12-Step Recovery and the Eight Limbed Path of Ashtanga Yoga | Substance Abuse Recovery

“Where one door closes, another door opens,

but it’s the hallway that will kill you.”

Source unknown


O.K., so the hallway won’t kill you, but it will certainly challenge you beyond your comfort zone.

Any way, I just read a great book called “How Yoga Works,” by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally.

Among many possible interpretations; it is about seeing people, places and things as they are and as other than they are. In other words, to be able to shift our perspective and see the world in ways different than through our unconscious lenses that sometimes keep us stuck in self-defeating patterns.

Another word for “Yoga” is life. “How Yoga Works” is about how to make our lives work through a radical transformation of our entire perceptual patterns, which are most often unconscious and habitual.

Many of us are initially motivated for change by desperation. But it doesn’t take long to realize its short-term nature. Over time, though, we can learn to motivate ourselves through inspiration, as well. But in the routine of ordinary, daily life, inspiration comes and goes. So one of our important challenges is to employ self-discipline when we don’t necessarily feel like doing something that’s in our best interest. So how do we learn self-discipline? By adopting some kind of principle-based life-style.

In “How Yoga Works,” the authors beautifully demonstrate principle-based living which has been outlined throughout time in so many ways; whether it be through Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Yoga or the literally hundreds of other paths people walk.

Having personally practiced the twelve-step program for years, I see so many similarities between it and many of these other paths, including the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga yoga.

“How Yoga Works” weaves these principles into a sweet story about a young woman on a pilgrimage to the birth place of her ancestors, depicting how universal and timeless these principles are regardless of the particular path you are currently walking.

Historically, there has been so much ego-driven debate about which program is the “right” or “best” program for people in recovery (from anything and everything,) that we often miss the invaluable common ground we can all potentially benefit from.

In the intensive outpatient program for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders at Inner-Work Counseling; we custom design paths of recovery for people on an individual basis through honesty, open-mindedness and willingness.

So when the next “door” in your life closes, count “How Yoga Works,” as a great survival tool to help guide you through that scary hallway; not just one day at a time, but one breath at a time.

Think of it this way; in the next twenty-four hours we are all going to be trading away an entire day of our life. Let’s make it a good deal!

How differently would we treat the next twenty-four hours if we knew we only had ten years left? A year left? A hundred days left? Ten days left? Maybe we would count the experience of the hallway as a legitimate part of the journey instead of just something to get through in order to enjoy the next “door.”

Would we see things with softer eyes? Would we experience the sweetness inherent in each day a little more vividly? Might we be kinder, less judgmental to ourselves and others? How nice it would be if we would do that anyway with however much time we do have left.


Self-Discovery Questions

Which of the following principles do you currently practice in your daily routine?

Honesty, service, compassion, non-violence (in thought, word and deed), non-stealing, trust, faith, right-action, relinquishment, surrender, moderation, temperance, balance, letting go, forgiveness, non-possessiveness, contentment, moderation, enthusiasm, self-study, devotion, humility, self-reliance, self-responsibility, commitment, self-discipline, reverence, faith, trust, etc.

Which, if any of these principles may be over developed or under developed in your life?

Can you accept yourself as you are, even as you change and grow?

Truthfulness| Yogic Principles for Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery

The Next principle of living is truthfulness, or Satya in Sanskrit.

It refers to being truthful in concrete ways like speaking the truth and keeping commitments. But also by not embellishing, minimizing, omitting, self-aggrandizing, rationalizing or through pretense.

Truthfulness cultivates humility. Humility reduces the vacillation between our pride and ambition on the one hand, and our fear and avoidance on the other hand, bringing them into balance vs. eradicating them.

Humility is about letting go of results and staying focused on the process.

Satya is about living our truth and no one can tell us how we should listen for and find the truth within ourselves.

The point of discussing things with people we trust is to come closer to our own truth, not to have someone relieve us of our responsibility of discovering our truth.

Recovery is about doing right-action day in and day out. Right-action accrues more energy for more right action.

Self-Discovery Question:

What’s one way you can practice truthfulness in your life today.

