When Taryn Strong took her first yoga teacher training in 2007, the concept of incorporating yoga into recovery was still pretty underground. “I couldn’t even find a book on it,” she remembers. As the daughter of two alcoholics, she’d been attending 12-step meetings with her parents since she was little. Strong was first drawn to yoga after her own struggles with addiction, and she is now in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol, self-harm, codependency and disordered eating.
She was baffled that in all the time 12-step culture had been permeating the world, no one had thought to incorporate the ancient Hindu, spiritual discipline of yoga into it. “Twelve-step programs are really good at addressing the mind and spirit, but not the body,” she explains. With so many doctors and therapists recommending yoga to their patients, especially those new to recovery, Strong saw the need for a program adapted to fit their unique needs.
“A regular yoga class could be quite triggering for someone in early recovery, especially those recovering from PTSD or sexual abuse,” says Strong. As she explains it, the powerful combination of released emotions and the hands-on physical adjustments a well-meaning instructor might use to correct a pose can actually trigger a stress response in the body and make that person more vulnerable to relapse.
Strong specializes in trauma-informed yoga, which uses inviting language and encourages students to explore and adjust poses as needed. “For a long time their body wasn’t a safe place to be, or maybe they were numb and not feeling much at all,” she says. “When they take one of my classes, they start to feel again. If they notice that what they’re feeling is painful, they back off or modify the pose. It’s a safe place where they get to be in control, and that can be very empowering.”
At 16, Strong started using cocaine and meth supplied by an older drug dealer boyfriend. “My parents got me to a therapist and 12-step meetings, and I stayed clean for a few years,” she remembers.
Then her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Strong moved to Victoria, BC to be close to her. “I didn’t know many people and thought we might lose her, so I started drinking and using again to cope,” she says. She also discovered yoga, which would not only save her but also grow to something much bigger than she realized at the time. “My yoga teacher started talking about gratitude, which hadn’t even occurred to me, and surrender and letting go, and it really resonated,” she recalls. “I started doing yoga every day and began feeling grateful and peaceful.”
Later, Strong tried drinking like a “normie” but again found she was struggling with a drug and alcohol problem, and that’s when she focused on Yoga for Recovery. She found a Yoga For Trauma training center and took Nikki Myers’ Yoga of 12 Step Recovery course in 2014. She has been perfecting her own style ever since.
Strong’s mother Dawn Nickel beat her cancer and the two of them went on to create She Recovers, a company with a loyal, online following that is well known for their retreats and events designed around radical self-care and empowering women to recover so they can help others do the same.
The highlight of Strong’s recovery was co-teaching a class alongside her yoga and recovery hero, Elena Brower, at the She Recovers event in Manhattan last May. “Getting to witness Elena in her element, teaching yoga to a room filled with more than 200 women in recovery, has been the best moment in my life so far,” she says. “If it weren’t for my own recovery, I wouldn’t have been there. It was a gift for the path I’ve chosen.”