I have been taking a yoga class in Santa Barbara from Mike Lewis, an instructor in recovery who also volunteers as a yoga instructor for inmates in the Santa Barbara County jail. As I have written before, Governor Brown has reduced the funding for rehabilitation classes in California’s jails and prisons so services such as yoga to help inmates deal with behavioral issues such as addiction and aggression are taught by volunteers. Mike completed a special training conducted by the Prison Yoga Project’s founder and director, James Fox, who has been teaching yoga and meditation at San Quentin and other prisons throughout the United States. I am writing this blog because Mike has shown the value of the practice of yoga and meditation as a path to recovery.
Mike took his 1st yoga class with his sister in 1985 when he first came out of the Marines. He became a fitness coach and college swim instructor but didn’t do yoga again for 19 years, during which time he was drinking, using painkillers, losing jobs, getting divorced, and ordered to see his children only under court supervision. In 2010 he bottomed out and his sister, brother and girlfriend did an intervention, which exposed him to people who helped him see the value of living alcohol and drug-free. But, as so often occurs with addiction, his recovery didn’t last. After two years of drinking a gallon of vodka every 2-3 days, his body collapsed and his kidneys shut down. “I had a high tolerance because of my athletic background but my body finally gave up.”
In January 2013, he moved to Santa Barbara and has been living in a sober living residence ever since. Sober now 18 months, I asked Mike how yoga supported his sobriety and he said the real question is “How has his sobriety supported his yoga practice?” “Yoga didn’t get me sober,” said Mike, “but sobriety transformed me as a yoga instructor. The yoga path is the highest ethical standard in any profession. You have to be humble, unattached to recognition, an honorable person. The yogic principles are married to the 12-steps in AA.” His yoga training through the Prison Yoga Project (PYP) focuses on the mental and physical health benefits of yoga for everyone but particularly for the issues prisoners face related to their rehabilitation and recovery. Research studies have shown the practice of yoga and meditation to be effective with:
- Reduction of Stress
- Greater Mental Clarity
- Pain Relief
- Support in Addiction Recovery
- Improved Sleep
- Hostility Reduction
- Greater Access to Inner Peace
I’d like to encourage you to take a look at the incredible video of the Prison Yoga Project in Santa Barbara (click on this link), recently featured in the Santa Maria Times, which shows Mike leading a class with male inmates as well as a class led by Ginny Kuhn for female inmates. Those of you who are watching “Orange is the New Black” will be reminded of the yoga classes in the series.