Hello, my name is Lotus Mary Alexandra Lee Morgan and I am an addict. I am also a buddhist yogi. Here is some radical honesty about the intersection of my yoga practice and my recovery.
The yoga came first and the recovery came later. I officially wanted to look at yoga more closely about six years ago. I was accepted into the Living Yoga Training program at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in August 2014. With that came a vow to live according to the yamas and niyamas (basic yogic codes of conduct), to maintain a vegetarian diet and to not engage in mind altering substances for one month. Hatha (asana, postures) and meditation requirements were also in place.
I extended my stay after the month flew by because I felt as though I was only just beginning to dip my toe into truly immersing myself into the practice. I ended up staying for a year. Along with a traditional understanding of yoga, I cultivated a practice, meaningful bonds, memorable moments, a fresh perspective, a new mode to operate from, a new devotion. All the while, the entire time I lived in Yogaville, I was sneaking to my car any moment that I could to get high. If any Yogaville community members or clergy are reading this, please consider this a confession. And an apology.
Basically, I was high from the ages of 19-29. I wanted to stop. I tried to stop multiple times. I attempted moderation, regulation and boundaries. All of my efforts resulted in bingeing.
I made excuses. I lied, both to myself and to others. I stole. I made reckless decisions that could’ve impacted my life negatively. I was stuck in the realm of hungry ghosts and attached to a sensation I intensely romanticized. I could never get high enough. Getting high was always on my mind, always the goal.
Eventually, at the cusp of thirty years old, I arrived at a place where I was ready to change my behavior and do something different. The road was rocky with confusion, intense emotional discomfort and more than one relapse. My daily and social life looked and felt strange. Some of my “friends” receded and disappeared. I cried a lot. I felt lost, in the dark and disoriented. I was scared and I didn’t like being sober. But, with the support of my partner and the help of a 12-step program, I found clarity and freedom.
The road of recovery is different every day. The two and a half years that I have been sober have been filled with all kinds of days and a lot of vulnerability. The first year and a half I was inadvertently and unconsciously eager to be okay. I was anxious to be normal, whatever that means. I wanted to blend in like nothing ever happened. I wanted to know who I was. I wanted to be this high-functioning person who reads and meditates daily and cooks every meal from scratch and is always pleasant and is always on time and is this ultra flexible yogi like my Yogaville friends who inspire me so much. Ha! (I am literally laughing right now.)
Even to this day I struggle to be in my body. Sometimes my energy is low. Most of the time I am not motivated to do what I know is holistically nourishing. I am still adjusting. I am still learning how to be present. Fulfilling basic needs and responsibilities are huge achievements for me, let alone getting to my mat.
But, listen to this: getting to my mat is now my focus. Meditation is now my goal! That, to me, is true sobriety. That is the juicy intersection of yoga and recovery. Maybe my meditation is inconsistent. Perhaps I don’t get to my mat for 9-21 days and won’t get into padmasana anytime soon, or ever. Maybe my pranayama is lacking. Maybe I could be reading the sutras more. Maybe my ahimsa practice toward myself could greatly improve. Maybe chanting more would help. Maybe I don’t feel like serving others or communing with sangha because I feel overwhelmed. Maybe when you say “love and light” I feel a little annoyed sometimes.
Yoga is always on my mind and always the goal. To me, that is everything.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction I invite you to seek help immediately. Call a relative or a friend. There are many, many resources. Here are a few that are specifically for Queer People of Color in recovery:
I love building community, feel free to connect with me on instagram @lotuslovemonster (personal) and @pedi_preistess_hc, I’m Holy Chic’s newest nail artist!
I would like to thank Project Yoga Richmond for supporting my home practice during this weird and trying time. You are an immense blessing to our community. Bless you all.
Atha yoga anushasanam
Now, the practice of yoga begins.
This is the first offering of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I’m no Sutra scholar but to me this sentence invokes the truth that yoga practice can only happen in the present moment.
For many of us, daily routines have collapsed. Perhaps this has affected your practice. Maybe you can no longer attend your favorite studio class or you’ve lost your lunchtime meditation at work. Maybe you are missing the community aspect of a group practice or the way you would roll out your mat next to a friend. It’s just not the same on your own.
I feel that way, too.
I miss our community. I’d rather show up and practice with a group than move and breathe alone in my bedroom. But we don’t have those options now. Now, we have to show up for ourselves.
And now is the time for the practice of yoga to begin.
My best friend from high school and I talk weekly and conclude our conversations by giving each other homework. Usually it’s that thing you know you should do but need the extra accountability to actually do it.
Lately, for me, the homework has been daily yoga asana and meditation practice.
