Recovery therapy

Recovery therapy

The sea of yoga mats representing refuge for 20 women does little to anchor them in a realm of relaxation.

They shift uncomfortably, not used to sitting cross-legged. They tug self-consciously at their sweat pants and too-short shirts. Several women sitting apart, propped in folding chairs against the back wall and whispering loudly, draw a few glares but also conspiratorial snickers.

Ignoring the disruptions, Kathryn Reppond announces that forgiveness is the day's theme.

"Forgiveness is often misunderstood," the yoga instructor says. "It really is the practice of just letting go."

Letting go of their reluctance, the women mimic breathing demonstrated by co-instructor Laura Winslow. Hesitant at first, the collective sigh grows louder as the women "exhale anger and resentment."

"You may even want to let out a little growl if that feels good to you," Winslow says.

For the next hour, affirmations, guided imagery and yoga postures, or asanas, all reinforce the daily theme, which Winslow and Reppond borrowed from the 12-Step Program and adapted to the practices of yoga, qi gong and meditation. Calling the approach Integrative Recovery Therapy, Winslow and Reppond brought the curriculum to local addiction treatment centers in May last year and are planning to expand their work — largely volunteer — to other community venues.

"If we can teach people to be more comfortable in their own skin," Winslow says, "they become a little bit more empowered to become an active partner in their recovery."

Winslow perceived a connection between yoga and recovery while attending a 2007 conference to learn strategies for helping a family member cope with depression. Winslow's thoughts predictably turned to her family's history of alcoholism and drug use.

"So many of the practices were being taught specifically to elevate mood," Winslow says. "I think depression and drug addiction kind of go hand in hand, anyway."

A yoga enthusiast, Winslow sought certification to teach the ancient Indian discipline with the specific goal of instructing recovering addicts. Medford's Genesis Recovery Center welcomed her enthusiasm.

At the same time, Reppond, who had given classes at a yoga therapy institute in Northern California, was volunteering similar services at Medford's Addictions Recovery Center. When she and Winslow, both Jacksonville residents, crossed paths at the town's JoyFull Yoga Center, they recognized a joint mission, one that doesn't apply only to addiction.

"It can also be very effective for depression and anxiety, as well," Winslow says.

The duo tried last year to extend their reach to OnTrack Inc., Jackson County's largest treatment provider, but were rejected for lack of funding. To prove they were serious, Winslow and Reppond raised almost $450 with help from Rasa Center for Yoga and Wellness. The Medford studio hosted two workshops in October to benefit the efforts of Winslow and Reppond, which OnTrack finally accepted.

"The ones who need it most can't afford it," Winslow says. "We're willing to try to make the program available to people who can't pay anything through sponsorship."

Cost most likely would prevent Tahra Haner from continuing yoga after she completes treatment at OnTrack to resolve a child welfare case involving her 1-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Although skeptical at first, the 23-year-old marijuana addict says she would like to continue yoga and particularly appreciates that Winslow and Reppond weave the recovery message throughout their classes.

"I'm thankful for it because I have an anger issue, anyways," Haner says. "I look forward to it every week."

She's also noticed the poses have tightened her stomach muscles weakened by an abdominal surgery and decreased pain in her wrist and knee joints.

"It helps me stretch out," Haner says. "It just totally energizes me."

Reppond and Winslow encourage practice between their OnTrack classes, held every Thursday. If participants revisit the poses a few times per week, they stand to develop strength and flexibility while improving the function of their internal organs and minimizing pain, Winslow says. The regimen, she says, also builds confidence and calms emotions.

"It's also offered them some more tools to help them in their parenting," says OnTrack counselor Lisa Meadows.

Since her women's outpatient treatment group started the program in January, Meadows instructs its members to start the day with the deep breathing characteristic of yoga. During the group's meetings, chants of "yoga breath" arise anytime a member becomes too volatile.

"They're breathing through the anger," Meadows says.

The counselor who had no previous experience with yoga even tried its deep-breathing technique with her 9-year-old son when his behavior heads in the wrong direction.

"He thinks it's great."

So does Joel Turgesen a Medford therapist, who calls Integrative Recovery Therapy "brain training for a stress response." Anyone who's suffered trauma can benefit from the curriculum, he says.

Fostering a sense of purpose, yoga and other components of her program engender a way of thinking past one's own problems, Winslow says. As a result, the self-centeredness that's so common among addicts begins to fall away, she adds. The remaining self-awareness and self-reliance help addicts identify and sidestep triggers, Winslow says.

"I view it as a relapse prevention program."

Although conventional treatment programs can imply that addicts are powerless, Winslow says yoga reinforces the unique responsibility we all have for personal health and well-being.

"You begin to recognize that you are more vast than you ever thought you were — and more powerful."

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