Former Addict, Sex Worker Starts Movement To Help Others Get Clean, Stay Clean
September 29, 2015
Nikki Myers has a background story that is as interesting and compelling as the work she’s now doing. For years she was a serious drug addict, and at times turned to commercial sex work to support her addiction. Having recovered and relapsed more than once, she founded Yoga of 12-Step Recovery as a way to help other addicts not only overcome their addictions, but heal their bodies and minds through an integrated approach.
YogaCity NYC’s Megan Mook caught up with Myers to talk about sustaining recovery, the body-mind connection, and social outreach.
Megan Mook: Tell us about your journey that led you to yoke 12-Step and yoga.
Nikki Myers: It was 1987 when I first walked into the room of a 12-step program. For years I’d been caught in the throws of heavy drug addiction. Through 12-step, I learned how to love myself and I really got myself together. I went back to school, first for my undergraduate degree, where I made straight As, and then for my MBA, where I made one B. [Laughs.]
I had regained some smarts and was really doing well. I’d repaired my relationships and was working for a software company, but I ended up relapsing. First in Germany, and then in Amsterdam. And there I was, right back in the throws of addiction, working as a sex worker again. When I got back to the States, I returned to 12-step and I became reunited with yoga. I’d been introduced to yoga in the 70s but had become distracted by drugs. I started practicing Bikram, and soon found Ashtanga, which I loved.
I was living in Boston at the time, and every year my Ashtanga teacher would to go Mysore to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She taught yoga in inner-city schools and then one summer I took over her classes while she was in India. Teaching the students got me interested in yoga philosophy. I could see what a profound effect the philosophy had on their minds, and I started to see connections between yoga and 12-step.
After studying yoga philosophy and relapsing, I realized that I needed to couple these two approaches. I need both: the cognitive aspects of 12-step, and the somatic aspects of yoga. I’ve had many, many teachers and various influences. I hate saying that what I’m doing is original, but I did put it together in this form.
MM: On your website, you talk about healing trauma as an integral part of Y12SR. Tells us more.
NM: Y12SR is a platform that connects the dots between yoga and yoga philosophy, 12-step, neuroscience, and trauma research. I state that underneath any addiction is some kind of trauma. Any platform for recovery has to include what yoga brings to the table: meditation, pranayama, and asana. That’s one side of healing. The other side is the cognitive piece. 12-step isn’t the only way to get that cognitive piece, but it works and it’s free. It’s accessible to a part of the population that interests me. And if it worked for me, it can work for anybody.
MM: You’ve said that “the issues live in the tissues.” What does this mean?
NM: I was influenced a lot by the book The Body Keeps Score. Also Ida Rolf talks about emotional trauma as energy, and that energy has to go some place. If it moves, it creates one result, and if it doesn’t move, that creates a different result.
I think of it like the kleshas, if they are ignored or held, they will produce certain results. Take anger for example. It’s not good or bad or wrong, it’s an energy. If it moves, it turns into motivation. If it’s held, it turns into rage. When rage gets stored for a long time, it produces other things, like cancer.
MM: How do you incorporate neuroscience?
NM: This doesn’t just apply to drugs, there are over 200 types of 12-step programs, and the science is similar. But I’m going to use drugs as an example. Most drugs of choice target the reward system of the brain, the pleasure system. Dopamine in particular is often talked in relation to addiction. When dopamine gets released, the brain thinks “a life-sustaining activity is occurring.” For example, dopamine gets released when we eat and have sex. It teaches us to repeat these activities. This is what happens with certain drugs, and addictions in general.
At Y12SR, we work with this as a samskara [mental imprints that manifest as karmic tendencies]. They’re not good or bad or right or wrong. Some are great! In order to create new samskaras that are useful to how we want to walk in this world, we have to practice recovery, just like we practice yoga.
MM: Y12SR has two training programs. Tell us about them.
NM:It’s not a 200-hour yoga teacher training program. It’s about 40 hours, and it has two tracks. One is an Intensive Training, which is based on the application and understanding of yoga and 12-step. The other is a Leadership Training, where we equip and prepare participants to offer Y12SR meetings.
MM: How does Urban Outreach factor in?
NM: Oh, I'm very excited about that. We are a program within the Give Back Yoga Foundation. We supplement the pay of Y12SR yoga teachers in underserved communities. These centers couldn’t pay the teachers Right Livelihood—they can only afford to pay the teacher very little. So we help make the programs feasible, through grants and donations.
MM: As a yoga teacher, your use of Right Livelihood is very particularly compelling to me. Usually Right Livelihood is used in the sense of making a living by ethical means. Here you’re using it to refer to paying teachers a livable wage.
NM: Yes, the goal is to benefit everyone: the center, the teachers, and participants. In other words, it should be a win-win-win.