Getting Old Together

Posted on in Healthy Living by Kyczy Hawk

In Recovery and on the (Yoga) Mat

We can enter addiction recovery early or late in life. We can start yoga when we are young or old. We can also combine the two early or late, in recovery or in age. The critical rules of long-term recovery and long-term asana (pose) yoga practice are similar—pay attention and adapt!

Yoga and Recovery

Yoga is a practice designed to find union of body, mind, and spirit. Addiction is a disease of separation. It affects our brain, our physical health, and our communication with others, and with our spiritual connection. We disintegrate. Yoga has tools to address our soulful longings with healing practices in the same way that a program of addiction recovery can do this. Yoga, however, adds a physical practice that can reconnect the body and brain, how we think and how we feel.

I am not complacent in my recovery. I don’t take it for granted. I am at a stage where I’ve been in recovery for more than half my life. This means that the fundamentals of my recovery program, the basics of what I do to maintain my balance, mentally and spiritually, come more effortlessly. I have some practice under my belt. Life can become difficult, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Initially my life was full-on chaos. Now, not so much. Don’t misunderstand—I never forget that disaster could be just a drink, pill, or fix away. In the intervening years I have developed more tools, especially yoga, that I can reach for more automatically. It is now easier to face life as it comes.

I am not complacent in my asana practice. I need to pay attention every time I move. I have arranged myself in the poses many times so I am cool with the fundamentals. I have the form memorized. However every time I step on the mat I need to feel my way through the pose, the transitions between the poses, the subtle movements of the body, and the sensations and messages my body sends me when I rest.


Creating a Routine

The way these two life quests, recovery and yoga, remain “automatic,” or familiar, is practice. We can’t stop practicing. Meditation, asana, meetings, sponsees (read: people that you mentor), study, meeting with a sponsor, breath practices, chanting—these all require repetition and awareness. And as life goes on we learn to adapt. You may not go to as many meetings as you did when you first got clean, sober, or began abstinence. We go to more when facing something dicey, back off when other parts of life calm down or feel less challenging.

When joints hurt or range decreases, we don’t do as many elaborate extensions in the postures, nor move as fast in between as we might have fifteen years ago. On a frisky day we may add a challenge as appropriate but with age we have learned to listen to our bodies more acutely. I move more slowly, I do less when I am stressed. There are parallels in recovery—make time to go to more meetings, make decisions more deliberately, talk to others, rest.

Avoiding Judgement

As we age our world view changes. It has for many of the people I talk to—both in the rooms of recovery and in yoga classes. We have more years to look back upon, more experience in the futility of force—whether it is trying to control someone else or pushing through a pose. Force doesn’t help and it can harm.

As an aging person in a youth-oriented society one can feel isolated and “less than.” We don’t honor age as is purportedly done in other societies. I am not (nor was I really ever) a beauty by society’s standards. I am less so now as I lose my waist and my skin begins to drape. This is a fact and it deserves a period of mourning. I am also less visible in recovery meetings. Now when I attend meetings where I am not known I have discovered that I am one of those old ladies! Sometimes I am perceived as the elder stateswoman, the wise crone, but more often I am seen as the old one who “just doesn’t get it,” who is out of touch with the way things are. I used to be the “cute one in the second row” taking the focus away from an older wiser person. Now I speak more from experience rather than from the fresh pain of the newly recovered.

The physical practice of yoga in the West has become a faddish form of exercise, documented on Instagram with glam poses on rock faces and cliff tops. You won’t find me helping popularize the ganja yoga trend. That is not the yoga of my tradition. My approach is more yin oriented, gentle hatha yoga, with slow movements and somatic sequences. I move into my body rather than punish and chase it with the idea of “more.”

The Truth of the Matter

I am aging. I have learned that less is more. I have learned to slow down and listen to the sensations in my body. It has limitations that it hadn’t experienced before. But it also has some added flexibility that I had been too impatient to develop previously. Yes, this is good news! An older person can gain flexibility! I can now be in postures with less difficulty and discomfort than I could earlier. There are also poses I avoid. Taking it slow allows me to determine what is healthy for me now. I believe the feelings in my body and trust it when it tells me that certain poses aren’t for me anymore.

Now I no longer identify myself by how much chaos I can tolerate. Recovery has given me a way to experience the world that isn’t based on extremes. Addiction is the disease of more and I am recovering from more-ism. As a younger chick I used to look outside myself to see what was fun, what was enough, what was doable. Now I look inside and check in with my own values. Sometimes it feels lonely but it always feels more authentic.

Aging in yoga brings experience, calm, and more awareness. I have a different relationship with yoga than it being just about exercise. It is a road to my spiritual well being. I practice yoga to connect my body, mind, and spirit, and to heal my nervous system. I practice asanas to identify areas in my body I have been blinded to as the result of accidents, surgeries, and trauma. I practice yoga so I can learn what it feels like to engage my muscles with intention and so I can release tension. Now my asana practice helps heal my brain.

Adjusting to a New Reality

Aging in recovery brings experience, some calm, and more awareness. Of importance has been to be in community, having friends with whom to share the process. Aging in recovery is more integrated and less agitated. It focuses more on being part of the community and less on personal struggles and pain. As my personal struggles have lessened, my ability to be supportive of others has increased. That said, the past does not just slip gently away. Like any yoga practice, it takes diligent work and vigilance to keep an even keel. Just because you advance and add new tools doesn’t mean you give up the basics.

These written words feel so graceful to me, as if one thing naturally led to another with no kicking, no screaming, sadness, or grief. Ha! That is not the case. Change is always difficult. We are always faced with painful cravings and aversions, but such is life. I find that to change I need to find a peaceful balance. It’s not always easy. Try me next week. I will have discovered new age spots, more crepey skin, deeper wrinkles. My asana practice will find a hiccup—additional stiffness, a trick knee, a painful hip—new challenges everywhere. And I will re-start my journey to acceptance—yet again.

Kyczy Hawk is an author and a yoga teacher living in San Jose. She holds Y12SR (Yoga of 12 Step Recovery) classes at Willow Glen Yoga and is author of Yoga and the Twelve-Step Path and Yogic Tools for Recovery: A Guide to Working the Twelve Steps.

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