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Meet Members of the Yoga for Recovery Team!

From Nicole Breen, Director of Yoga for Recovery and Behavioral Health:

“Transformation Yoga Project has grown over the last few years and the Yoga for Recovery instructor team has formed into a beautiful collective of amazing instructors throughout the Philadelphia area and the surrounding counties. My role has also expanded and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work alongside such an inspiring group of people. One of my favorite things about my “job” (it’s still surprises me that I am blessed with this job that I love so much) is the connection with other yoga instructors. We connect and brainstorm together to create and support programs while enlivening their engagement in yoga service. After all, the meaning of yoga is union and connection. We reached out to our Recovery Instructor team for their thoughts on our Recovery Month campaign and celebration. I am fascinated and humbled by the kind thoughts, the dedication to service, and the positive energy that comes from our team. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your dedication to TYP and our programs and participants. Continue reading to get to learn more about our team in the field!

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“I am a 200 hour YTT graduate from Moondog Yoga and the Himalayan Institute. I have been teaching yoga since 2015. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the TYP training at Moondog Yoga in Quakertown. I have first-hand experience with how yoga has turned my life around. While I appreciated the effort that my rehab facility gave us, I still felt like we were missing something. I made it a goal in my life to bring yoga to those in recovery. I am excited to bring mindfulness, awareness and meditation to the programs in my area.” - Becky


”Yoga was fairly new to the general public when I started to practice the ‘poses’ back in the 70s. I had a Phys Ed teacher who had just graduated college, she taught us what she had learned about yoga. The asanas (poses) stayed in my body, even in the years before I recognized and could admit I had a problem with alcohol and other drugs. In my addiction, I had lost everything, my marriage, home, job, and almost lost custody of my daughters. So in 2010, I had hit bottom.  I attended 12 Step meetings every single day for 3 years - the meeting started at 7:00 am, and I usually worked till midnight managing a restaurant. I regained custody and worked at rebuilding my life by creating new habits, taking walks in nature, making new healthy friends, practicing yoga. I learned to pray, even though I didn’t know who this Higher Power was, it was suggested that I try it, and desperate as I was, I did. Was it easy? NO! I had to give my recovery my ALL. I was blessed to have the help of many clean/sober people along the way.  Those first two to three years I spent as much time as I could helping others, doing service, that was the foundation for the life I have today. I had met Nicole, and Mike at a yoga event in Philadelphia, Nicole was also connected with Anahata Yoga and Wellness Center, where I had taken YTT-200 (and am currently working on YTT-500). A seed was planted.” - Marianne

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Service is the foundation of my recovery, and Yoga is my spiritual path. I was one of those people who struggled with a Higher Power, God, Buddha, Yahweh, Goddess, Allah, Krishna, Divine Within, so I went back to school and became an Ordained Interfaith Minister. It was in ministry school that I found my spiritual path, that of a yogi. I knew that yoga had shifted something within, something had changed and the more I studied the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I became more dedicated to my practice and service to others. In 12 Step meetings it is suggested that we help the next person, it helps keep US clean and sober. After I met Mike and Nicole, I looked up Transformation Yoga Project, I read Mike’s story, (wow!) a while later I took the Transformation Yoga Project Recovery Training. It has been an honor and privilege to be part of the team of TYP, being of service to others, and to know I am cultivating the seeds to support others in their recovery.” - Marianne

“While in rehab myself, we “practiced” mindfulness and meditation daily, but it was unsupervised and chaotic. I did not feel connected. After I completed the program, I immediately sought out the nearest yoga studio, finding what I was looking for. I know that without yoga, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I knew I wanted to bring this gift to others in my situation.” - Becky

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“Yoga for recovery is important to me because I have seen it give the opportunity for the individuals to find their agency.  Their own ability to say yes or no to a shape, stretch or exercise. I see people finding their voice and strength simply because they have options and choice in our classes.”  - Haylee