I know I need this because it helps keep my anxiety at bay. Even though I’m alone, somehow these practices still make me feel more connected and supported.
As you may know, Project Yoga Richmond now offers a membership platform through which anyone can access a variety of yoga and meditation practices shared by PYR Ambassadors. This benefits you and also helps support PYR during this time when the studio must be closed and other fundraising efforts may be hindered. Thera are multiple levels of monthly fees to help make these practices more affordable and accessible.
Join us, if you can.
To me, what matters most is that we continue to practice, that we try to find ways to draw yoga into the “new now.” It’s needed more than ever.
So, if you care to participate — and I hope you will — this is your homework, just as it’s mine. Until we meet face to face again, make yoga and meditation a part of your new daily routine. It’s one thing we can do to keep our footing when it feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath.
I’ll close this reflection the way I always close my classes — with gratitude.
Thank you for showing up to practice being present and mindful in these challenging times. Thank you of taking care of yourself so that you can help care for a hurting community and world. Thank you for supporting Project Yoga Richmond with your (remote) presence and your resources.
And now I invite you to think of all the things for which you feel grateful today. Let them arise in your mind and on your heart.
May we be well in body, mind, and spirit. May we find contentment in the now. May we be at peace with ourselves and one another. And may we be free.
We at Project Yoga Richmond continue to monitor the rapidly evolving circumstances around COVID-19 and its impact on our community and beyond. We value your health above all else and the yogic principle of ahimsa (non-harming) guides us in all our decisions. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce that the PYR studio will close until further notice.
We know that many in our community seek solace in our studio and value the steadfast guidance and support of the PYR Ambassadors. PYR also depends on your financial contributions at our pay-what-you-can studio to fund a multitude of community outreach programs, expanding access to yoga and mindfulness for everyone in every corner of our city.
In an effort to maintain community while following recommendations for social distancing, we launched an online membership platform where you can remotely access yoga and mindfulness content from your beloved PYR ambassadors. As a member, you’ll receive regular content to support your practice at home and the pride of fueling work that matters to you.
Once you activate your membership, you’ll be notified of new content as soon as it’s posted. Stay tuned as we begin to post special offerings later this week.
Our community is strong and I have no doubt that we will weather this season together. We hope you’ll choose to support us with an online membership or by contributing directly on our website.
I appreciate your continued flexibility and support of Project Yoga Richmond as we work to ensure the well-being of all in our community.
Interim Executive Director
Love Your Body: Yoga for Women class instructors: Morgan Howell, Billie Carroll, Izzy Shurte, and Kisha Hughes
Every Sunday at the PYR studio, women* in Richmond come to do something truly revolutionary: love their bodies. Despite all the negative messages they receive about how their bodies should look and how they should behave in them, women step into a safe place where treating your body with acceptance and loving-kindness is paramount.
PYR Ambassador Izzy Shurte created the Love Your Body: Yoga for Women class in 2016. “It is a radical act for a woman to proclaim love for her body,” she reflects. “I wanted to hold space for healing and reclamation to take place.”
As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and as someone in recovery from an eating disorder herself, Izzy is intimately acquainted with women who feel at odds with their bodies.
She reached out to three other PYR Ambassadors: Billie Carroll, Morgan Howell, and Kisha Hughes to teach the class with her. “It’s lovely that even though we’re four different teachers there’s a similar energy and intention we all bring,” Morgan says. “What’s created through this class is larger than one particular instructor.”
Kisha places a special focus on making each class inviting, safe, and warm. She intends to “give students the opportunity to focus on simply existing without expectation.”
Billie also teaches Y12SR (Yoga for 12 Step Recovery) at the PYR studio and at Chesterfield County Jail. “I’ve had many women attend Y12SR class or Yoga of Recovery series to address their addictions, most saying that the Love Your Body class was the catalyst,” she says.
Billie often shares her own struggles with body dysmorphia in class. “I have heard other women my size say they can’t do yoga. I teach how to work with ‘our blessings.’”
Come see for yourself! Love Your Body: Yoga for Women meets every Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the PYR studio (6517 Dickens Pl.). We invite you to come, be, and heal.
*Project Yoga Richmond is a trans and gender non-conforming inclusive space.
Youth Programs: Up And Running
Stop for a moment and picture yourself in middle school…Are you wincing?
If you’re like most people, chances are you weren’t at your most calm, collected and confident. It’s a challenging time. Recently, studies have confirmed that social media usage increases students’ stress and anxiety levels, making it tougher than ever to focus and stay present.
