Downward Spiral to Downward Facing Dog

Apr 12, 2024

Thrive Blog Social Graphic Yoga For Recovery

Downward Spiral to Downward Facing Dog

My Story: 

My journey with substance abuse disorder was in a sharp downward spiral from the beginning.  After hundreds of attempts to stop or moderate, and a couple of hospitalizations including a stay in a psych ward, I landed in rehab at 19.  I didn’t think I would stop using for good.  While part of me truly desired that, a much louder part of me felt that I only had two options: 1) use and be miserable 2) don’t use and be even more miserable.  I knew no way of living without drugs and alcohol, but desperately wanted to stop.   I was slowly dying from my dis-ease and out of necessity I sought help and began to cultivate a relationship with the Divine for the first time since I was a small child.  I did not like the word “God” and wanted nothing to do with religion.  However, as I started to awaken from a deep spiritual slumber, I couldn’t deny the remarkable “coincidences” I noticed.  I was told “God” could be anything I wanted… so out of spite I called it Amelia and imagined she was a fairy!  I am proof that a relationship with the Divine can be cultivated from absolutely any beginning, no matter how ridiculous it may seem.

To further my spiritual healing, I sought out yoga.  I found a weekly yoga class at an L.A. Fitness near my home.  However, I struggled to find a personal connection to the practice.  It felt as if others understood the postures and spirituality better than I ever would.  Their bodies certainly looked better than mine did!  My ego has a funny way of inserting itself right between me and spirituality when things are hard to do.  And yoga felt like an uphill battle.

I continued to attend yoga classes sporadically over the next decade or so.  During that time I was focused on living a life of service in recovery and experienced healing as each layer of lies painfully fell away from me.  But yoga did not take an important place in my recovery until 2018, when after a class I found myself inquiring about an upcoming yoga teacher training.  I tried to think of everything to talk myself out of it “But how could I take yoga teacher training?” “I don’t even practice regularly!”  “I didn’t even want to teach yoga.”  “I don’t have the money.”  “I don’t have the time.”  “I’m out of shape.”  Then between an award from a writing contest and a random winning scratch off, I suddenly had the money to cover the cost.  I was in!  I attended the training one weekend a month over 8 months while working full-time as an actuary.  Yoga teacher training challenged me in a beautiful way and truly changed my life.

Having a personal yoga practice has helped me overcome many obstacles: the fear of failure, the related fear of success, fibromyalgia, addictions, depression and anxiety to name a few.  As a result, I am passionate about sharing how yoga can help others too.  Despite once thinking I could never teach yoga, I have led yoga classes and meditations in corporate settings, studios, recovery centers, on the beach and online!

Yoga for Recovery:

During my yoga teacher training I noticed how similar the path of recovery is to the practice of yoga.  Both emphasize connecting to the Divine, acting with love toward our fellow beings and service to the Divine and our fellows.  As yoga teacher training came to an end, I realized yoga could help others struggling with addiction.  This idea inspired the free bi-monthly workshop known as Yoga for Recovery.  We meet at Yoga Moksha on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays each month from 7:30-9PM.  And this summer we will be meeting ON THE BEACH!  It will take place on 6/28/24 – please visit or for more information.

Navigating the world as an addict can be difficult and this workshop introduces yoga and all its healing attributes to those who need it.  During our time together we connect, stretch, flow, chat, journal, mediate, chant, etc.  Thanks to Yoga Moksha ( and Thrive (, the workshop is always free and open to all.  And a big thank you to the many yoga teacher volunteers, including Jim C., who give of their time and talent to ensure the workshop is always led by a certified instructor.

How You Can Start Practicing Yoga:

Yoga is more than just handstands and fancy pants.  It is the single most effective healing modality I have found!  While the postures are a helpful tool for healing and stress relief, Yoga is also a way of living that was outlined thousands of years ago.  It includes breathwork, meditation, mindfulness and service to others.  For many people, incorporating yoga into their lives takes time, patience, and ahimsa (a Sanskrit word meaning compassion).  One way to begin practicing yoga and feel the benefits right away is through pranayama.  Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning life force and loosely translates to breathwork.  Our breath is an effective and accessible stress reliever.  Here are three pranayama exercises that you can try right now:

  1. Take Five:
    • Open your left hand, palm facing up.
    • Place your right pointer finger on your left wrist. As you inhale, drag the right pointer finger toward the tip of your left pinky.
    • As you exhale, drag the right pointer finger back to the wrist.
    • Repeat inhaling up and exhaling down each finger until you reach the thumb.

You can switch hands and repeat, making it a “take ten.”  This exercise brings us into the present moment through tactile sensation and mindful breathing.

  1. Box Breath:
    • Inhale for a count of 4.
    • Hold at the top of the inhale for a count of 4.
    • Exhale for a count of 4.
    • Hold at the bottom of the exhalation for a count of 4.
    • Repeat for several rounds.

You can decrease or increase the count to 3 or 5.  You can also shorten the time spent holding your breath if it is uncomfortable.  This exercise can lower the heart rate, calm the mind, and deactivate the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight or freeze mode).

  1. Physiological Sigh:
  • Inhale fully into the belly and then into the chest on the same inhale.
  • When full, pause for a second, then sip in additional air.
  • Exhale fully through the mouth.
  • Repeat several times.

When stressed, people tend to take shallow breaths which causes the air sacs in our lungs to collapse and increases the CO2 levels in our blood.  This in turn causes more stress!  By inhaling fully and then introducing additional oxygen, the pockets in our lungs are forced to reinflate.  This engages our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode).

Another easy way to begin practicing yoga is to incorporate chair yoga into your day.  You can find short, simple chair yoga flows on YouTube.  You may not even know it, but you are practicing chair yoga when you stretch your arms overhead or rotate your neck when sitting at a desk.  Chair yoga helped me become mindful at work.  I used to think a headache was a cue to pop ibuprofen, but now I see it as a notification to stretch, rest and drink water.

As humans we are often analyzing the past, while projecting and attempting to sculpt the future.  No wonder it can be tough to stay present!  Yoga has helped me quiet my overactive mind, ignite my parasympathetic nervous system, and experience my whole self.  It has enabled me to heal, connect to the divine and live life to its fullest potential.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to help others do the same.


3/21/2024 – Chris Cuff RYT 200