Russell Simmons: Yoga Quiets the Noise in My Head
The Advantages of Practicing Kurma Yoga Three Times A Day During Addiction Treatment
Stilling the Noise
Our clients often say they use drugs or alcohol to “quiet” the “committee” of voices arguing in their heads all day, to escape the “negative self-talk” about their worthlessness that “echos” through their brains. Many say that Kurma Yoga, the unique yoga breath work program they follow for three hours a day at Malibu Beach Recovery Center, also stills the “static.”
Those comments were hard to understand until I heard an interview on National Public Radio with Russell Simmons, the 56 year old hip-hop mogul. Simmons got sober 20 years ago.
“You still want be high and dumb down the noise,” he said. “The best thing for that, besides drugs was yoga and then meditation… I started going to yoga for the chicks, but soon started reading yoga sutras and learning the meaning of yoga. I got addicted.”
Yoga God Shots
We are proud of Paulina (not her real name) and her almost 20 months of continuous sobriety. Certainly she was one of the toughest cases we have ever admitted to Malibu Beach Recovery Center – in part because she was born addicted. Getting her to go to yoga three times a day was a challenge for the counselors and clinical.
I remember the day, literally before my eyes, when the addictive behavior began to fade into the woodwork. She took advantage of her status as a “senior resident” to enroll in a UCLA Extention class in child psychology. The class met every Saturday from 8 to 5. I was sure Paulina, who was by now sober but still highly anxious and quick to anger, could not sit through the class and told her so. I also told her that the class was supposed to begin with an open book test. To my surprise, she bought the textbook and spent days diligently preparing, armed with a highlighter and post-its, with a focus I never knew she had. Saturday came and she not only made it through the entire first class (and all subsequent classes), but the teacher praised her as being the best prepared of all the students.
Paulina transitioned from Malibu Beach Recovery Center to a sober living, and then to her own apartment. During that transition she discovered that we were right about the benefits of yoga.
“I was in treatment the first time 60 days, the second time 30, the third time 90, and the 4th time for 101 days. Yes, I did avoid going to yoga on a regular basis. I am sober over 19 months now and discovered during the last 6 months I liked yoga. I find it extremely helpful and positive. I have two yoga mats in my house. I do yoga several times a week and also do spinning. I do yoga for at least one hour each time. Yoga and exercise now play a huge role in my recovery and help me connect with others and myself spiritually. I absolutely love yoga and have experienced amazing god shots through yoga, not to mention great friends! “
The Best Way to Get Into Long Term Recovery Is to Practice Yoga, Not Cardio, During Treatment
I asked Lead Exercise Instructor Oleg Flow, who has been with Malibu Beach Recovery Center since 2007, and is responsible for writing the yoga-training manual, to explain why we only allow yoga breath work during treatment and not cardio.
Oleg Flow: “Have you ever seen runners being relaxed and calm in daily life? I haven’t… They usually feel less tress while running but feel more anxious when they don’t. Certain amounts of cardio can be good for you as a part of a balanced exercise program but only with the condition of breath control. When we lose nose breath during cardio, we experience anxiety or panic attacks as we repeat the pattern. At the Malibu Beach Recovery Centers we often have clients accustomed to run for hours each day and if they don’t run, they go crazy. They are not present and they are not relaxed.
“Cardio, if not used correctly, works like high glycemic food. It gives an immediate effect that doesn’t last for a long time and can have side effects.
“In our program we teach clients how to connect with their breath and increase body awareness. Only when the breathing are muscles strengthened. Once the correct breathing patterns are established — that usually takes a couple of months — they can get to try or continue with cardio exercises.
“Cardio activates the sympathetic system and yoga-like exercises activate the parasympathetic system. In modern life most people rely on a ‘fight or flight’ response that shuts down body systems and provokes major physical, emotional and mental problems. Instead of finding the balance and trying to rela, they keep pushing themselves until they exhaust their bodies and have major breakdowns. They start self-medicating to deal with life issues instead of letting their bodies heal themselve
“The Parasympathetic system or ‘rest and digest’ speaks for itself. When we activate this system we let all body systems work to their fullest. It’s like the news that the war is over and people can get back to their normal lives. All we need is to relax and breathe.
“A lot of clients coming to treatment filled with anxiety. They are not relaxed inside and unhappy; they have a lot of tension in their bodies and too much on their minds. They need to recover on so many levels.
“It is amazing to observe the progress of our clients. They remind me of wilted flowers. During treatment, this flower gets stronger and stronger and in the end it blooms with new energy, new capacities, mental and emotional health.
“For different clients it takes different time. Some clients need months to start getting results and some start feeling the effect immediately.
“The result for those clients who take Kurma Yoga seriously is that they become more present, focused and content. Their mood become more stable and they start to radiate happiness and appreciation.”
Photos (above) Yoga Instructor and MBRC Alumna Shannon Scott, photos by Craig Sadler.