Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The right stuff

Former drug addict teaches yoga as a means to recovery

Express Staff Writer

Tommy Rosen is a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher trained in both Hatha and Kundalini yoga, which he proposes can aid in recovery from addiction, breakup, family issues, loss, or grief.
Courtesy photo

    Anyone who throws around four-letter words knows their power, but Tommy Rosen wants you to add one more to your traditional arsenal, this one in the name of recovery: yoga.
    Rosen, a recovered drug addict, will demonstrate how to wield the word for good when he comes to the Sun Valley Wellness Festival on Memorial Day weekend, May 23-27. His presentation, “Recovery 2.0,” will be Saturday, May 25, from 2-3:15 p.m. His workshop, “Getting High: Yoga, Meditation and The Infinite Pharmacy Within,” will be Monday, May 27, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. His is just some of the frank discussion on overall wellness being offered in Sun Valley in the coming weeks. Tickets vary according to how you plan to attend the festival and start at as low as $25 and go up to $495 for the whole event. Seventeen local practitioners of the healing arts will be presenting. The event will also offer a children’s festival, hands-on exhibit and an exposition hall.
    The Wood River Valley is home to many forms of recovery support groups for conditions ranging from grief to breast cancer, food issues to substance abuse. Rosen is excited to add another tool to the recovery community. He answered a few pre-conference questions.

IME) Is there anything yoga can’t cure, or at least, contribute towards a cure?
    Yoga is a practice that creates conditions for transformation and healing to take place, and even though certain predictions can be made, yoga’s effects are unique to each individual. If we are talking about physical ailments, the correct application of yoga, pranayam and meditation will be a valuable tool on the path to recovery, but incomplete. Without rest, proper nutrition and, in some cases, medicine/herbs, yoga will be ineffective.
    Yet, I do believe yoga is a contributing factor in the healing process from most any disease. Of course, there are mental handicaps that may prevent or limit the application of yoga—schizophrenia, for example—unless these conditions are first brought under control.
    With regard to healing addiction, yoga is certainly a contributing factor, especially when it is added alongside the spiritual path known as the 12 Steps. These two spiritual paths are tremendous compliments for so many reasons. I’ll be speaking a lot during the conference about why that is.  In my personal case, I do not believe I could have gotten beyond drug addiction through the practice of yoga alone. I needed a level of community support and group engagement. To quote my essay from the book, “21st Century Yoga”: ‘I’ve never seen a person in acute addiction recover without two things: a spiritual path and a community to support it every single day.’ The 12 Step program provides both. Yoga—at least as we practice it today—does not. Yoga is a practice of self-inquiry. It is largely an internal process. We go inside to observe and learn about ourselves. Part of the problem with the application of yoga to addiction is that with addiction, people are already stuck inside themselves. Addiction is a disease of isolation. The first thing we need to do in order to recover is to come into community.

This is a notable recovery community, but it’s still in the shadows, largely due to the 12-step principles of anonymity. How do you reach people with your message?
    I am not a spokesperson or representative for any particular fellowship or program. When I speak, I share my personal experiences and the insights that have been given me through my 20-plus years of exploration of this path. The 12 Steps are part of my story, so they figure into my presentations and writing when there is a reason to bring them up. The only reason to bring them up is because I feel in my heart that someone else can benefit from them.
    The dark ages are ending. As a society, we recognize that addiction is a disease. We recognize there is a treatment for it. Unfortunately, as you have noted, the treatment is largely hidden away and misunderstood. It is accessed only by a certain kind of person who is so desperate for help that they must be practically cornered before resorting to the court of last resort known as the 12 Steps.
    Now, thank God, you have pioneers like Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Gabrielle Bernstein and others who have written openly about their addictions and their recoveries and are advocating to put an end to the associated shame and stigma. Things are shifting and, of course, there will be struggles between those who want to preserve the way things have been and those who feel there is need for change. Obviously, I feel it is important for recovery success stories to be heard far and wide. The simple fact for me is that if you are fortunate enough to work through the 12 steps with a solid sponsor and participate in a fellowship, you have hit one of the biggest jackpots down here on Planet Earth.  

