At first brush, you would think that AA and yoga have absolutely nothing in common. AA began in the 1930’s as a program with 12 steps to overcome the downward spiral of alcoholism. Yoga is an ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in India thousands of years ago. What could these two seemingly disparate disciplines have in common? Oh, just everything. The spiritual quest is a major component of both AA and Yoga, and both detail the path for experiencing and maintaining a new spiritual consciousness. This spiritual connection is a necessary component for relapse prevention from alcohol and drug abuse. It is also available to those who want it; fortunately, we do not have to be gurus, monks, or even good enough. It is about the seeking not the finding.
The Spiritual Quest
AA and yoga are at their core are spiritual endeavors. Both systems, if you will, provide specific and concrete methods for engaging the spirit that lives within us. One of the main purposes of AA is to help members have “deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows, and toward God’s universe.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book Page 25, 3rd Edition) The results of living the twelve steps is living a spiritual quest that allows us to be happily clean and sober. The word Yoga means “yoke” or union. The goal of yoga (not just the postures but all of Yoga – see below) is meaningful spiritual insight. One of the limbs of yoga is a deep meditative state called Samadhi that means union with the divine. Samadhi is the eighth limb of the yogic path. It is the realization of our oneness with Spirit. AA & Yoga focus on the path on how to realize to a spiritual experience that results in less suffering for you and those around you. With less suffering, we are less likely to find it necessary to chose a drink or a drug to cope.
The Path to Get There
Both AA and Yoga also have a clearly delineated path for obtaining this new spiritual connection. Most of us have heard at least something about the twelve steps of AA. By doing the steps as outlined in the first 103 pages of AA’s Big Book we are promised a spiritual experience and a new found “God-Consciousness.” The 12 steps are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Yoga has eight limbs that support spiritual development and end with the eighth limb mentioned above, Samadhi, which is the ultimate divine connection. The eight limbs are:
- Yama : Universal morality/moral restraints
- Niyama : Personal observances & practices
- Asanas : Body postures
- Pranayama : Mindful breathing; breathing exercises
- Pratyahara : Turning inward
- Dharana : Concentration; cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana : Meditation
- Samadhi : Union with Spirit
These road maps to a spiritual experience provide a practical application for seeing, feeling, and being rid of that which keeps us stuck in patterns of behavior that no longer serve us. These are the patterns of behavior that cause us to relapse.
Service to Others is the Spiritual Glue
AA and Yoga have service to others as the tool to maintain our new spiritual condition. The Big Book of AA outlines the necessary activities for maintaining spiritual fitness in steps ten through twelve which are known as the “maintenance” steps. Working with others to help them find a spiritual solution to all their problems is a major tenet of step twelve. An entire chapter in the Big Book, Chapter 7, Working With Others, is devoted to carrying the AA message and making service work a spiritual activity. Yoga has two important concepts to support and maintain spiritual transformation. Karma yoga is virtuous action and Seva is selfless service. Both require the practitioner to give up his or her needs to satisfy the needs of others. In the ultimate, think Mahatama Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Jesus, Buddha and others. We do not have to be Saints to experience a spiritual transformation; in fact, we do not even have to be good! Making any type of change to limit selfishness and self-centeredness and turning our attention to helping others is actually an act of Yoga. It can be as simple as being kind when checking out at a store with a slow cashier, being considerate when irritated while driving, or instead of arguing just not saying anything rather than adding fuel to a spark that wants to become an inferno. Spiritual practice is when we are kind, patience, compassionate, loving, tolerant, and all the qualities that are good and right with us humans. In this realm, how we are being is the same as how we are doing. Then we experience the peace, contentment, and serenity that come from being free from the living hell of addiction.
It is essential to find a path – effective practices with practical application to everyday life – to combat the cravings and mental obsessions of addiction. The twelve steps of AA and Yoga are excellent relapse prevention tools in the spiritual toolbox of alcoholics and drug addicts. When practiced together they create a very strong defense against relapse.
Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
The Bhagavad Gita (Easwaran)
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Meditations from the Mat (Rolf Gates)