Yoga for recovery is everything. I have found myself again. Taking the time for myself, without guilt or judgement, to reconnect with myself, in ways that I never thought I could. Looking back, I was constantly searching for something to fill the cracks, and yoga has proved to be the glue to hold me together again.” - Becky

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Practicing yoga allowed me to drop most of my thinking, on most days,  and actually feel my physical body. That was eye-opening for me. Another critical aspect of yoga has been the breath. Finding and feeling my breath has been another powerful discovery. Attempting to live the practical applications of the yamas  and the niyamas (the moral and ethical practices of yoga) has made me more aware of my role in the world. My meditation practice has improved. My concentration has become more clear. My ability to quiet the external has enabled me to get closer to my deeper spiritual practice. It's been a slow evolution and I am ok with that pace.”

“I often ask students, who have never done yoga before, if they’ve ever been frustrated in their lives. When every hand is raised, I explain the breath. I use my breathing as a release and as an energy source. I use the breath when I am stressed, when I am happy, when I am tired and when I am lost. I regularly use the physical practice of Asana and pranayama exercises to move me through each and every day.” - Becky

“Yoga has taught me how to question myself and my intentions.  For lack of better words it helps me cut through the bullshit and allows me to be uncomfortable in a space I know is meant to push me further.  It has also taught me how to rest.” - Haylee

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“I meditate daily for self care.  I also go out dancing to dress up with expression, move my body freely and sing.” - Haylee

“The beach is my happy place, waking up with the sunrise planted at the edge of the ocean, is where I feel closest to Divine Spirit. In the winter, I burrow in a salt cave where my friend, Katie plays singing bowls. Taking a bath, lighting candles, soaking in a warm tub with a good book is soothing and relaxing to me. Making soup, washing, peeling, chopping vegetables. Walking my dog in the park, we meet people and chat. Sitting in my kayak in the middle of the lake on a quiet morning. Sometimes just blessing my home by cleaning the floors with almond cleaner, dusting with lemon oil, scrubbing sinks, getting rid of things that no longer serve me. Meeting a friend for coffee. Sometimes it’s in the garden pulling weeds in Malasana, and sometimes sitting quietly in front of a candle, that soothes my soul.” - Marianne

“Every day is different with self care. Some days it's attending 12 step meetings. Every day involves meditation. Journaling is crucial to me. Getting on my mat and feeling my way into a posture is critical. Friendships are important self care. Being more aware of what I do and why is self care for me. A hot bath at the end of the day is heavenly. Figuring out why I'm eating what I'm eating has become a self care endeavor.”

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“I feel joy at being able to share this path with people new to recovery. I feel like I understand their resistance, their dis-ease with the whole concept of 'feeling your body'. To be allowed to provide just a small amount of time for them to sit, breathe, and be, has been a gift.

“Sometimes I fall into ‘stinkin’ thinkin,’ where I think back on when things could have been different, if only...I had this, or that didn’t happen...everything in my life has made me the person I am today. This is where gratitude comes in, I start by bringing awareness to my breath, and being grateful for each inhale and exhale, knowing that breath is our precious life force, and how thankful I am, for breath itself. I go on to eyes that see, ears that hear...and before I know it, I’m in a better place.” - Marianne

“I have enjoyed teaching with TYP immensely! I find so much satisfaction in bringing yoga and meditation to people in recovery. If I can help ONE person on their journey, I have succeeded and conquered my goal.” - Becky

“Yoga is not the shape or movement.  It is noticing your breath, seeing your thoughts clearly and learning how to start again...and again.” - Haylee

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL RECOVERY AWARENESS MONTH! 

SUPPORT TYP'S YOGA FOR RECOVERY PROGRAMS! 

TYP's goal is to raise $5,000 during September. Your donation could be doubled as part of the $50,000 Wyss Foundation Challenge Grant goal. We need YOUR help to reach that goal! Each dollar you donate could be doubled in value!

PLEASE DONATE TODAY!

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.  

