Part 2: Yoga, Ayurveda, Addiction, & Recovery

Part 2: The 6 Tenets of Yoga for Recovery

Our fourth tenet in YoR is Life is Sweet. Ayurveda has a diet based on six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter). These six tastes are how we receive the world through our sense of taste. Now consider that sweet is our first taste in life (mother’s milk). Most “acting out” around food is a craving for the sweet taste. The sweet taste reminds us of our initial “union” with the mother: a feeling of safety, being nourished, protected, and nurtured. No wonder we seek it out again and again! Ayurvedic five sense therapies remedy our over-fixation on the sweet taste; we become aware of how we bring in sweetness through all our 5 senses, while moving away from our obsession with food and our oral fixation. We look at ways to sweeten our life through all the five senses.

Here again we also come to bhakti yoga, which is known as the “sweet yoga.” We connect with the sweetness of the sense experience through the devotional practices, for example, incense, prasada (sweet food offering), flowers, mantras, etc. We are simultaneously engaged in sweet, sattvic (harmonious, balanced), five-sense therapies and remembrance of the God within our own hearts. The practices allow us to ‘materialize’ our relationship with God—not just a thought, but using actual practices and rituals.

Let’s hear from another YoR student on how they apply this in their life:

After more than a year in recovery from alcoholism and codependency . . . I felt raw . . . keyed up . . . on edge. It was subtle. . . . I felt somewhat bombarded by life in sobriety, with all five senses wide open, alive and awake . . . generalized anxiety disorder.

Although I’d made the connection to the yogic teaching that to control the mind, one must control the senses. . . . I really didn’t know how to do that much beyond my regular hatha yoga practice, attendance at AA meetings, and Step work. I certainly didn’t have the awareness to understand that what I was doing in my daily life in all five of the senses directly affected and contributed to my uneasiness. . . . I found relief through the. . . . statement  Life is Sweet. I set about the practice of sweetening all five of my senses. I’m lucky enough to live in one of the sweetest places in the universe . . . I’ve begun to drive . . . a little slower and really take in the natural beauty. I pause at sunsets and tune into the sound of rain on the rooftop. I started clipping fresh roses from my year-round garden and always have colorful bouquets throughout the house. I added an altar to my desk where I spend a good deal of time. . . . I traded smoking cigarettes for aromatherapy and the television remote control for a good book. I walk away from gossip and clear my head by chanting a mantra. I’ve started taking more time each day to play with my dog, who is . . . sweetness itself and makes me feel good every time.

These are just a few new behaviors I’ve picked up, but it has made a huge difference in how I feel…it has allowed me to tap into my creativity and celebrate the abundance of sweetness available in life. Practicing sweetness is an infinite joy! Holding the intention of sweetening my senses is in itself a sweet practice because it has softened my mind and encouraged the flow of grace.

Today, that underlying unease is, for the most part, gone. But when I do begin to feel off center, I have a whole new delightful bag of tricks to choose from. I feel grounded, joyful, calm and peaceful and a deeper connection to this beautiful thing called life.

Our next tenet, Life is Love, is connected to Life is Sweet because in Ayurvedic nutritional therapy, sweet has the same psychological effect as love. As we are drawn toward mood-manipulation through people and food, we can recognize and accept that we are really looking to reconnect with the sweetness of life; we are really looking for love. Not the notion of love as a messy, emotional affair, but connection to the deep inextinguishable flame of love in our heart. The urge to love and be loved is powerful, and fortunately the spiritual path of bhakti-yoga is based upon this unquenchable longing. It allows us to recognize that all forms of love ultimately serve our search for God.

The goal of all recovery/spiritual paths is to transform our awareness from separation to unity. In unity, we perceive only love, express only love, become only love. Let’s go back to some of the words given to us in answer to “What do you long for?” Respondents often say they long for peace, love, connection, and for a sense of belonging. That is an interesting word because it brings us back to Life is Longing, which can be re-phrased as “life is belonging.” Our fundamental need is for love, and we may be trying to manipulate/control our environment or behavior to get the love from other people that we desire. For this we forgive ourselves and we bring in both bhakti and karma yoga. We ARE love, we are spirit embodied, and God is love. Love and serve, serve and love; what we love we serve, like the horse and carriage they go together.

Our final tenet is Life is Progress. Life is the wheel that keeps turning. Even as we abstain from our acting out behavior, life will not suddenly become trouble-free. So we must “keep coming back:” back to the mat, to the meetings, and to the meditation practice. There is no standing still in this scheme of life. Here we are helped by a study of karma and dharma. Karma, the universal law of action and reaction, tells us we will reap the results of our past actions. Some karmas are now “ripe,” and we are experiencing them in our lives today. This is one of the fundamental philosophies of yoga. Although things that happen in life seem completely random, this universal law is always operating, and no one escapes from it. An investigation into karma will help us to understand and accept our life circumstances. We must also consider dharma, or right living and right action in the world. Karma and dharma are very closely linked together. Dharma encompasses “what you are here for:” your life purpose and what you are doing in the world. After years of self-destructive behavior, people in recovery will often admit they are surprised to still be here amongst the living! Yet they are still here. Hence, dharma becomes a question for them and the issue of livelihood is of great importance. Vedic astrology offers great help when investigating one’s personal dharma by shedding light onto our own individual path.

As mentioned previously, we are taking an integrated Vedic healing approach in YoR. This involves integration of the six tenets into one overall program for healing and rehabilitation. Below is a summary of the six tenets of YoR, and the corresponding suggested therapies for each “root issue:”

Life Is Longing: All yogas

Life is Prana: Hatha yoga, pranayama, prana in diet, EFT/marma therapy

Life is Relationship: Bhakti yoga

Life is Sweet: Bhakti yoga and Ayurvedic five sense therapies to return to all five of our senses

Life is Love: Bhakti yoga and karma yoga (what you love, you serve)

Life is Progress: “Keep coming back,” care not cure, practice, karma and dharma (Jyotisa)

These six tenets of YoR help us begin to track the roots of our addictive and self-destructive behaviors. The idea is to restore wholeness with a holistic system, looking at all the facets of possible cause and seeing which are more pertinent for us. Participants are familiarized with the concepts of self-healing and self-care integrated with the full spectrum of Ayurveda, yoga, and Vedic astrology, and how these all relate to the principles of the twelve steps. This program is the foundation work for many of the people in recovery in our society. Participants often grasp these concepts with ease, and quickly connect how the program recognizes both their humanity and divinity, thus helping them have a deeper understanding of themselves and each other.

Reprinted with permission from Durga Leela of Yoga For Recovery (YoR). 

 Durga is the founder of Yoga of RecoveryR, a comprehensive program that integrates Ayurveda and Yoga with recovery tools for a holistic mind, body and spirit approach for all those affected by addiction and self-destructive behaviors.  Yoga of Recovery is currently offered as workshops, retreats and certificate courses. Durga holds the RYT-500 qualification (Yoga Alliance registered), having completed both the Sivananda Yoga teachers Training Course and Advanced Yoga Training. She is also extensively trained in Meditation and Vedanta.

She is a Clinical Ayurvedic and Pancha Karma Specialist, trained both in the US and  India. She is the Director of the Ayurveda Programs at the Sivananda Yoga Farm in California and a professional member and conference speaker for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

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