Cheryl Spera is committed to working with those in recovery and struggling with addiction through yoga service and provides Transformation Yoga Project with support in new business development, and administrative and technical support. In addition, she is the Director of Partnerships at Pennsylvania Institute of Technology, where she oversees the planning and implementation of advancement goals. Currently, Cheryl is also enrolled in Neumann University’s Organizational and Strategic Leadership Master’s degree program. Having experienced a personal transformation through mindfulness, yoga, and recovery, Cheryl’s passion is to lead others down the path of wellness in mind, body, and spirit.
How long have you been working for TYP? Can you tell us a little bit about your background and brought you to work with TYP?
I was introduced to TYP over two years ago through Enso Yoga Studio where I attended a TYP Yoga for Recovery Program and have been working for TYP ever since! I spent most of my adult life in recovery, however several years ago, when I was a little over twenty years sober, I relapsed. I felt extremely vulnerable coming back from that, and I started practicing yoga at home. TYP introduced me to this idea that I could actually start caring for myself in my recovery through yoga. The trauma sensitive approach made sense to me because I was really hard on myself dealing with guilt and shame, and was very disconnected from my physical body. Working with TYP has been a gift to me where I have been able to use my skills and experience in recovery to support the work of the team and instructors,
How has yoga supported your recovery journey?
It took a lot for me emotionally to get back on my mat. In a way, my mat and yoga represented facing myself and my feelings again after being numb for so long. Initially, it was hard to feel and move, and feel safe. Slowly through my own practice and working with TYP, I developed compassion for myself. With self-compassion I have no use for former self-destructive behaviors, and I am much more able to extend compassion to others.
Yoga taught me how to observe my thoughts and feelings without reacting. Instead of looking for an escape I learned how to center and ground myself when I am feeling emotionally out of control. In working the 12-steps, I find that I can process a lot of feelings in my yoga practice. For example, the first step deals with powerlessness and unmanageability. Through breath and movement I can accept myself where I am, and control my breath and reactions to the poses. When I surrender to my limitations in yoga, I can take that compassionate surrender off the mat into my daily life. Often, holding a yoga pose for a long period can be challenging. When that happens, I ask myself where I can soften and let go. Off the mat, when life presents challenges, I now ask myself the same question which enables me to cope and live my life the way I want to live it.
One of the most important lessons has been learning to be present in the moment. “One day at a time” is a poplar slogan of 12-step programs, but yoga teaches you how to take it one day, hour, minute, breath at a time. My yoga practice is a moving meditation where I learn to understand the fullness of the things I learn in my recovery program.
What inspired you to become involved in yoga service?
I didn't even know about yoga service until I met the team at Transformation Yoga Project and Gwen Soffer of Enso Yoga. In my recovery program, the 12th step is all about being in service. I have a deep passion to give back what was given to me in the program so I have been involved in 12-step work for many years. Working with TYP has enabled me to be of service on another level and has really shaped my values and ideas what being in service really means. For me, yoga service means that through my recovery work and yoga practice I can share my experience and knowledge with others so that they may also find the inner resources for peace. My service work is not always in the form of direct relationships, but through using my skills and resources to connect others and support those who are on the front line of yoga service in the community.
What do you do for self-care?
In recovery, the most important thing I can do for myself is to put my recovery first. Self-care is a part of my recovery that involves going to 12-step meeting, talking to someone in recovery daily, being in service, working the 12-steps and daily self-inquiry. The other part of self-care is taking care of my physical body through walking and hiking, yoga, eating healthy and finding alone time. I connect with my higher power in nature so it is important for me to be outside in the woods, on a lake or at the beach as much as possible.
What has your yoga practice taught you or what tools do you use regularly in your life?
Throughout the day I stop and become aware of my breath and the moment. It helps me get out of the past, and stop projecting about the future – it lessens my anxiety. I remind myself nothing is permanent.
Any inspiration to share for those who are in recovery themselves?
We neglected ourselves for so long, it can be hard to start paying attention. Your first thought may be that you don’t feel like moving, or that you are not flexible or fit enough for yoga. Or you might have an aversion to sitting still or meditating. That is all ok with yoga. Come as you are, fidget, look around. Explore your mind, reconnect with your body and find comfort in your own breath. All of that is yoga.
Thank you for sharing Cheryl! We are so grateful to have you a part of our team. Since joining TYP, you have provided us with some much support and helped us to grow! Thank you.
SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL RECOVERY AWARENESS MONTH!
TYP's goal is to raise $5,000 during September. Your donation could be doubled as part of the $50,000 Challenge Grant goal. We need YOUR help to reach that goal! Each dollar you donate could be doubled in value!
We are so grateful for our donors! Your donations continually allow us to grow our programs and serve even more individuals. Your kind gifts provide greater access to healing yoga.