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The Queer Origins of 12 Step Recovery and The Yoga Sutras

See the original post on Substack for images

The Queer Origins of 12 Step Recovery and The Yoga Sutras

Carl Jung, BKS Iyengar and a lesbian named Marty Mann walk into a bar...


MAR 13, 2024

Head for Knowledge

My Iyengar yoga teacher, Avery Kalapa, invited me to lead a workshop next month for their online school on recovery and the Yoga Sutras. As I gather information, I thought to share some things with you, in case you cannot attend the lecture. I came into the rooms of 12 Step recovery twenty-three years ago, eighteen months after my sister D’Arcy died of a drug overdose. Some of you know that her death was really a long, slow, painful suicide.

What you may not know is that the origins of 12 Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as AA, being the first) are heavily informed by the Vedic texts. The founders of AA (Bill W. and Dr. Bob), a spiritual program, were students of Roland Hazard and Ebby Thacher, Carl Jung’s students. Jung, at the time, was studying Vedic scripture, and his students were, too.

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“Show me a drunk and I’ll show you someone in search of God.” - Carl Jung

Inspired by her own sense of connection as a result of reading the Alcoholics Anonymous manuscript in 1939, a pioneering queer woman named Marty Mann (later Bill W.’s sponsee or mentee), was eventually the person responsible for popularizing the disease concept of alcoholism and addiction to the global public. She changed policy with will, charisma and style.

Heart’s Wisdom

12 step recovery groups are peer‑facilitated mutual support groups. Surveys and evidence-based research show that peer work is a safe, effective, flexible and cost-effective intervention for adults to reduce anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and other ails.

Rooms of recovery, yoga studios and yoga sanghas are magical environments full of peer support: places where people go for self discovery (svadyaya), and for spiritual development (sadhana, ishvara pranidana)… places where people’s lives can truly be transformed because of the internal quest that yoga and recovery entail, within communities of like-minded people.

Original edition of the “big book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, dressed in red and gold and marked by a bindu, the dot symbolizing unity consciousness in Vedic traditions.

The Path of Action

Marty Mann (1904 - 1980) was the first female member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She broke gender barriers and stereotypes about alcoholics and alcoholism. She became an educator, public speaker and contributed to policy change, founding the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and testifying before the Senate, introducing the concept to the consciousness of Americans and the world that alcoholism is a disease and not a moral failure.

She once held private audience with the Pope, and socialized with all the cool queers of the day: Vida Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Jackson Pollack, Marc Rothko, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker, Eleanor Roosevelt and other art, literary and theater personalities. She had also had her own experiences as a destitute, institutionalized and homeless alcoholic, a chronically ill person and navigated classism as a white woman born wealthy whose family lost everything in the Crash of 1929.

Eventually, she created “a plan to teach people the facts about alcoholism. A plan to remove the stigma surrounding it, so people could face it unashamed and unafraid, armed with the weapons of knowledge and able to take constructive action.”

She advocated that:

Marty Mann

From a radical activist/yogic perspective, one could substitute the words above with all sorts of things, exchanging “alcoholism” and “alcoholic” with “delusion, and deluded,” “person living in maya,” “capitalism and capitalist,” colonization and colonizer…” It makes me say to myself: Creating peace is a public responsibility…

Marty Mann was practicing an iteration of Yoga by following the AA program but never realized it as such, and we will elaborate on that in the presentation on April 9. She followed her dharma and changed the world. She was practicing karma yoga, the yoga of service.

Jung’s eventual direct contribution to the AA “program” helped form a philosophy that has saved countless lives - “an accessible recovery philosophy for the general neurotic” (Jung’s words, not mine! Isn’t Yoga the same?).

image @asanasketch

The Yoga Sūtras are rich with 12 Step philosophy, and vice versa. Both are systems to help individuals achieve spiritual awakening swiftly and safely, to reveal universal truths and to ease suffering... systems to help us feel connected to the divine, to ourselves and to each other.

Culling from BKS Iyengar’s final book, Core of the Yoga Sūtras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga, we will connect together the classic Sanskrit text to classic recovery principles and traditions, inviting discussion from those with and without experience in 12 Step recovery.

Synthesizing behavioral science and spirituality, we will read The Serenity Prayer, review Patanjali’s Eightfold Path, read The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions and find their origins in Sūtras III.16 - III.55; explore the path of recovery and spiritual awakening in Sūtras II.28, II.29 and II.32; learn the important queer contribution to the Twelve Traditions, and more.

Inspiring and timeless, hopeful, connective and comforting, the online lecture, discussion and robust resource-share will be held online through Yoga With Avery’s Sadhana Support Collective on April 9 at 3pm PST. 75 minutes of Restorative Yoga led by Avery will follow.

