Twelve Steps for Ashtanga Yoga


It’s not a huge secret that I’m a sober Ashtangi. My sobriety date is April 1, 2009, and I’m still active in the program that helped me change from a suicidal drunk to a human being of service. My life hinges on me being free from drugs and alcohol.

How I feel hinges on the diligence of my practice. Being sober makes practice possible for me, and practice makes daily life possible. Ever seen the “If you think I’m bitchy now, you should see me when I don’t do yoga!” e-cards, or the “I do yoga to keep the crazy away” sweatshirts? They’re pretty accurate.

Getting sober isn’t easy–that goes without saying–but neither is establishing a practice, especially an Ashtanga practice. We met to chat about the Ashtanga program at my home studio today, and I realized that trying to sell the Mysore program to new students is almost as hard as trying to convince someone to start a twelve-step program.  Don’t get me wrong. Starting a yoga practice is very different from getting sober. I’m not trying to say the two are the same. But they are similar, in that they’re both very difficult and life-changing.

Getting sober, at least for me, meant the following things, among others:

1) Accepting that my life might have been worse on drugs and alcohol than it could be without

2) Becoming a spiritual being who believes in something more than herself

3) Establishing a new daily ritual of humbling myself and asking for help

4) Examining my bad habits and working to let them go

5) Taking responsibility for my mistakes

6) Working to help others who need it

In a practical sense, this means spending time in reflection each day, going to meetings regularly, talking in front of groups of strangers, making phone calls even when I hate talking on the phone, and believing someone else’s advice is more valid than my own. It’s kind of a hard sell.



For a twenty-three year old entrenched in the local punk and metal scene, it was especially hard. Instead of going to shows, I had to go to meetings. Instead of stealing people’s lawn ornaments for kicks, I had to call my sponsor. Instead of grafitti-ing inverted crosses on police station walls, I had to read a book written by an old man in 1939. Instead of writing lyrics for my band, I had to write an inventory of my flaws.

Tough stuff, but the reward is unbelievable. There’s no way to say it that doesn’t sound cheesy, but it’s nothing less than a life-changing spiritual awakening. Ask anyone with long-term sobriety. It’s the truth.

Mysore-style Ashtanga is kind of a hard sell, too. Establishing the six-day-a-week practice meant this:

1) Getting up at 5:00 AM every morning

2) Doing very difficult physical movements over and over again

3) Memorizing those very difficult movements and their names…in Sanskrit

4) Never deviating from the memorized sequence, even when poses are uncomfortable

5) Accepting that new poses don’t come until the teacher says so

6) Being silent for the 60-90 minutes it takes to practice

I can see why people don’t want to commit to a Mysore program. Why do something so focused and serious when there’s a booty-bumpin’ hot flow in the next room? Why practice at 6:00 AM when there are classes at 9:30, 12:00, or pretty much any hour after sunrise? Why practice poses that don’t feel good? Why memorize anything not required by law? Why submit to a method when you could just “flow on your own?”

Mysore-style Ashtanga doesn’t let me hide. I meet the same poses, day in and day out, so my shortcomings are always apparent. The teacher knows when I don’t show up, and will ask about it. I don’t get to skip twisting poses just because I binged on chocolate the night before. I’m accountable to myself, my teacher, and my fellow practitioners. It can feel like more responsibility than a hobby or fitness regime should require. But that’s the key.

An Ashtanga practice is more than a hobby. Peg Mulqueen calls it a rabbit hole. She’s right. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a path. It’s the gateway to a deeper understanding of God.

So it’s worth it.




23 thoughts on “Twelve Steps for Ashtanga Yoga

  1. Pingback: Day 15: a good enough practice | KaceYoga

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Being vulnerable is not easy!
    I love that your practice has created a whole new meaning in your life for you. Today was my first encounter with ashtanga… I am so excited! Even though I’ve been practicing other types of yoga for a while now, this one intrigues me a lot. I can’t wait to wake up at 5am to practice!
    Keep up the good work, girl!

  3. Well said Emma, I hope you don’t mind that I posted this on a FB page I started. Sojourners This Way to Recovery. Oh and by the way I am a Hoosier too!

  4. Lovely words. Taking inventory is one of the most self revealing things that I have ever done. Such complimentary tools to a Yoga practice that I think everyone should do. Congratulations on your sobriety

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  6. WHY?????
    Why should you have “a deeper understanding of your god”….???
    What is it that makes you to one that should have this “insight”??! Or do ALL that¨s do this program, going to have the same “insight”?? If so, it cant be special, thiis “insight”, when you just take a cours, then you “got it…”??!
    I think this is like those selfhelp-things from 70-tees……and SOME, got happiness/nirvana…….the writers of those books!!! But not for long, og much, cause people saw trough it then, and I m sorry to inform you that people hasent got dumber!! But good luck, and happy traveling, while seeking/looking for something that you really dont even know what is….!!! 😀

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  8. People hasent gotten dumber…except that guy above. Good for you for your diplomacy.

    I forgot how good this blog is. I’m gonna share it some places….

  9. Hey there sober sister fellow ashtangi! I’m 9 years sober and I have a couple dedicated yoga practitioners who are friends of Bill – one who does ashtanga with me. I love these stories and look forward to meeting you someday as we “trudge the road to happy destiny” ?

    • Hi Sharon! Always nice to meet another trudger who knows how to take a vinyasa. If you’re ever in Indianapolis, please be in touch. “May God bless you and keep you until then.”

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