Take Inventory, Do Yoga: How Yoga Is Like AA
Yoga and AA
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” … this is the fourth step in the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery. It’s a transforming insight, for one of the personality components of a person suffering from addiction is their inability to be honest with themselves.
There’s no judgment about that, it’s simply a statement of philosophy based on the AA program.
This fourth step, in the AA 12-step (mantra) recovery program, helps alcoholics go inward and get serious in order to reclaim their lives from alcohol.
An inventory like this is good – for any person – and I believe it needs to be linked to something positive. Yoga practitioners can re-frame this mantra and use it to our benefit as we struggle on our mat.
I’ve come to see the 4th step ‘honesty mantra’ as one that accurately describes what happens to me – every once in a while – during yoga class, for I have asked myself, during some difficult moments, ‘Why am I doing this.’ Haven’t you?
The 5th Step
Thankfully though, yoga helps me let go and go within to get a new, calm perspective on past deeds and misdeeds. In that sense, yoga practice is a lot like the AA program and recovery.
A ‘searching and fearless moral inventory’ can help not just the alcoholic come to greater awareness and honesty, but also help the bending, twisting pile of flesh on the mat do the same.
I used to hear the 5th step confessions of alcoholics when I served as clergy. The fifth step is designed to give alcoholics the opportunity to tell one other human being the exact nature of their wrongs. Because clergy were seen as people able to honor confidentiality, I heard many such admissions at hospitals, in-take facilities, and jails.
The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book prescribes this portion of its healing sequence in the 5th step, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
The stories I heard were similar in nearly all cases, but the names and places always had their energizing particularities. “I drank (fill in your understanding of a lot of alcohol here ______) with (fill in any name or names here ________) and then we had sex at (fill in any place here _______).”
Drinking and having sex are not necessarily morally wrong, but the alcoholic often felt shame about their behavior as a result of drunkenness, and that they did some things they would not have done when sober.
These 5th step sessions were usually one to 2-hours long, sometimes up to three hours. But no matter the time, they were true stories of the behaviors – sometimes hurtful to others – that alcoholics, in their sober moments and during their searching and fearless moral inventory, had come to terms with and were ready to admit to another.
I was always mindful during these sessions of something I had heard years earlier during a counseling course, “It is not easy to bleed in another person’s presence.” I kept that in the back of my mind as I humbly accepted the 5th step statement of each recovering person and I have never revealed a single detail of these confessions to anyone.
The Past Comes Back…
Now, in my own voice during yoga, taking my own fearless inventory, I hear myself challenging the depths of what I can do, questioning my will, finding my peace, working my strength and channeling my focus. Recently, deep in triangle pose, sweat dripping from my face as if I were showering, I was wondering if my past would come back to haunt me.
It wasn’t a relapse I was worried about, as did many of my alcoholic counselees, but I worried about suffering a knee-lapse. Both my worries, and those of people going through AA programs, are the result of bad decisions in the past.
Thirty years ago, I made two bad decisions on the same day. They have stuck with me. The residue of scar tissue from that day whispers to me during yoga, reminding me of youth and fate.
The first bad decision happened on a hot summer day when I left work early. I drove to the beach and drank a six pack of beer in about three hours.
The second poor decision, later that same day, happened when playing softball. But as a former college baseball player, I found it easy to pound a line-drive during slow-pitch softball, and even with an alcohol-buzz I didn’t worry about my ability to run, catch or throw.
During the game though, I tried stretching a double into a triple. Just before I slid, the 3rdbaseman stretched for an errant throw, moving his big foot into my path. I caught his ankle with the top of my right foot as the rest of my leg and body continued sliding toward third base.
I heard a sound, something like saran wrap torn from a box, and I felt pain in my right knee. I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee. It has never been as good as new, and that’s the reason that I still fear a knee-lapse.
The Road Ahead
In triangle, my once wounded-knee taunts me and plants doubt … “you can’t keep your right foot flat,” and I answer that I can. My knee murmurs, “lie down, give it a rest,” and I rebut that I am a yogi. My knee argues its mischievous insinuation, “you are too old and hurt,” and I retort that I’ve done my searching and fearless inventory and I’ve realized that I lack nothing.
My moral inventory speaks: deep down, in the place where I only tell God and my confidential other, I have doubt.
But I have done my work, I have found my fearless center, and I am aware of faith too and that faith has sharper teeth, so I breathe deep, dip down one more time into my triangular posture, and dialogue with a problematic knee and powerful posture.