If you’d like to join us, be in touch!

BKS Iyengar. Getty Images

“We are endowed with arms and legs for the path of action (karma mārga), head for knowledge (jñāna mārga) and the heart’s wisdom for devotion to God (bhakti mārga) for the total surrender of oneself to God.” 

- Core of the Yoga Sutras, Astānga Yoga Prayoga, Tathā Parinamā, BKS Iyengar

Ten Minutes A Day Keeps The Doctor Away (1 of 3)

Ten Minutes A Day Keeps The Doctor Away (1 of 3)

Even better than a 90 minute class!


MAR 5, 2024

Way back in 2011 when yoga research was just gaining traction, participants learned at a yoga conference that ten minutes of yoga per day showed significant differences in people’s measured well being as compared to a ninety minute class once per week.

The types of yoga studied varied, but it was suggested to the group at the conference that it may not really matter what you practice, as long as your focus and concentration were adequate. Tai chi, qi gong and other modalities may be just as effective because of the interoception required for these meditative past times. The internal perception is what changes the GABA and then the HPA axis, hormones, neurotransmitters, brain, nervous system and perception.

Since that conference, I have aimed to practice yoga at least ten minutes a day. Sometimes I get there. Sometimes I practice much longer than that. Other days I practice feeling guilty for not practicing for at least ten minutes, or I practice trying not to feel guilty for not practicing ten minutes of yoga that day. It’s a lifestyle ;)

Even a little hip and arm stretch like I was doing at the edge of the lake in December counts as yoga! Every little bit adds up over a lifetime. The body keeps the score.

If I have a goal of my own and for yoga therapy clients and students, it is to practice Yoga ten minutes per day.

Can I help you get there? Book a session! Treat yourself to effective medicine and to JOY and COMFORT 💎

Below is a study on the effects of yoga ten minutes per day on home-office workers and a smidge about me.

For those of you with heavy computer karma, this study might interest you:

Objective: Evaluate the effects of 10 min/day of yoga for 1 month on musculoskeletal discomfort and mood disturbance of home-office workers. Fifty-four participants (42 women, 12 men) followed a 1-month yoga program, while 40 participants (26 women, 14 men) continued with their common work routine. 

Conclusion: The yoga intervention program appears to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort and mood disturbance of home-office workers. Mood disturbance was evaluated with the Profile of Mood States questionnaire. Sedentary workers may benefit from 10 min/day of yoga during the workday to attenuate potential physical and emotional discomfort during the current pandemic and beyond.

I am working on my meditation practice these days, for my mental and physical health. I just need to please calm down.

I hope to see you soon in meditation, in that spacey space that only meditators inhabit!



Yoga Freebies for Well Being! (2 of 3)

Yoga Freebies for Well Being! (2 of 3)

Ten minutes of yoga per day is more effective than ninety minutes once per week


MAR 10, 2024

With just a little practice, you are on your way, building resilience and cultivating recovery!

Brooke’s shadow doing a lazy Virabhadrasana II on the shore of Lake Tahoe, holding the camera with one hand. December, 2023


One of the things that can be very centering / grounding / bring you into your body is that age old hamstring stretching: lying on your back and having a yoga belt or band around the foot as you lift your leg. One can take a nice long time here, sort of defrosting the hamstring, breathing, and even drawing the uplifted leg to the left and the right, holding the strap with the hand, creating a a circuit to the foot. It isn’t so much about the stretch, as it is about paying attention - to the stretch, the breath, the belt, the circuit, the tension (anywhere), the release (anywhere), the process. The chemistry that develops as the attention is maintained is where the medicine lies.

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So while it seems like we get a greater benefit with an hour long class, the key is dropping into the concentration, and really the peacefulness that comes with being present. Does that make sense?

The thing about that hamstring stretch (supta padangustasana) is that it can take up a bit of time, since we have two legs so we need to stretch both sides with care… and we can bring the leg out to the side and explore sensations and breath… and then over - so this stretch eats up close to ten minutes pretty easily.

Plus, stretching the hamstrings is like a secret key to a healthy body: hips, pelvic floor, low back, upper back, shoulders, neck are all relieved when the hamstrings are long. Hamstring stretches are a key to being comfortable in the body.


If you want to get more detailed:

As per Sensory-Enhanced Yoga® for Trauma Recovery and Self-Regulation, extending the arm over the head (i.e. the right arm, all the way overhead to the floor) while holding the yoga belt on that side’s foot (around the right foot) can help expand the (right side) ribcage, lung and breathing capacity. Using the other hand (i.e. the left hand) to hold the yoga band just above the navel creates a circuit of energy between the raised foot, the yoga belt and both hands, plus the spine, the floor and gravity, which is an energetic subtlety upon which one can focus.

