Addiction program melds yoga, 12-step recovery

Soothing atmospheric music and natural light filled the wide open space, decorated with lush green plants and soft carpeting.

Stepping through the doorway at Peaceful Heart Yoga Studio was like coming into a whole new world, where stress faded away.

Becky Mann sat cross-legged on a mat in the center of the Franklin-based studio. Over the past 10 years, Mann has been teaching different types of yoga throughout the Indy area. The practice marries wellness for the body as well as for the mind and spirit.

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As someone who has struggled with addiction, it has been a vital tool in her recovery.

“It’s an adjunct to treatment. It’s not a replacement for a 12-step meeting, but what it does is addresses the somatic, the body, where the meetings address the cognitive,” said Mann, a Morgantown resident. “It’s combining the mind with the body to be balanced, to get back to center.”

Mann has partnered with Peaceful Heart to offer Yoga of 12 Step Recovery, a practice that bridges the ancient practice of yoga, the tools of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well as the most recent research into trauma healing and neurobiology.

The program is a supplement to counseling, group meetings and other approaches to addiction recovery, Mann said. But it can be an important part of that process, to release trauma to begin to heal.

“Addiction can disconnect us from ourselves and those around us,” said Ashly Burmeister, founder of Peaceful Heart Yoga Studio. “Yoga of 12 Step Recovery is a holistic approach to the physical, mental and spiritual piece of addiction. We want to provide that tool to the community, where they can work to put their lives back together again.”

Yoga of 12 Step Recovery was founded in 2004 by Nikki Myers, an Indianapolis-based yoga therapist and teacher. Myers has gone into treatment for substance addiction in 1987, and was introduced to the 12-step program.

The 12-step approach to recovery has become the standard in treating addiction and substance-use disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, some common steps in the 12-step process include admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion, examining past mistakes with the help of a sponsor, making amends for these errors and learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior.

Myers was able to control her addiction for eight years, returning to school and co-founding a business. But in 1995, she relapsed. Returning again to the 12-step model, she also began a re-immersion into yoga study. Eventually, she moved away from her 12-step program and focused much of her recovery on yoga philosophy and teaching. Again, she relapsed.

“It was after that second relapse that I realized at least for me, there had to be a union between the cognitive approach to addiction recovery offered by 12-step programs, and the somatic approach to healing offered through yoga,” she said on her website.

That was the birth of the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery.

Mann first connected with yoga, and Myers’ program, in 2006. She entered recovery in 2009, having started drinking in high school. Her drinking intensified during a period she calls “a perfect storm.” She was in the middle of a divorce, survived a serious car accident that nearly resulted in the loss of her left arm and had lost her job.

“Navigating the single world and all of those things, it was a perfect storm to spiral down into alcoholism, as a way to escape reality and pain,” she said.

Once her life was on more stable footing, with a new marriage and a new home, Mann told herself she would cut back on the drinking. But it seemed to follow her in her new life.

Finally, she had enough.

“I didn’t want to feel sick anymore. I had grandchildren I wanted to be totally present for, and for my family. I just wanted a change. I surrendered,” she said.

Yoga became an important part of that recovery process. She has taught the program at Tara Treatment Center in southern Johnson County, and had formerly done a class at Serenity and Creative Counseling, located in Franklin.

Part of why she has found it so successful in her own situation is the nature of yoga itself, which fundamentally teaches that your body and mind are one and connected.

Taking that as a starting point, the practice teaches the fine art of balancing the different elements of life, Mann said. Addictive behaviors — whether that’s with alcohol, drugs, overeating, excessive shopping or any number of other compulsions — separate people from their friends, the families, their environment and themselves.

Taking advantage of yoga reconnects you to those important aspects of life, Mann said.

Multiple studies have shown that yoga can have a positive impact in managing a number of psychiatric conditions, including anxiety or anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and sleeping disorders.

Stress, anxiety and depression all play a major role in substance abuse and addiction, according to numerous studies into addiction. It makes sense that yoga could be a way to manage those issues in recovery, Mann said.

“It allows us to safely move some energy around, to connect the breath. Breathing is huge — it’s something we don’t pay much attention to, since it’s automatic. But if you’re anxious or you’re stressed, your breath is an indicator of where you’re at,” she said.

After becoming certified as a yoga teacher, she re-enrolled to be certified as a Yoga of 12 Step Recovery instructor as well. She had taken classes at Peaceful Heart in the past, and approached Burmeister about featuring the program here.

“We absolutely loved the idea from the moment the words came out of her mouth. Addiction, whether it’s substance or behavioral, impacts many aspects of a person’s life. In Johnson County, there’s a lot of that going on right now,” Burmeister said.

The class will include short group discussion and a yoga workout. The poses are gentle and can be done by people of all ability levels, Mann said.

In the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery, the other nearest classes are being held in Shelbyville and downtown Indianapolis.

The class will take place every Sunday morning at Peaceful Heart. The scheduling lines up with an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that is held directly afterwards at Serenity and Creative Counseling.

“This gives you everything. You can come here and get calmed and centered, then go on to your meeting,” Mann said.

The Peaceful Heart sessions have no set cost; rather, Mann will be collecting donations. The idea is to raise money to bring a screening of “The First Day,” a film starring former professional basketball player Chris Herren recounting his own story of recovery.

“We want to bring that message into the school system — a lot of time, that’s where addiction starts, goes from there and can lead to so many problems,” Burmeister said. “We’re trying to get this message out to the community.”

But while it is a central part, Mann also wants to stress that the class is not restricted only to those in recovery for substance abuse. The benefits of yoga can help all people, so family or friends who have been impacted by addiction, or even those looking to re-balance their own lives, can find it useful.

“Everyone has something. If you know someone struggling, come and be part of the community and connection,” Mann said. “Every body — all types of bodies and people in all different situations — can benefit from Yoga of 12 Step Recovery.”

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Yoga of 12 Step Recovery

What: A class aimed at those struggling with addiction that connects the dots between the ancient practice of yoga, the practical tools of a 12-step recovery program and the latest research on trauma healing and neurobiology.

When: 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Sundays starting Sept. 15.

Where: Peaceful Heart Yoga Studio, 550 E. Jefferson St., Suite 302, Franklin

Cost: No set cost, but donations are accepted

Information: For more information on the program, and updates on the class, go to