03/01/2013 02:54 pm ET Updated May 01, 2013

Yoga and Addiction: Helping Release the Grip

I first encountered Tommy Rosen on his deathbed.

The yoga teacher begins his powerful essay in the newly-released 21st Century Yoga on the night he nearly died after smoking crack and anything else he could absorb into his addicted body.

Rosen's recovery began soon after he faced his mortality. A 12-step program set the foundation, but yoga helped complete his transformation, providing the tools of breathing and detoxification that allowed him to fully heal and embrace life in a true and undistorted (no longer addicted) state.

Today, Rosen is certified in hatha and kundalini yoga, as well as meditation. He helped pioneer the field of yoga and recovery, which promotes yoga as a means for helping people overcome addictions and rebuild their lives.

Rosen's approach integrates 12-step philosophy, yoga and meditation. His mission is to help guide people through the process of recovery, which he believes is possible for anyone willing to commit to the "Recovery 2.0 Lifestyle."

Opening the heart

While addiction costs our society much in dollars, the human cost cannot begin to be measured. What often starts as a search for pleasure and escape can turn into a living nightmare for men and women and their families.

Tommy Rosen understands the inner needs many of us seek to fill in all the wrong ways. He teaches with uncommon sensitivity and insight into the possibility of transformation that comes with each and every breath.

In Heart of Gold Flow, Rosen recognizes that painful emotions can cause us to round our shoulders to protect the heart. This accessible vinyasa practice focuses on creating a firm foundation, establishing proper posture and then allowing the heart to open. Students of all levels will find this class deeply nourishing to the body and soothing to the mind and mood.

Rosen's student in this practice is his own lovely wife and fellow yoga teacher, Kia Miller. This adds an extra sweetness to the class.

Yoga as a lifeline

Yoga for recovery recognizes the need to connect the story of the body with the reason of the mind. Often people abuse their bodies because they don't feel comfortable in their skins. Yoga can help change that. Deep breathing and the constant return to the present moment helps create an opportunity to pause and consider before making destructive choices.

Classes for yoga and addiction, as well those that combine yoga with a 12-step recovery process, have started to spring up around the world. Rosen is one of the leaders in this effort. Like most of the teachers drawn to this work, he has looked in the mirror and wondered whether he would survive the grip of his addiction. Because he did, he has dedicated his life to helping others.

Whether you are in recovery or just want an authentic class with a master teacher who practices what he preaches, Tommy Rosen is here to help. I'm grateful that he survived to share his story and gifts with the world.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

Amy Taylor is a freelance writer for She also teaches yoga to students of all ages. Find her columns on yoga and parenting here.

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