From Prostitution, Addiction and Jail to Sober Yoga Therapist

By Cathy Margel 01/05/16

Nikki Myers tells The Fix about survival and transcendence.

Image: 
Nikki Myers' Yoga of 12-Step Recovery
via Author

Nikki Myers has survived addiction, relapse, prostitution, jail, institutions and abuse. She is a recovery warrior and has inspired many (including myself) by sharing her truth. In 2004 she developed Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR), a relapse prevention program that weaves the art and science of yoga with the practical tools of 12-step programs. It provides adjunct tools to address the physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Y12SR meetings are now available all over the country and the curriculum is being used in treatment centers across the United States. They have been proven to be effective with all types of addiction (including eating disorders, food addiction, gambling and compulsive spending).

Y12SR has been featured in the New York Times, Yoga Journal, Black Enterprise, The Huffington Post, Origin Magazine and more. Today, Nikki is 15 years sober and an accomplished yoga therapist, teacher and somatic experiencing practitioner. She is the founder of CITYOGA School of Yoga and Health in Indianapolis. From her personal struggles with addiction, Nikki is quick to tell the world: “The 12-step program and yoga saved my life—one is my lifeboat, the other my launching pad.” The Fix had the privilege to interview Nikki and learn more about her journey.

When did you start using drugs and alcohol? 

I started using when I was 13. After I took my first drink it was just on. The drinking eventually led to drugs. I grew up in the '70s drug culture and it was just a very popular thing to do. Eventually, that led me down a road to commercial sex work. The program talks about jails, institutions and death and on some level I experienced all of that. I went into my first rehab at 34 years old because I just couldn’t do it anymore.

You stayed sober for eight years and then relapsed. What happened?

A lot of things happened. I got complacent and cocky. I had my family back. I had gone back to school and got my MBA. The way the relapse happened was I was working for a software company and went on a business trip. It was a horrendous flight, not to say that there were not other things going on too that led up to this. I ended up in Germany where I was speaking. By the time I got there, they were serving orange sherbet with champagne. In the program they tell you not to get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. I had all of that going on. I made a decision to drink the champagne. I went back to my hotel room and cleaned out the minibar just like Denzel Washington at the end of the movie Flight. I got up the next day and did what I needed to do. By the end of the week, I found my way to Amsterdam. After eight years clean all the programming was still there. I knew who to be, what to do, where to go and how to talk to get my drugs. 

Eventually you got back to the program. Is this when you got really interested in yoga?

Yes, it started with a hot yoga practice which led to Ashtanga (a very disciplined yoga practice). I had a teacher who would go to India every year and study. She had a gig teaching in an inner-city school system in Boston and I would sub for her when she was gone. I saw the difference the practice of yoga was making with these kids. The school administrators noticed it, too. They would tell me, “when you leave, we have a two-hour window when we can do our jobs because the kids have a sense of focus.” I got very curious about how yoga made kids respond this way. I started to notice things in the philosophy that so closely matched the 12-step program. I would read something and say, "Damn that sounds like a 12-step program." That said, I decided all I needed was yoga and that I didn’t need the 12-step program. I stopped going to meetings.

So after four years sober you relapsed again?

It was shocking. I had all this education, money, experience and I still relapsed. It was a big awareness that the disease of addiction was so far beyond intellect. It wasn’t something I was going be able to think my way out of. I couldn’t outthink this. I recognized that I had been keeping these things in separate boxes. I had the 12-step program in one box. I had yoga in another box. For someone like me, there needed to be this direct combination of the cognitive pieces that are offered beautifully through the 12-step program and the somatic teachings that are offered in yoga. I needed to do this in a way that was inclusive rather than exclusive. These things needed to be coupled. 

Y12SR was born. Tell me what goes on in a Y12SR class. 

Y12SR weaves together the ancient art and science of yoga with the very practical tools of 12-step programs. There is a 12 step and yoga basic discussion, much like a 12-step meeting, followed by a themed, trauma-informed yoga practice.

The key phrase of Y12SR is “The issues live in your tissues.” Can you explain that?

Our bodies remember everything. Often rather than releasing trauma, tension and stress we attempt to pretend, ignore or "rationalize and justify" this energy away. That effort is futile because the nature of energy is to move. Denied or held, it turns into a different form of the energy. For example, anger carried or denied turns into rage, or shame carried or denied turns into worthlessness. 

Today you are 15 years sober! What keeps you sober?

I am very clear that 15 years is not a long time to stay clean—24 hours is a long time to stay clean. Life is still one day, one moment at a time for me. I simply stay focused on doing the next good, right, honest thing.

How has your life changed? 

There is a level of awareness that is offered. I can begin to recognize when I am off path a whole lot quicker. These are things we teach in Y12SR. For example, phrases like “keep coming back” is not just a phrase. It’s something at the level of body that I can know and come back to. I can notice when I am off center and off balance because there is a sensation in my body that tells me that. Then I need to apply some things so that I keep coming back to that centered place where there is a homeostasis. Where there is a balance. My body tells me that very, very quickly. 

Biggest blessing in recovery? 

I truly get the phrase: "You can't keep what you have without giving it away." The gift of giving it away is that I get to see it make a difference in so many lives. That is a gift beyond the beyond.

Any advice for someone that is still struggling?

Keep comin’ back...to yourself, to whatever it is that you related to as a Higher Power or Energy, to community.

Where can we find out more info on Y12SR and meeting locations? 

Y12sr.com has all the information on the program offerings and meetings. You can get involved by encouraging yoga schools, treatment centers, recovery focused community organizations and others to offer Y12SR meetings to support sustainable addiction recovery.

Cathy Margel lives in New Jersey with her husband and two little boys. Learn more about her journey at naturallysober.com.

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