When Lia Del Priore teaches her weekly yoga class for people recovering from substance abuse, she thinks back to when she overcame her own addiction years ago. As she unrolls her yoga mat, she explains how yoga can become a place of healing.
“Some of the people in my class are just starting to learn how to live sober, and I see them take a huge, deep, full breath. I can see them at peace, even if just for that moment. There is a glimmer of respite,” Del Priore says. “When you are drinking or doing drugs it is because you are trying to escape a thought or feeling. Yoga works to control those thoughts by using the breath.”
Del Priore also teaches at the Swannanoa Juvenile Detention Center. Suffering from past trauma, addictions and life choices that led to time behind bars, Del Priore says these 12-16-year-olds rarely have moments when someone believes in them.
“I have them hold plank pose for a long time to watch the stress rise in the body,” Del Priore says. “It takes impulse control not to get out of the pose, and they learn that intolerable feelings, like the muscles working intensely in plank, will pass eventually.”
And what happens when life is not strenuous or intolerable for a few minutes (like the final resting pose, Savasana)?
“They love it! It is 10 minutes when no one is yelling at them or telling them what to do. Most of them fall asleep,” she says.
Blending the Western therapeutic model for rehabilitation with yogic philosophy, Del Priore helps her students rediscover the peace that already exists within themselves, beginning with 10 minutes of Savasana, and followed by an hour-long yoga class. However, she also tries to help her students off the mat, telling them that suffering and hardships are a part of life, she says, and mental health is not something to be shoved away.
As Sufi poet Kahlil Gibran says, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; characters are seared with scars.”
Del Priore is currently seeking funding and grants to establish her yoga for substance abuse classes at recovery centers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also teaches Friday, 9 a.m.-10 a.m. at Asheville Yoga Donation Studio.
Kate Lundquist is a freelance writer and yoga teacher living in Asheville. Her website is www.lightonbalance.blogspot.com, and she teaches Saturdays, 2:15 p.m.-3:45 p.m., at Asheville Yoga Center.