If you ’ ve heard of yoga and addiction recovery , you ’ ve heard of Nikki Myers . She established Yoga of 12-step Recovery , also known as Y12SR , in 2003 , and it ’ s grown from a one-time six-week intensive with 12 participants in Indianapolis into a thriving international community with more than 200 weekly meetings and 600 active Y12SR facilitators in the US and beyond .
Myers is a slender , vibrant woman in her early sixties with a big grin , big ideas , and big wedge heels . She isn ’ t the only one to integrate 12-step recovery and yoga , and she ’ s the first to admit that , quipping , “ Nothing ’ s original ,” with a chuckle . She attributes the Y12SR system to her teachers Gary Kraftsow , Aruni , Peter Levine , and Seane Corn , as well as Dr . Bob Smith and Bill Wilson , the two men credited with founding the original 12-step program , Alcoholics Anonymous , in the 1930 ’ s . She created Y12SR to help 12-steppers learn more about yoga and teach yogis more about the 12 steps . We spoke at CITYOGA , the studio she founded and since passed on to Dave Sims , another supporter of Y12SR , on a rainy Thursday morning . Interviewing Myers means listening to laughter , wisdom , and a few f-bombs .
Emma Hudelson : What ’ s your elevator speech for Y12SR ?
Nikki Myers : Y12SR is ultimately a relapse prevention and reintegration program …. We connect the dots between yoga philosophy and practices , the very practical tools of the 12 step program , and all of the research in neuroscience , yoga , meditation , and recovery from trauma to provide a foundation for what we ’ re calling sustainable addiction recovery .
EH : You always say that the twelve steps were your life raft , and yoga was your launching pad . How were the 12 steps your life raft ?
NM : They ’ re still my life raft . They provide a very practical and structured way to look at the spiritual principles [ of the 12-step program ]. So those structures are my lifeboat . And I still need a lifeboat from time to time … the structure of having accountability , working with a sponsor , working with sponsees . And yoga ’ s been my launching pad . It ’ s allowed me to go to places that I never thought — I never imagined — I could go .
EH : Tell me about your own recovery story . How did you first encounter the 12 steps ?
NM : Thank God I encountered the 12 steps . The 12-step program talks about jails , institutions and deaths . And I know jails , institutions and death . I found the 12-step program in 1987 . My addiction had taken me into commercial sex work , divorce , domestic violence , all of that stuff . When I walked in the rooms , I could barely put a sentence together . What I found were people who could love me until I could love myself . That ’ s the lifeboat stuff , and it ’ s still there .
In the first eight years of my recovery , lots of things happened . I was separated from my kids before getting sober , and I got my kids back . I got my undergraduate degree with straight A ’ s and got my MBA with one B … So I knew I had some smarts .
I started progressing in the ranks of corporate in this software company and they sent me on this trip to Garmisch , Germany . I arrived hungry , angry , lonely , and tired . In the 12-step program , we learn that those are states to be vigilant about , because you don ’ t make great decisions when those energies pop up . By the time I get to the conference … they were serving dessert : orange sherbet in champagne . I made the decision to go for it . Then I got back to my room , and it was grand , big , and overlooking the alps , and there was a mini-bar . I drank like Denzel Washington drank at the end of the movie Flight . I drank the whole mini-bar . I was “ functional ,” so I got up the next day to do what I needed to do , but instead of coming home from Germany , I made my way to Amsterdam , and immediately I found that I knew what to do , where to go , and how to act , even though I hadn ’ t had a drink or a drug in eight years . That ’ s the samskara . You can ’ t bullshit yourself about it . It ’ s always there . Unless you ’ re a Jesus , or a Buddha , or a Krishna , it ’ s always there . Maybe for the enlightened ones , it goes away , but I can ’ t bank on that , because I say “ fuck ” way too much . So I have to do my work , because that samskara is always there . After eight years clean , I knew exactly how to find my drug of choice .
EH : What was your drug of choice ?
NM : Lots of cocaine at that point … I like crack , straight-up . The first high was Samadhi . And I spent a lot of time chasing that first high … the addict is just looking for the same thing the enlightened one is . That ’ s why there can ’ t be any judgment . We ’ re all looking for the same thing . We have to take the stigma and the judgment out of this shit . That ’ s my big soapbox .
I finally made it back to Boston after spending some time on the streets of Amsterdam … and some things happened , and I found my way back into the rooms and back into yoga .
EH : What were some of those things that made you go back to the rooms ?
NM : Well , I was destitute . I was sick and tired of being sick and tired . I was humiliated , and I was full of shame , totally disgusted … I knew the 12-step program had saved my life before , and I knew it was the life raft I needed at that point . Simple as that . And it is simple . Not easy , but simple . I love that phrase .
Then I found my way back into yoga . At that point , I decided that yoga and yoga philosophy was all I needed — I didn ’ t need the 12-step program anymore . So I was clean for 8 years , then I relapsed . Then this period , and then I relapsed again , and I was like , what the fuck ? I let the 12-step program go , I delved deep into yoga and philosophy , and then I relapsed again … Another relapse . What the fuck , right ? The dis-ease of addiction is beyond intellectual . I had some smarts , but the reliance on the intellectual was one of the things that took me out …
A platform for sustainable recovery has to cover all five of the bodies . The 12-step program does a great job of covering the cognitive approach . The yoga asana practice gives me the somatic , the body-based stuff , and I assert that there are some other things needed in there now