If that doesn’t take up enough time, add in a cat cow series, or a few minutes of deep breathing, while paying close attention to the body, the breath and the mind. Cultivating that attention will affect the brain’s GABA levels which affect the pituitary and adrenal glands, regulating the amygdala and hippocampus… leading to a state of well being.

Cultivating the concentration takes practice, it’s like it’s own muscle. Keep at it and it will reward you. 

Practicing anything you LIKE, any movement you enjoy, is really the best. And a little conscious rest after any movement or stretch counts towards the ten minutes - including prayer, repeating an affirmation or mantra, or just spacing out. 


Here’s my anti-inflammatory soup recipe that is like liquid Advil - because let’s face it, if you move or your stress, you flare up from time to time.

1 bunch celery

4 cups water

1/2 cup olive oil (or any non-rancid, refrigerated or shelf stable/hogh heat oil)

1/4 lemon or lime juice

Optional: 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, salt, 1/2 avocado or more, any other greens like kale, ginger or garlic. I usually add ginger and garlic, and substitute bone broth for the water

Blend all ingredients until smooth

Serves 6. I adjust the ratios and make it fresh or store some in the fridge. Makes everything better!


Book a session! Let’s relax together and soothe the inflammation with Yoga.



Yoga Exotics: Marmas, Mudras and Oil Massage (3 of 3)

Yoga Exotics: Marmas, Mudras and Oil Massage (3 of 3)

If you find that you’re exercising too much, if fatigue sets in or if you become injured or ill and your capacity for energetic movement wanes, mudras are a fantastic alternative practice that count towards the ten minutes of daily yoga practice we strive for. Marma point treatment is even subtler but even more powerful, especially as you are able to tune inward, concentration-style. There are mudras and marmas for every ailment and complaint under the sun that humans experience, so you can dial in those gentle practices in a tailored way for what you need. We don’t see enough practice of these in the western world, but they are brilliant, especially as we age and our health changes. 

My go-to marma book:

Marma Therapy: The Healing Power of Ayurvedic Vital Point Massage - Schrott, Dr Ernst; Raju, Dr J. Ramanuja; Schrott, Stefan: 9781848192966 - AbeBooks

Image from Marma Therapy: The Healing Power of Ayurvedic Vital Point Massage - Schrott, Dr Ernst; Raju, Dr J. Ramanuja; Schrott, Stefan of Basti Marma, one of the three mahamarmas or great vital points that we practice in yoga together. Basti marma is supremely grounding and calming for the mind.

Photo from Mudra Cards, deck, accompanying Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lillian LaPage. Padma mudra nurtures the 4th and 5th chakras, the heart and throat, thus supporting the cardio-respiratory and immune systems and the thyroid. Padma mudra helps to cultivate compassion and empathy.  When practicing parma mudra, make sure to relax the shoulders and maintain a neutral spine.

My go-to mudras book (and card deck):

I recommend both of these books if you are interested in the subtler practices of yoga pranayama - life force energy control. 

If you seem to be getting a lot of movement in, you might consider abhyanga self massage. It can seem exotic at first but it’s incredibly soothing, grounding, protective physically and energetically, and boosts the immune system. 

Here’s the video I like:
How to Do Abhyanga, a Self Massage with Warm Oil

There are lots of other videos on YouTube too. There’s research that shows this type of massage relieves addiction urges and eating disorder tendencies. It’s really worth a try.

from caption... 

One last idea: this series for menopause is a nice intro to the benefits of some of the basic restorative yoga poses. They’re on YouTube but can be brought to your inbox with a sign up for the free program. It’s educational on the poses and not a guide through the experience of them, but if you played with one or two of the poses on your own, it would count toward those ten minutes and be a total breath of fresh air, calming, internalizing.

Screenshot from Simple Supported Backbend: Restorative Yoga for Menopause, Lizzie Lasater, YouTube

Simple Supported Backbend: Restorative Yoga for Menopause (Pose 1 of 6)

Not just for menopause! But that’s the focus of this series. 

If you have feedback or questions, let me know! I would love to support you in a yoga session all about you! Book a session with me by replying to this email.

There’s so much more to yoga that is good for the body and mind. I hope this expands your mind a bit on all the potential for your healing journey.

Below the paywall line is a bunch of great info on ayurveda for the month of March, plus a couple of my favorite and simple recipes.

Become a paid subscriber and get a bunch of goodies!