This is why PYR seized the opportunity to bring the benefits of yoga to four schools this academic year: Brook Road Academy, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, Falling Creek Middle School and Binford Middle School. PYR Ambassadors provide yoga and mindfulness classes for students with a variety of needs, including students for whom English is a Second Language (classes include a Spanish-speaking interpreter) as well as students with special educational needs.
Kendra Robinson, Center Director for NextUp RVA at Elkhardt-Thompson explains, “So often we forget the trauma and stresses our students face. For them to learn to be in the moment and relax is a skill they can utilize not only in class, but at home, leading to an overall more healthy individual.”
PYR Ambassadors Keonna Knight and Sara Lovelace teach Elkhardt-Thompson’s yoga class in partnership with NextUp RVA. They are continually impressed by students’ honesty and openness when Keonna checks in each week at the outset of the class.
“Many of the students are experiencing emotions that we often label as negative,” Sara explains. “When a student responds saying that they are sad or bored, Keonna thanks them for sharing and lets them know that it’s okay to feel that way. I can feel how relieved they are. It’s a brief moment that has huge implications. It’s beautiful to witness.”
At this crucial developmental phase when students often feel dismissed, PYR’s Ambassadors validate their feelings and offer tools to cope. The very existence of PYR’s class acknowledges that students live complicated lives.
“Middle school is definitely a transitional time,” Sara remembers. “Your body is changing. Your mind is changing. You are waking up to more complicated ways of seeing the world. Yoga is an ideal tool for transitions because it forces us to stop and examine where we are at the moment.”
Every time you pay for your class at PYR or make a donation, you offer students in Richmond the time and space to examine their feelings and reduce their stress, leading to increased concentration, expanded creativity and more thoughtful decision-making.
Drug addiction, specifically to opioids, has increased dramatically in the last decade. Virginia alone has seen a 500% increase in drug-related deaths over the last seven years. In fact, hundreds of people find themselves incarcerated at Chesterfield County Jail as a result of addiction.
The staff and administration there recognize that addiction is a disease and not a crime, so they created the “Helping Addicts Recover Progressively” (HARP) program in 2016. They’ve had great success evidenced by a significant reduction in recidivism. Some inmates have even asked to continue their participation in the program after their release.
At Project Yoga Richmond we believe in the power of yoga as a public health tool. So we seized the unique opportunity to offer classes under the HARP program. Since 2017, PYR Ambassador Billie Carroll has led a weekly Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) class at Chesterfield County Jail. Y12SR is a relapse prevention program developed by Nikki Myers that combines a 12-step discussion meeting with an intentional yoga therapeutic practice for those with addictions or affected by the addictions of others.
Elysha Kim, Program Coordinator at the jail, explains how yoga fits naturally into the HARP program, “The physical body and mental health are tied so closely. Yoga is one of the few programs we offer that combines both.” Elysha suspects that the vast majority of those incarcerated at Chesterfield are facing drug-related charges.
“When we come to class it’s like a relief,” reflects Regina, a Y12SR participant. “We can talk about recovery, get peace and meditate. We feel better all weekend because we do yoga on Fridays. We leave…ourselves.”
As a yogi who has been in recovery for 17 years, Billie appreciates the opportunity to serve the community in this way.
“She relates to us as an addict,” explains Joy, another student. “Our issues are in our tissues. That’s what Billie always says. We don’t realize how much our stress and trauma remains in our bodies. The way she taught us to process that has been amazing.”
Students apply the therapeutic yoga techniques they learn in PYR’s Y12SR program to their lives outside of the community room where they meet. “Instead of being so angry all the time we learn how to think differently. How to act differently,” says Nari, whose first experience with yoga was in jail. “You can take on so much more after class.”
Ron, a student in the men’s class, says he uses a breathing technique called 4/3/7 (inhale for four counts, hold it for three, exhale for seven) to help him fall asleep. The women apply soothing techniques they learned in class, such as a butterfly hug and tapping methods, to calm down when they feel anxious.
Recently, a few of PYR’s male students began an inmate-led book club to deepen their practice. PYR donated copies of Meditations on the Mat by Rolf Gates and the men study it together on their own. “That was the biggest compliment to me,” says Billie. The participants’ enthusiasm for the program was evident in their willingness to share their experience when offered the opportunity.
When asked to reflect on his teacher, Dominic, a participant in the men’s class, says, “She pays attention to what we have to say.” He pauses, “I think she gets a lot out of it too.”
Dominic is right. Billie’s relationship with her students is symbiotic, reciprocal, spiritual and transcends the walls of the jail to include all of us at PYR. You support your programs like Y12SR each time you contribute for your studio class or make a donation. Your practice is their practice. We are all Project Yoga Richmond.