Non-Harming| Yogic Principles for Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Rolf Gates wrote a brilliantly practical book called Meditations from the Matabout how to apply the principles of yoga to our ordinary, daily lives.

The next many postings will be extensive excerpts and adaptations from his book because these principles are universal and therefore applicable to the recovery process. In fact, Rolf discloses himself as a recovering alcoholic in his book.

Try as I might, however, these postings will not come close to the essence of what his book has to offer. They’re not supposed to. It’s like the free sample at the grocery store. You try it and if you like it, you buy it. So do yourself a major act of kindness and buy a copy of it and spend a few years getting to know the book. Then spend the rest of your life living the principles as best you can.It’s written in the format of 365 brief daily passages which can be read in short order and then reflected upon for the rest of the day. Personally I couldn’t wait that long to go through it the first time because it’s such a wealthy source of inspiration. But the second or fifth time I read it I did it that way and got something different out of it.

Yoga means union or integration. The purpose of these postings is to help us to practice integrating these principles into our ordinary, daily lives.

First off, Rolf points out that the way we draw nearer to these principles is by becoming more aware of all the ways we violate them. I just love that because it gives us such permission to be the fallible beings that we are.

Then he says when we are working one of these principles we are working them all. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Except is does. Rolf goes on to say that we embrace the process and let go of the results. This is truly a guilt free practice. Then he says by living a principle-based life-style we do away with the negative actions that create remorse about the past and fear about the future. So let’s get started shall we…

Principle #1- Non-harmingCalled Ahimsa in Sanskrit, non-harming refers not just to our actions, but also to our speech and our thoughts. We can also think of it in the positive sense as compassion, acceptance, connection and service to others.

What’s helpful in doing this is to recognize in ourselves, that which we judge in others. This helps us realize that we are not so different from others.

It’s also easier to practice non-harming when we see the “obstacles” in our path as our path, and focusing instead on our attitude.

We can practice non-harming by stretching beyond our resistance and fear and doing the next right thing.

Self-Discovery Section:

Bring compassionate awareness to the insidious ways you  may be harming yourself and others through your thoughts, words and deeds. This is not a guilt trip, but rather an opportunity to simply catch yourself and give yourself the opportunity to do it differently.



Loving Yourself through Drug and Alcohol addiction

My ego is stubborn, often drunk, impolite.

My loving, finely sensitive, impatient, confused.


Take messages from one to the other.

Robert Bly

The four chapters of this compelling book form a quartet of distilled wisdom that well delivers the message of the merits of consciously choosing to evolve our ego-driven selves into our loving, spiritual selves.

Spirituality is a deeply personal subject. I therefore do not readily take to discussions on the matter. I do not judge people for their beliefs or lack thereof. The vast majority of the time I simply practice acceptance, as best I can, out of respect for myself and others.

But having just read my complimentary copy of “The Shift,” by Hay House Publishers, I feel uncharacteristically compelled to weigh-in on the subject Dr. Dyer so gracefully addresses.

Being human is hard! Maybe the reason they call us the human race is because we’re all so busy trying to run away from the challenge of just being ourselves, hence our chronic ambition.

But, as Dr. Dyer points out, it doesn’t have to be so hard if we embrace what he calls “radical humility,” relieving us from the exhaustion of our egos. How do we do this? Quite simply, by finding meaning in life through love. And what better quote could he reference than that of Mother Teresa who said “Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning. Love must be put into action, and that action is service.”

I love the premise of this reverent book; that we all originate from spirit, a place where ego holds no hostages, to a world that socializes us out of the very best of our seminal qualities, only to get lost in a world of ambition – what I might call the shaft (sorry).

But alas, we all have the power of choice, as is so poignantly spelled out for us in this profoundly practical account of how to disengage from the trance of our unconscious, habitual patterns in life and consciously shift into a higher place of love. Then we can live our lives in service to others realizing the true meaning of being human.

“Don’t ask what the world needs;” says Dr. Dyer, “don’t ask what others think you should be doing with your life. Instead, ask yourself what makes you come alive – because, more than anything else, what the world truly needs is men and women who have come alive…”

Reading this wonderful book has certainly refreshed my sense of vitality and enthusiasm for my place in life. It reminds me that when I give away something material, I have less of it; but when I give away something spiritual, I have more of it.

