Jeanne’s journey to Bikram Yoga began with the deep realization that if she was going to save her life, she would need to change it entirely. An actress and musician, she arrived in NYC in search of fame and fortune, but instead found drugs and alcohol. Penniless and homeless, she checked herself into a long-term residential drug rehab facility where she would finally detox all drugs. But when she re-entered society, the physical damage her body absorbed from a lifestyle of harmful addiction was taking it’s toll, and that’s when her friend bought her a 30-day Bikram Yoga introductory package. The moment Jeanne entered the hot room, she knew yoga was the missing ingredient to her recovery. Jeanne is a recipient of Bikram’s 2010 Teacher Training Scholarship which is a huge honor. Her mission is to teach, through her experience, that no matter how bad you think it is, it’s never too late to start from the scratch, One Posture at a Time.
How did One Posture at a Time come about?
The actual phrase, One Posture at a Time, came to me during my very first yoga class. Being a drug addict and alcoholic with only 2 years of recovery, I was deeply familiar with the phrase one day at a time, so when I walked into that yoga room and the heat pelted me in my face I knew the only way I was going to survive those next 90 minutes was to practice that same principle, but for me, one day at a time would become one breath, which turned into one minute, until finally, by the end of the class, One Posture at a Time was all I could chant to myself, to keep from leaving the room.
But then, when the class finished, I couldn’t believe how amazing I felt. I was literally re-introduced to my body. At one point, the teacher even said to me, “Welcome to your knee, Jeanne! Welcome to your body!”
The only time I remember feeling that connected to my body was when I was under the influence of some addictive substance. Alcohol, heroine, coke, pills, methadone; something manufactured and outside of myself was all I believed could ever make me feel whole…until it didn’t.
So the mission, One Posture at a Time, naturally just morphed from there. Mind you, during that first class, I had no idea I would end up becoming a yoga teacher with this crazy calling of trying to reach as many sick and suffering addicts as possible with the good news of yoga, but after that first class, the physical transformation I experienced from just one class…I was convinced THIS was the missing piece to my puzzle of recovery.
Was Pure Action always a part of this cause?
I learned about Pure Action through a fellow yoga teacher. I went to their website, PURE Action, and began a dialogue with Dr. Stacy Hunter, the Research and Education Director. I told Stacy about my desire to teach people recovering from addiction adding “…and wouldn’t it be great if we could acquire the science to prove that this yoga has the power to heal all addiction?” Then I shared with her an article I had written in the New York Times along with some of the challenges I was having, trying to make One Posture a reality.
She told me PURE Action was bringing yoga in to several different rehabs in the Austin area and so she had Jeff Chen, the Executive Director of PURE Action contact me. He immediately flew me down, to put on a fundraising seminar/yoga class for all the addicts from the Benchmark facility (one of the places they teach) so he coordinated to have them all get in their vans and come to PURE’s Bikram school to experience their first real hot 90-minute yoga class. When they arrived, I shared with them my story of addiction and the problems I had trying to get clean, and how hard it was for me to live a day at a time and stay in that long-term rehab facility, just like them. And then I shared about my transformation with the power of this daily yoga practice and how today, I get to live a clean and sober, useful life, like they will too one day, because if I can do it, believe me, anyone can do it.
Then, the next day, Tedd Li, the Community Programs Director, took me to their grounds where in this huge renovated hot barn, heated by nothing but the hot Texas sun, we rolled out our mats for Tedd to teach us the most loving, spiritual, non-judgmental yoga class inspiring me to go back home to NYC and do exactly the same thing.
How much of your time each week is devoted to this work?
Wherever and however I can, I devote whatever I can to One Posture at a Time. But I could not do it on my own. I have two of the most amazing people, helping me and guiding me. Frank King, a fellow teacher and practitioner, and Stacey Jerrold, OPAAT’s Administrator and practitioner, work side by side talking it, living it, raising funds for it and teaching it. For us, this is our Karma yoga and our responsibility – for to keep it you gotta give it away.
What kind of roadblocks do you hit with the practitioners?
