Maura Tapley is a yoga instructor at RiverMend Health Center of Atlanta. Five days a week, she leads a group of patients in the partial hospitalization program (PHP) through breathing and poses designed to calm the mind, strengthen the body and facilitate self-reflection and self-awareness.
Yoga is used by addiction rehab programs and by people in recovery for its ability to reduce stress and alleviate cravings that can lead to relapse. Yoga also provides a healthy outlet and way to spend time in sobriety.
We talked with Maura, who is certified in Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) about yoga at RiverMend Health Center, and the changes she sees in patients when they embrace yoga as part of their recovery.
Q. How does yoga help people in recovery?
The word yoga means union of body, breath and spirit. My ultimate goal for participants is for them to develop a sense of self-worth, so that they can believe in themselves enough to make some of the changes in body, mind and spirit they need to make in their journey of recovery. When they come in here, they’re broken. Nobody is on their ‘A game’. But gradually, we see them get stronger and healthier.
Q. Many people in early recovery are in poor health. They haven’t been eating right, sleeping right or getting any exercise in a long time. Can they still do yoga?
Yes, everything we do it adaptable for all levels. Yoga isn’t a sport. There is no competition. I announce that and repeat it. Yoga is about reconnecting the mind, body and the spirit. During each of our practices, we select an intention and a mantra. An intention is a thought for someone or something. A mantra is a repeated word or phrase, such as ‘I am willing.’ Or, ‘I am tolerant. I am patient. I am sober. I am enough.’ This creates a connection between the mat and the rest of life.
Q. How do you use breath in yoga?
There are various breathing techniques, which we use to hold focus and awareness, and to stay present. Ujjayi breathing is sometimes called the “oceanic breath” because you make the sound of the ocean when you exhale. In practice, we inhale hope, possibilities and goodness, and we exhale anxiety and negativity.
Breathing is powerful. It’s the difference between living and dead. By learning to do simple, long deep breathing, we can change the way we feel. We can control our thoughts by focusing on our breathing. If negativity is laying heavy on you, bring your mind back to the breath.
Q. Why is yoga a good complement to addiction treatment, including medications, psychotherapy and the 12-steps?
Yoga practice coincides with the principles of recovery. It doesn’t take the place of therapy or the 12-step, but it mirrors it. Yoga teaches willingness, and honesty. Honesty starts from within. Yoga helps build that confidence and self-worth we all so desperately strive for. Yoga is a genuine way to stay focused within and not feel you have to compete.