Yoga Sequence: Observing and Letting Go of Habits

One day, a twenty-six-year-old girl who I knew was in recovery came to class. I could see the tension in her jaw and the restlessness in her legs that indicate internal tension, struggle, and a yearning to run away. I’ve felt these symptoms in myself and recognize them in others who are dealing with addiction.

Yoga can be a powerful tool for addressing addiction. Habits or addictions often provide relief from feelings (physiological or emotional) that we’re running from. In our yoga practice, we learn how to sit with sensations, emotions, stories, and learn that we don’t have to react.

This balancing sequence is for everyone who is struggling with any habit, addiction, or just plain agitation or restlessness. It opens the hips and eases tension and restlessness in the jaw and legs, a few of the places we hold emotional obstructions, as well as our fight-or-flight impulses. We’ll do the poses in vinyasa style in which each posture moves smoothly into the next, linked by breath.

Recovering addicts need to stand proudly and understand they may be the bravest people in the room. To be doing shavasana on a mat rather than lying in a ditch is to have the fortitude to climb a very steep mountain.

At the end of the class, I watched the woman in Final Relaxation. I saw that her eyes were still darting nervously, so I went over and gently but firmly held her feet. Quietly, she started to cry. A dam had broken, and the energy that had been blocked in her body was set free. I watched her jaw relax and her legs surrender. This was the release she needed.

Yoga teachers often think of hip-opening poses as merely external rotation and abduction, as in Full Lotus (padmasana) or Bound Angle Pose (baddha konasana). In this sequence, my goal is to find the expansive space in the entire circumference of the hip socket, which is relief.

Seated Spinal Twist (ardha matsyendrasana). From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward into a lunge and slide your left knee to the floor outside of your right foot. Sit down between your heels (if your buttocks don’t rest comfortably on the floor, use a block for support) with your right foot pressing firmly on the floor to the outside of the left thigh. Turn to the right and wrap your left arm around the right leg, hugging the thigh to your belly in Seated Spinal Twist (a).

Hold for 5 breaths and then lower your right knee toward the floor, positioning your ankle just outside your left knee and come into Ankle over Knee Pose (svastikasana) (b). If this position is too difficult, sit in Easy Pose. Stay forward for 5 breaths. Then inhale, bring the torso up to sitting, slide your right foot off your left knee, and press the soles of your feet together, knees to the floor, in Bound Angle Pose (c).

Hold for a few breaths, then lift your knees together, put your feet on the floor, and push up into Wide-Knee Squat (malasana) (d). Touch your inner feet together (or position them as closely together as you can manage), widen your knees, and drape your body forward between your legs for 5 breaths. Then lift your hips and slowly straighten your legs into Standing Forward Bend (e), knees straight, kneecaps actively pulled up toward the pelvis. If your hamstrings are tight or if there is strain in your lower back, bend your knees slightly. Hold for 5 breaths and walk back to Downward-Facing Dog (f). Repeat these six poses on the second side starting with Seated Spinal Twist. Come to stand in Mountain Pose (g).