We began by teaching in the same treatment facility I was in, out in Jamaica Queens, called Samaritan Village. In fact, the first time we walked through those doors, I cried with gratitude that I was getting to walk back through those doors, not because of some awful relapse, but because I was going teach this yoga. I mean, who would have thought?! But we were immediately faced with the reality that the last thing people detoxing off drugs want to do it is move their body. And since this class wasn’t mandatory, attendance was very low. And then add on top of that, their physical pain and the toxic consequences from living a drug addicted lifestyle – it all just seemed too much and felt insurmountable for them.
Diabetes, weight gain, high blood pressure, anemia, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, broken bones, cirrhosis, depression, seizures, gout, nerve damage, pancreatitis, dementia, (just to name a few) are the conditions that kept the Medical Doctors at the facility from clearing so many of them. Western medicine, at the state level, is too scared to take the risk with a yoga class, nor do they believe that people suffering these conditions must move their bodies, if the whole person is to recover. Hence, the reason to acquire the science! 19 months I lived in this facility. There was never any kind of exercise what-so-ever, or people coming in to explain to us what addiction had done to our physical beings.
I do believe that this way of thinking is slowly changing. But for the most part, addicts living in rehabs are sitting around, trying to shrink themselves through group and one-on-one therapy, with a few smoke breaks and unhealthy meals full of carbohydrates, in between.
Another obstacle in New York City is space. Space is a huge commodity here, so we were teaching in very small dining rooms and group rooms, not big enough, and community rooms not distant enough from their daily treatment schedules and routines.
So now, learning all of this, we have returned to my original inspiration, which is to have a certified yoga school let OPAAT teach our Yoga in Recovery class onsite, at the yoga school. And not just for the challenge of the heat and the experience of seeing the truth in those mirrors (all of which are lost when we go into the facility) but for the recovering addict to have another positive healthy community for them to metriculate into once they finish their treatment and in addition to the 12 step recovery world.
What changes have you seen in the participants?
Drug detox is pure hell and does not allow the addict to sleep. So one day, one of the regular participants showed up complaining that he hadn’t slept in weeks and so he didn’t think he could do the yoga. I told him that yoga is exactly the thing that’s going to help you feel better, “Yoga releases your restorative hormones; the serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and melatonin, all the hormones you used heroin and methadone and coke and xanax to release, the yoga is now going to do it…., and you know what, you might just end up getting a good night sleep!” And so, in spite of what he wanted to do, he stayed and participated in the class.
During the final savasana, when I was talking them through relaxing their bodies and their minds, I heard this snoring coming from way over in the corner of the room. It was him, on his mat, out like a light. Tears welled in my eyes. I knew, that no matter, that I have to keep going and do whatever it takes to make this mission work.
Do you have any upcoming events?
Beginning this Sunday, March 15th, at 2 pm, and every Sunday following, we are beginning our first at Bikram Yoga Soho in Tribeca, NYC – YOGA IN RECOVERY CLASS – Recover Your Mind, Body and Spirit — ONE POSTURE AT A TIME. And it’s FREE!!! We will have a basket at the front desk for donations, should people want to help cover the cost of renting the space, but that is not a requirement. We need participants more than we need their money.
What kind of roadblocks do you hit with funding?
I have just begun the whole fundraising thing. That first amazing generous yoga teacher, Raffael Pacitti, the one who said, “Welcome to your knee…” he put on a beautiful cabaret show where 100 percent of the of the ticket sales went to us. And Bikram Yoga Park Slope, in Brooklyn every first Friday of every month, they put on a yoga donation class that goes to a different specific cause of their choosing, so the first Friday of December, they donated all the proceeds from that class to us. These 2 events are making it possible for us to have just enough money to begin the weekly 2pm Sunday Yoga class for several months!
If someone would like to donate to the cause where can they send funds?
Go to this link for Pure Action Research, click on the drop down Donations Category Box and choose:
ONE POSTURE AT A TIME.
Be part of a movement to change others lives through yoga for the better – any amount will make a huge impact!