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Yoga Instructors
yoga-instructors
Written by Alison Webb

There are so many ways that yoga allies can support your recovery journey! I spoke with four yoga instructors who have experienced the transformative power of yoga and want to share it with others.

Elise Boyson, the Executive Director of Sea Change Yoga in Portland, says when she started doing yoga, she had an experience she’d never had before. “I had the experience of coming home to myself.”

Sea Change Yoga is a nonprofit that brings trauma-informed yoga to people who can’t afford it or can’t access it, like at the Androscoggin County Jail or the Southern Maine Re-Entry Center for Women in Windham. Sea Change also offers two free classes a week at Portland Recovery Community Center.

Trauma-informed yoga, Boyson explains, is all about compassion and choice rather than instruction and judgment. It is predominantly a restorative (yin) style of yoga. “It’s a gentle type of yoga. Often, we don’t even get off of the mat.”

Patrick Connor, a yoga instructor in Kennebunk, came to yoga the way many people do – in his fifties, he had back pain. He went to doctors who eventually said there was really nothing they could do to help. In looking for a pathway to get better, he found yoga.

“Yoga is a practice that looks into the essence of ‘what we are’ as the interweaving of consciousness and physicality,” Connor says, and he focuses his classes on getting people to understand how this mind-body connection works in their lives.

For people in recovery, that might mean emphasizing the experience of the breath and the core, how the depth of our belly and heart space is affected by how we move and breathe. This creates an opportunity to be more deeply aware of our feelings and how they are connected to our posture, and how we use movement and are choosing our perspective.

By being in different postures, we have an opportunity to be more conscious about what it’s like to open up, to have the choice to do it or not, and to understand the consequences.

Connor’s son is in recovery, and he thinks yoga can be important for family members, too. For people who stick with it, over time the practice of yoga transforms their experience of living and works its way into healthier relationships, creates peace of mind, and enhances sleep.

Leslee Clark, owner of WellHeart Yoga, loves the rich and grounded life yoga has given her and is interested in making yoga accessible to everyone. Ten years ago, she opened Yogave, Maine’s only donation yoga studio, in Falmouth. There’s a box at the entrance to the studio, and people who come to class pay what they can. “If you’re struggling financially and need to be around people, there is a place for you at Yogave,” Clark says.

Clark has been teaching yoga for 14 years and leads yoga instructor trainings, but she spends most of her time now focusing on grief support. Since the death of her son in 2017, she has been drawn to yoga as part of the grief process, and is continually reminded of the importance of yoga as a way to slow down our thoughts, to breathe, to access our own internal wisdom. “This can be so empowering to a person in recovery from anything,” she says.

Clark believes strongly in the power of doing yoga with other people. Group classes create an opportunity to inspire and to be inspired by others. “There’s a difference between yoga on your own and yoga with a community of fellow travelers. In a group, we’re all a witness to each other. What helps people who are doing the work of healing is community.”

Libby Nilsson agrees. “Yoga is my community,” she says. Nilsson is an instructor at Maine Hatha Yoga in Portland, a “hot yoga” studio where every class follows the same sequence of postures.

Nilsson likes the detoxifying qualities of heat and sweat and the predictability of the postures, and she sees yoga as a “moving meditation” that is a very important part of her recovery.

She has watched herself change and create a new attitude toward life with her practice, and she loves watching this transformation happen in other people.

“The possibilities of learning about yourself are infinite.” Yoga has a far-reaching impact, in our bodies, our minds, and in the community.

As Boyson said, “You can use breath as an investigation to your truth, your soul. If we continue to teach yoga, we really are changing our lives, and as a result, changing communities and changing the world.

Alison Webb

Alison Webb

Alison Webb, MPH, PS-C, a columnist for Journey, is a public health professional with over 20 years’ experience in community outreach and organizing, substance use and overdose prevention, community based substance use recovery supports, and linking community members with healthcare services. Alison is a strong recovery ally in her own community, where she has been a member of the Portland Overdose Task Force, Young People in Recovery, and as a past member of the Board of the Portland Recovery Community Center. She is active in legislative advocacy to increase recovery support services.