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How Yoga for Recovery Alleviates Anxiety & Depression

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Feeling anxious or depressed during recovery is a common experience. In fact, 20-50% of people with substance abuse disorders also have co-occuring clinical anxiety or depression. It is important to learn self-care strategies that can help minimize anxiety and alleviate depression. Mindful practices, such as yoga, will help maintain well-being and reduce triggers that may be a result of symptoms of anxiety/depression.

Researchers have found that yoga is an evidence-based intervention that is demonstrated to reduce anxiety and depression in participants. Here are just a few studies that have found how #YogaHeals:

  • A randomized controlled study of a 5-week yoga program offered to people with substance abuse disorders found significant reductions in depression and anxiety (Marefat et al 2011).

  • A yoga practice helped to reduce depression and increase quality of life in men overcoming addiction (Devi et al 2014).

  • A study of a yoga program offered in a rehabilitation hospital found significant improvements in participants anxiety and self-compassion (Curtis et al 2016) .

How does TYP’s Yoga for Recovery Programs help to reduce anxiety and depression?

In our trauma-sensitive yoga classes, the combination of the poses, the breathing exercises and the guided mediations all help to reduce stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which thereby induces the relaxation response.

Yoga practices also helps decrease the physiological arousal associated with anxiety by:

  • Reducing heart rate

  • Lowering blood pressure

  • Easing respiration

  • Increasing heart rate variability

In addition, the physical movement associated with a yoga practice helps symptoms of depression. The mindful meditations also help to teach awareness and acceptance (learn more on our previous blog “How Yoga for Recovery Increases Internal Awareness”).

What do our Yoga for Recovery participants say?


“I am hardly ever depressed anymore. I am more relaxed and yoga has helped greatly lower my blood pressure”

“I feel better physically and mentally! My anxiety has lessened and I feel calm.”

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What are some yoga or mindfulness practices I can do at home to help with my anxiety or depression?

  • 4-7-8 breathing:

    • To practice: Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound to a count of 8. This is one round of breath. Repeat a few times to help reduce anxiety and calm yourself down.

  • Butterfly Pose: Forward folds are said to help soothe our nervous system. You can sit up on a blanket or pillow to help the fold or use blocks underneath your knees to build the ground up to you.

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SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL RECOVERY AWARENESS MONTH! 

SUPPORT TYP'S YOGA FOR RECOVERY PROGRAMS! 

TYP's goal is to raise $5,000 during September. Your donation could be doubled as part of the $50,000 Wyss Foundation Challenge Grant goal. We need YOUR help to reach that goal! Each dollar you donate could be doubled in value!

PLEASE DONATE TODAY!

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.  

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Meet Cheryl Spera! New Business Development & Outreach Manager

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.

 Cheryl Spera, our New Business Development & Outreach Manager, enjying the outdoors as part of her self-care.

Cheryl Spera, our New Business Development & Outreach Manager, enjying the outdoors as part of her self-care.

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! 

SUPPORT TYP'S YOGA FOR RECOVERY PROGRAMS! 

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!

PLEASE DONATE TODAY!

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.  










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How Athletes Can Use Yoga and Meditation to Take Training to the Next Level

Training nearly every day, professional athletes strategically plan workouts around how well their bodies can train while handling the stress and strain. Yoga and meditation can round out athletes’ strenuous workouts, both mentally and physically. Balancing high-intensity training with yoga and meditation can reduce strain on the body and mind, decreasing the chance of a burnout or injury and extending a career.

Whether in a warmup or as a training session, yoga stretches and builds muscles to increase strength, flexibility, balance and endurance, while helping in recovery to keep the workouts on track. Meditating balances minds, releasing the mental stress that comes with high-intensity training or situations like games, matches and races.

Top professional athletes use yoga and meditation in their training: Carli Lloyd, Ryan Giggs, Novak Djokovic, Rich Roll, and many more.

  • Carli Lloyd, USWNT player and 2015 World Cup champion: “I think at the end of the day you can be physically strong, you can have all the tools out there, but if your mental state isn’t good enough, you can’t bring yourself to bigger and better things. And for me, I’ve just constantly been visualizing, constantly been growing confidence with each and every game, and I was on a mission.”

