [first] get them to feel -- it's a little slow." She says this can help people let go of the idea of being "good at" yoga, as well as provide an essential element that is often missing when people become sober but find their lives haven't changed. "I think there's people who want to let go of what's happened to them. I think they know there's something more and they just don't know how to get it."

Pranayama is also an essential component of the classes, particularly ujayyi breathing, anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) and brahmari (bee buzzing breath).

There are many references in the Yoga Sutras that have parallels in the 12 Steps, like satya or honesty, and svadhiyaya or self-study/self-inventory. However the very first sutra -- "Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind" (Yogas chitta vritti nirodahah) -- might be the most profound.

"Through my active addiction and many years after I got sober, I was imprisoned by my own mind," Rifkin says. "I wanted nothing more than to quiet the noise and disobey the same habitual thoughts." Then, "I got on the Yoga mat and was able to let go." She says this ability to "just be and not have to do" is a revelation for many.

Y12SR classes are open to anyone dealing with their own addiction, or affected by the addictive behavior of others, and after the initial sessions, Rifkin is hoping to be able to offer the classes on an ongoing basis. To learn more about Y12SR, contact, or visit

For more information on Karen Schwartz, a New York City based Yoga therapist and writer, visit

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