How long does it take for a person who is “stuck,” as you put it, to get into a rhythm so they can see results and stick with it?
    If there were some way to answer this question with certainty, I might be able to fly to Sun Valley in my new private jet.  Seriously, different people need different things at different times.  There are so many factors that determine the unfolding of a person’s recovery and life.  It’s a mystery of course.  What I notice is that people who apply the principles of the Recovery 2.0 lifestyle tend to get “better” faster.  It requires work—attending meetings, working with a sponsor, practicing yoga, total overhaul of one’s diet. developing a sadhana practice, journaling and rigorous honesty. And it takes patience. The most important thing for people who are stuck to realize is that there is a way through every block. It takes a willingness to pursue answers and healing and freedom from the things that bind us. How long this takes depends on the individual.

Do you find that yoga helps people manage through the ups and downs better?
    Yes. Yoga is an amazing aid to help a person go through challenges. In fact, what is yoga asana if not the practice of seeking centeredness and presence despite challenging situations. Also, because yoga, Kundalini yoga in particular, works to heal and strengthen the nervous and endocrine systems, an individual can become protected against stresses and circumstances that would have otherwise overwhelmed him or her.

What is the bigger obstacle to wellness, hopelessness or helplessness?
    Emmet Fox reminds us that in the doctrines of divine metaphysics, all causation is mental. In other words, our thoughts—conscious and subconscious—create our reality and circumstances. In my opinion, no one is, in actuality, helpless because whether realized or not we are inseparable from each other and from the source of all things. However, to believe oneself helpless creates thoughts that perpetuate suffering and disease. Hopelessness is more personal, internal. Help is something we get from outside us. Hope comes from within. To be without hope is utterly debilitating, and requires inspiration (think Breath/Inhale/Prana.)

Is this practice that you preach and teach accessible, or do I have to be able to touch my toes to do it?
    This practice is for all levels, from total beginners to advanced experts and everyone in between.  Those who are currently using drugs or alcohol and those who are detoxing should wait until they get past that phase, feel physically healthy and able to focus on the practice.

Usually, avid practitioners have a backstory that led them to the method. What is yours?
    The story is a long one and a bit circuitous. In short form, it went like this:  I cornered myself through acute drug addiction, went to rehab and got sober, relapsed one year later and remained “out there” for a year. I then found recovery, worked the 12 Steps and over the next 12 years realized freedom from drug addiction while still being stuck in what I refer to as “the Addiction Frequency.” I began yoga practice, but was on and off, in and out of it for the first 12 years of my recovery. My approach to yoga was flawed, based in ego and misunderstanding. It brought some bliss into my life, though, and planted seeds for the future.
    Living in the “addiction frequency” took its toll on my body and I developed a debilitating back condition in 2003. I was told that I would have to take pain meds for the rest of my life and eventually we would look to surgery. Through the strangest twists of fate, I was led to the door of my life teacher, Guru Prem Singh Khalsa, who taught me how to breathe, how to move through time and space, how to relate to others. He taught me Kundalini yoga and everything changed.  I would become a certified Kundalini yoga teacher and then got a second certification, this time Hatha yoga, and began to teach yoga and recovery combining elements of all that I have learned into in a package that helps people to transcend the Addiction Frequency altogether.

Suicide has hit this community hard. It occurs to me that nearly everyone within arm’s reach is surviving a trauma on a given day. Does that prospect overwhelm you?
    First of all, I am so sorry to hear about this. I’d like to know more. Addiction is a horrible disease. It can kill quickly or slowly and I am not sure which is worse. When a person is in the throes of addiction, it is common to come to a place of hopelessness and to feel that things will never get better and get to the mindset of  “What’s the point?” This is a hard place to be. That is why it is so important that people actually see and hear about examples of victories.
    If someone has overcome this terrible disease, then that person’s story is valuable to someone who needs the help.  As Thomas Merton wrote, what we need are “wheels of fire, cosmic, rich, full-bodied honest victories over desperation.”

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