The Yoga Room’s raven class helps students experience joys of sober life

Raven Yoga is a class at The Yoga Room specifically designed to give individuals who have conflicts with alcohol a glimpse at how good life can be firing at 100 percent.

Nicole Peltier Hall, owner of The Yoga Room, was driven to develop a class concentrated on recovery or trauma-based yoga after taking her last drink Jan. 25, 2016. Hall wanted to give everyday Tulsans a chance to experience sobriety. Raven Yoga is now a trademarked yoga practice that turned a year old in May.

Hall has taught yoga in the Tulsa community for 20 years, founded The Yoga Room 17 years ago and calls her life since she quit drinking “a privilege.” She aspires to live her sober life “out loud.”

“I have to be out loud because people need to see they are not alone and if someone like me who has been teaching yoga publicly, who has been a very successful-looking person, has been a total alcoholic, then anybody could be,” she said. “You could look like the beacon of health and also have a very, very big problem.”

Foundation of Raven Yoga

Raven Yoga is an all-levels yoga class focused on “truths around undesirable behaviors, habits and addictions,” according to a hand-out students receive each session.

While the Raven class is available to individuals enrolled in treatment, the intent of the class is to be an experience available to anyone, Hall said.

“I don’t want people to think that they have to be already on the path of trying to quit or there has to be evidence that they are truly addicts, they can come even if they are just curious,” she said.

Typical yoga classes are a solemn environment where the only speaker is the instructor, but Raven Yoga sets aside a time of sharing in the class although it is not required. Sharing with others was a “game changer” for Hall.

“Yesterday, there was a couple of girls who had never been in here before and we weren’t talking about really intense stuff, it was just typical human suffering stuff. It was ‘I feel insecure’ or ‘I feel unworthy,’ not harsh, hard stuff and she was almost in tears and she was like, ‘It’s so nice to know that I’m not alone,’ ” Hall said. “It is such a powerful thing to realize whatever you have been thinking in your head is just not you, it’s everyone.”

Raven students are given the opportunity to join a closed Facebook group after they attend a class. In the group, individuals can share articles they feel are insightful and give one another advice.

The community helps create a sense of accountability outside of the yoga studio. Instead of going to the bar, they can go to yoga class, Hall said.

“Instead of just thinking by yourself, ‘I got this, I’m doing this’ we have the chance to pull each other out of that delusion because that’s a slip,” she said. “That is someone saying, ‘I am headed to relapse.’ ”

Why Yoga?

Yoga is well tailored to treat addiction because alcoholism is a disease that affects the mind, body and spirit just as yoga is a physical practice that unites the mind, body and spirit, said Michelle Hardesty, executive director of Hardesty Family Foundation and an instructor at The Yoga Room.

Hardesty has experience with addiction as well. She’s been in recovery from alcoholism for 14 years and, while she’s involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, she’s had the most success combining Raven Yoga with other classes in which she’s involved.

Brad Collins, director of Community Relations and Research Efficacy at 12 & 12, introduced Hardesty to the idea of recovery yoga, she said.

Hardesty works with programs like 12 & 12 that treat substance disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders, as well as Family & Children’s Service’s Women in Recovery. Both have integrated recovery yoga or mindfulness-based relapse prevention, which is essentially meditation, into their treatment plans.

The program initially partnered with The Laureate Institute for Brain Research for a six-month study and produced tangible results regarding how yoga affects individuals who struggle with addiction, Collins said.

“We gathered data and we saw in our outcomes that yoga and mindfulness relapse prevention greatly reduced depression, and it also elevated the patient’s overall feeling of healthiness and well being,” he said. “Those are two things that are extremely, extremely important in early recovery.”

Yoga was integrated as a regular part of the treatment program earlier this year at 12 & 12, but a nonstructured type of yoga has been offered to patients for the past three years.

Because addiction is a chronic brain disease when patients come to 12 & 12, often times, it isn’t their first time in treatment. Recovery Yoga and mindfulness-based relapse prevention have changed that, Collins said.

“A lot of these folks are saying, ‘Wow I wish I had the opportunity to try this before,’ ” he said.

‘Before you have to’

Whatever type of treatment method someone chooses, Hall wants everyone to know how good life is sober. To showcase the joys of a sober life, Hall has coined the term “before you have to,” meaning before you have to quit because your worst fear has been realized.

“People compare themselves to people who have had a really awful bottom like they got a DUI or killed people on the highway, that’s bottom and they say, ‘Well, I haven’t hit that,’ ” Hall said. “They compare themselves to the worst-case scenario, but we are the best-case scenario. We are recovering addicts and we are doing great, compare yourself to me.”

Popular culture promotes alcohol as the opiate for living the best life one can live. Hall said she hopes Raven Yoga and her out loud life express “the privilege” that is sobriety.

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