  • Ryan Giggs, former England and Manchester United soccer player: “(Yoga) strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility, but also keeps you fit and gets you out on the training pitch so you can train every day. You want to be out there so you need to get your body robust and ready for anything.”

  • Novak Djokovic, top pro tennis player: “I don't want to tell you what I gain with (meditation), but I'll tell what I lose with it… I lose fear. I lose anxiety. I lose stress. I guess, in the end of the day, that's what you're looking for."

  • Rich Roll, ultra-endurance athlete: “Every athlete – irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice.”

Many of these athletes express the clear mind, strength and flexibility that come with yoga and meditation. With those practices, they become more aware of their bodies and can better handle stress in the moment and after trainings, games, matches and races. Also athletes can extend their careers with the freeing of stress and strain from yoga. Ryan Giggs played soccer professionally into his 40s and credits much of that success to yoga.

In a study published in The Sports Journal, researchers tested to see how mindfulness training could mediate stress, performance and burnout. They found meditation helps athletes’ awareness and recovery, while reducing stress and burnout (Furrer et. al 2015). Consistent meditation can better an athlete’s eating and sleeping, strength and focus.

Not everybody is a professional athlete, but that doesn’t mean they can’t train like one. Try mixing in meditation and yoga into your daily or weekly workout routines.

Here are some tips on bringing meditation into your trainings:

  • Pause, and focus on one body part at a time — its strength and flexibility

  • Think of a mantra to help you focus on the meditation. “I am breathing in. I am breathing out.”

  • Inhale and exhale deeply through your nose for an extended period of time

  • Sit quietly and focus on what you aim to accomplish

With different sports putting strain on different muscle groups, athletes can find certain positions and poses to work on certain areas more related to their sports.

Here are some poses for all athletes that loosen leg muscles, the core and the back. Remember that yoga is a practice to help heal, and never hurt, so if you need to ease out of a shape or take a break do so. You can always try again.

Supine Core Strengthener

 From WorkoutLabs.com

From WorkoutLabs.com

Lie on your back. Lift both legs up 90 degrees, and lie arms on ground at shoulder height, palms facing up. Take 10 breaths with both legs up. Then extend one leg to two inches above the floor, with the other still up. Take 10 breaths. Switch legs, and take another 10 breaths.

Downward Facing Dog

 From Comprehensive Spine & Pain

From Comprehensive Spine & Pain

Start on hands and knees, with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Stretch your elbows back and relax your upper back. Spread fingers wide while pressing through palms and knuckles. Exhale as your tuck toes and lift knees off the floor. Straighten your legs, without locking your knees, bringing your body into an A-shape. Press the floor away from you, lifting your pelvis. Breathe and hold for 15 breaths.

High, Crescent Lunge

Step one foot forward, bending front leg to a right angle. Raise both arms to the sky. Lift up through lower belly, lifting weight from the front hip. Stay for 10 breaths on each side.

Pigeon Pose

 From Health & Fitness Travel

From Health & Fitness Travel

Start on your hands and knees, and place one foot between hands and lower back knee to the floor. Walk front foot forward toward opposite groin, rotating front leg outward and resting top of foot and outside of calf and knee on the ground. Direct back thigh onto or toward the floor, keeping leg behind your body.

Forward Fold

 From TYP

From TYP

From a standing position, use your exhale to slowly fold forward by hinging at your hips. Allow your knees to bend and your torso to be heavy. Breathe as long as you’d like.

TYP is excited to bring yoga to the the Philadelphia Union Fans and Community for Yoga Day!

On Sunday, Sept. 23 the Union will take on Sporting Kansas City. Following the game, TYP instructors will lead the first-ever yoga class on Talen Energy Stadium’s field! Buy tickets to the game and the on-field yoga session here.

This blog post was written by Connor Fogel, TYP social media intern.

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