01/22/2013 03:22 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Yoga: How We Serve Women in Recovery

This is an interview with Lynda Ferrara, and it didn't happen over night. So much was going on in her personal life: a recovering addict herself, addiction continues to affect her family today just as it has for many generations. Both her parents were alcoholics. Her father died from the disease when he was 44; her mother is still alive and sober. Now married for the third time to another recovering addict, Lynda's first husband died from addiction at the age of 42. Her second husband died of alcoholism and cancer last year at age 55. Lynda's adult children continue to struggle.

"My family history is one of the reasons that service is so much a part of my life," said Lynda. "I told my yoga teacher recently that without the connection to my practice, which allows me to give back to the universe, I sometimes feels like my fear could swallow me whole."

Rob: What got you started doing direct yoga service work?

My service career started when I got clean in the rooms of a 12-step fellowship 24 years ago. It was, and still is, the foundation of my recovery and life. I discovered yoga when I was 42 years old. I met Penni Feiner at Naturally Yoga in Glen Rock, N.J., where I did my teacher training and currently teach yoga for beginners. Penni and I became fast friends. I got involved with Kula for Karma doing fundraising work. From time to time, I would accompany Penni when she taught at a facility in Newark, N.J. called Integrity House, where 20 or so women trying to get clean from drug addiction would gather for a yoga class. The bond I felt with the girls happened instantly.

My desire to teach yoga to recovering women was the inspiration that motivated me to get my 200-hour certification, which I completed in June 2009. In July 2010 I attained my 100-hour certification as a counselor for Yoga of Recovery with Durga Leela at the Sivananda Ashram in New York.

I started teaching a yoga class at Gilda's Club in Hackensack with Kula for Karma. Gilda's is a facility where people with cancer and their families can find the support they need through a variety of wonderful programs. It was a perfect way for me to find my voice as a teacher. I was so grateful for the opportunity to teach this population of courageous people, but this was not the population that called to me. I was there for a year. During that time I started teaching once a month at Mrs. Wilson's Halfway House, a substance abuse treatment center in Morristown for recovering women. In December 2010, Integrity House contacted Kula for Karma because they wanted to add another program for women in their Newark facility. It was perfect! The time and day were open for the choosing, I was thrilled! My wish to teach these wonderful women came full circle.

What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

My own biography of addiction motivates me, and there is no better feeling than touching the heart and soul of another human being.

Is there a standout moment from your work with women in recovery?

Not one, but several! For instance, when one of the girls began to cry in savasana (corpse pose) after I rubbed her head with lavender lotion. She told me afterwards that she never cries, and it felt good not to be afraid to let go. She said she felt something "opening up."

Some of the girls who come to class each week start off sitting on the side with their sneakers or combat boots on. Then slowly, week by week, they start to get comfortable. First they start to move and finally will find a mat and take off their shoes. They love one of the playlists I've made for the class. It's now the only one that they want me to play. Even as the faces in the room change the music carries over to the new girls. Every week someone else asks me if they can have a copy of the CD. They identify with the words and find comfort in the music. The songs are about change, love, peace and God. These beautiful women want to feel their hearts. They want to see inside their souls.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population that you work with?

Speak your truth so that you can develop the trust that is needed for participation. Let go of expectations of the traditional yoga class blueprint. These students are raw and vulnerable. They want to know that you are for real. They want to feel your passion, even if it makes them uncomfortable at first. Don't be afraid to let them 'see' you.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

The class I teach isn't like a traditional yoga class. We practice on the backyard blacktop when the weather is warm. When it's cold we are in the basement, which is a limited in space. I have found that what connects us and opens them up is not the content of the asana sequence, but my willingness to become vulnerable with them. They know my story. I've shared my pain, my joy and my gratitude for recovery with them. There is no judgment or expectation of them. It blows my mind every week when I sit down and they are all sitting there eager to participate. They sense that it is a safe space where they can absorb the positive energy, if that is all they can do that day, and find their way in their own time and comfort. I never go in with much of a plan. I feel their energy, open my heart, and magic happens. What seems like such a small offering means so much to these women, and is so powerful to those who are ready to receive it.

How has this work changed your practice?

Because of this work I have been able to let down some of the expectations and judgments I've had of myself as a yoga teacher. As I continue my journey, giving freely what has been given freely to me, the fabric of who I am becomes stronger.

What other organizations do you admire?

The Give Back Yoga Foundation, Off the Mat, Into the World, Global Mala

Editor: Alice Trembour

Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved or un-served populations? Email if you're interested in being interviewed for this series. Thank you for all you do in the name of service!

Demand Continues, 2nd Printing!

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Recovering from Trauma, a collection of simple but effective yoga practices developed by Suzanne Manafort and Dr. Daniel Libby through practical and clinical experience working with veterans coping with PTSD and other psycho-emotional stress. While benefiting trauma patients safely and comfortably, the practices can be used by anyone dealing with stress.

The Give Back Yoga Foundation is making this manual available free to veterans and VA hospitals. It is also available on the GBYF website, if you would like to purchase the book and support free distribution to veterans. This practice guide includes a supplement (poster-size) of the yoga practices., the world's largest online collection of conscious media including films, documentaries, yoga, and health and wellness videos, is a proud media partner of The Give Back Yoga Foundation. Together, and GBYF are helping to bring the gift of yoga to veterans and supporting programs that empower individuals, build relationships and communities, and cultivate a peaceful and healing yoga practice for all. Check out the direct link on and let us know what you think and what else you'd like to see:

Help our heroes transition back to a civilian lifestyle by giving them easy access to mindfulness meditation. Veterans who take the class at the Washington, DC VA say mindfulness meditation helps them sleep better! Access is easy and anonymous.

Join us at the Yoga Service Conference at Omega June 7-9

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