I highly recommend everyone read the potent message contained in this beautiful book; but much more importantly, let’s each then live the message for the inevitable joy it will bring not only to our lives, but to the lives of all those around us, as well. Oh yes, and watch the movie, too.




Insomnia | Substance Abuse Recovery

Sit in the midnight stillness of your essence;

just being with who you really are; all of you,

especially the parts you think rule you out

of deserving the only true love there is –

your own.

The trouble with waking up

is discovering your chaos and pain,

while others lay blissfully asleep.

You don’t want to stay awake.

Who would?

But you are in the right kind of trouble.

This precious insomnia has gifts to bear

that exceed your wildest dreams.

Positive Affirmations in Substance Abuse Recovery

My complimentary copy of Louise Hay‘s “Experience Your Good Now” helped me open up to something that has come as a long-standing challenge to me throughout my personal and professional life – the use of positive affirmations.

Maybe it’s because I was raised a Chicago Cubs fan and learned the long and hard way that “we’ll get ‘em next year” may be as delusional as it is positive. At any rate, I know it’s my own stuff, but positive affirmations have always seemed somewhat contrived to me.

But even so, I felt positively compelled to give it another chance. And Louise Hay’s style of writing; simple and concise, has surely not let me down.

As I read, all my skepticism surfaced like a center field bleacher bum at Wrigley Field after his third beer; “If it were that easy…” blah, blah, blah. See chapter 5, affirmations for critical thinking.

But, like a good servant anticipating the needs of others before even they themselves do, Louise Hay had an encouraging response for the doubting Thomas within me before he was escorted out of the park by the security guards.

Of course the nature of the mind is to initially refute a positive affirmation with a corresponding negative thought. It’s part of the process. Were it not so, we probably wouldn’t have to use them in the first place. And, as she says, “The complaining affirmations will always win (in the short run), because there are more of them, and they’re usually said with great feeling.” So we then need to match that feeling with our more rational responses until they become as passionate and therefore as credible.

So I pushed through my resistance and read the first few chapters before I retired for the night. Surprisingly, I found myself using some of the very affirmations the bleacher bum screamed against as I drifted off to sleep. Somewhat more surprising was having the same affirmations wake me up the next morning.

I love her message about the true nature of positive affirmations. Rather than instantly believing them 100%, she says they are a way to open a door to new possibilities other than our unconscious, habitual patterns of negative thinking, which, of course, left unchecked, evolve into our self-defeating beliefs, attitudes, emotions, behaviors and relationships.

But unlike our daily dose of a multi-vitamin, Ms. Hay does well to point out that we must use these affirmations much more than once a day to realize the full benefit they have to offer.

And one of the great things about the use of positive affirmations is that we can use them anywhere, any time, multiple times a day, silently or aloud.

So just as we wouldn’t expect to get by with only a few breaths a day, we don’t indulge in naïve expectations of the benefits of positive affirmations without the willingness to put forth consistent effort with them. Even if we get immediate results at times, we can’t rest on our laurels. There’s just too much momentum to the mind’s negative patterns.

While it may be difficult to accept the fact that we have the power to choose what we think, the alternative is even more difficult. Taking responsibility for our thoughts is like stepping up to the plate. We don’t have control over whether the next pitch will be a fast ball, curve ball, change-up, low and outside or knock us upside the head. But we do have the choice of whether or not to swing at it or even jump out of the way if necessary.

Likewise, we don’t have to automatically accept every thought the mind pitches us as if it were accurately in the strike zone. We can let a lot of them scream right by us and enjoy the sound of them stinging the catcher’s mitt as the umpire shouts “ball four, take you base.”

It’s a pleasant walk to first base, but even on that shorter walks back to the dugout after striking out we can take solise in knowing we exercised our power of conscious choice as best we could in the moment.

So, Fathers, please don’t raise you’re kids to be Cub fans. But all hope is not lost on us recovering Cub fans either. Before your inner bleacher bum gets kicked out of the park, cut him off from the $8.00 Old Styles and check this book out and see if you agree with me that it is as profound as it is practical.