Yoga gives substance abusers a way to reconnect with their bodies

Nikki Meyer

Nikki Meyer

For many local yoga enthusiasts, Nikki Myers is the woman who helps them live balanced, more fulfilled lives. Life for Myers, however, hasn’t always been so harmonious.

The fast life, including drugs, alcohol and mismatched relationships with men, kept her from finding the balance that yoga now provides for a significant portion of her life.

Myers, 57, owner and executive director of CITYOGA, believes that yoga — the union between mind, body and spirit — was a miracle that kept waiting to happen for her.

She recently shared details of her personal journey to peace and prosperity. (The original interview is reposted below with permission.)

You’re very passionate about yoga. Where does that come from?

I was first attracted to yoga in the early ’70s when it was going through one of the first waves of popularity, and I immediately fell in love with it. (Then) I became distracted with men, alcohol and drugs, and I lived an at-risk (lifestyle) from the ages of 16 to 34.

I’ve been married multiple times, first when I very young (at 17). There was abuse and domestic violence and ultimately, I ended up raising my children as a single mother.

I was drawn back to yoga in the early ’90s during a battle with . . . sciatica, which affects your back and mobility. My physician treated the illness with pain-relieving drugs, but she recommended that I practice yoga as a long-term solution. From there, I found a good yoga teacher and class (when I lived in) Boston, and I’ve been able to manage the pain ever since.

I wanted to learn more about the spiritual and philosophical parts of yoga. And my teacher, who taught yoga in inner-city schools, used to go to India to study, and I would sub her classes while she was gone. The students were of the at-risk population, and yoga made them relaxed and attentive.When I saw the effects that yoga had on the kids, I got really into it and wanted to share yoga with more minorities.

What is CITYOGA?

CITYOGA is a school for yoga and health dedicated to improving total well-being and quality of life. I founded the school in 2001 with the desire to offer the teachings of yoga to everyone. One of my things is bringing more minorities into yoga, hence the name CITYOGA. . . . Yoga is so much more than exercise. It is the ancient science of self-development that teaches people the fine art of balancing our multi-dimensional lives while living in a complex world. This balance ultimately results in better relationships with other beings, our environment, the divine and ourselves. . . . We’re focused on integrating yoga and healing.

Did CITYOGA start out as a one-woman business?

Yes, I started the business by myself in 2001, and I was a little bit ahead of the yoga curve in the Midwest. It was growing steadily on the East and West coasts, but for the first three to four years of my business, things were pretty tough for growth. I opened my second studio at year 41/2. It wasn’t until the fifth year that things picked up exponentially, and it’s been growing ever since.

How many students and instructors are involved with CITYOGA, and how many classes do you teach each week?

I currently have 18 instructors who teach 35 to 40 classes per week. We’ve seen more that 4,000 students come through the doors over the years. I’m teaching two classes per week, plus the yoga teacher training at CITYOGA. I’m also an adjunct professor at IUPUI, where I’ve been teaching yoga for six years. I also teach at the Hamilton County Juvenile Service Center.

You’re an Indianapolis native, but you have also lived in Boston and a few other places.

Yes, I am from Indianapolis. I went to North Central High School. I lived in California at the beginning of my undergraduate degree. I’ve also lived in New York and Chicago. I spent time in Boston co-developing Dovetail Software, a translation-technology firm, which was eventually purchased by IBM. I earned a B.A. from Martin University and an MBA from the University of Indianapolis. I came back to Indianapolis to open CITYYOGA. It’s always been home base for me.

Were you using drugs and alcohol when you developed your software company? Were you a fully functioning addict?

I started working for a software company in my mid-20s and became very adept at working with computers. I’ve always been good with textbook learning. I graduated summa cum laude from Martin University, and I’ve always had book sense — the common sense is where I struggled (laughs). By the time I got full time into the software business (and started Dovetail at age 39), I was clean and sober. I connected with people who were amazingly brilliant, and together we developed the technology and a patent for the company.

Did your at-risk lifestyle have an effect on your family?

Of course it did. I have two children, a daughter Mysh, 37, and son, Joshua, 36. I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because I could function during my addiction. However, I eventually hit bottom and ended up in rehab. Something as tragic as substance abuse has to have a drastic ill effect on any family. Part of my recovery has been making my relationships right again. I’m thankful for my children, husband Nate Rush and four grandchildren. My daughter runs CITYOGA on a daily basis.

How have you managed to turn that negative part of your life into a positive situation?

I would get better and then relapse again. I’ve always said the “issues are in your tissues.” It wasn’t until I added yoga back into my life did I find balance and reach a point of stable recovery. The time in rehab and work in recovery helped change my life from alcohol and drug abuse. The 12-step recovery program really worked for me — it was my lifeboat, and yoga has been my launching pad. The yoga was a missing piece, and it provided the balance I needed.

What’s next for Nikki Myers?

I believe yoga gives substance abusers a way to reconnect with their bodies, and I wanted to share yoga with people struggling with substance abuse, homelessness, poverty and HIV. My husband (who’s also a recovering addict) and I developed a program called Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) in 2004. Y12SR has been featured at both Addiction Recovery and yoga conferences throughout the United States, as well as in Yoga Journal and The New York Times. We plan to continue traveling the country and teaching Y12SR to people who want the peace and balance yoga can bring.

How does Y12SR work, and have there been any success stories you can share?

Y12SR is a discussion group followed by a themed therapeutic yoga class. After each person shares, we stop and “ground” by placing our feet on the ground, and we practice breathing. Recently, a student in my Y12SR class told me that she used the breathing/grounding techniques to help her keep focus and stay grounded in a situation with her child that normally would cause her to lose her temper and be abusive.

You seem pretty open about your former addiction and personal life. How has sharing your story affected business?

For the most part, it’s been good for the business. I believe in exposing the totality of my humanity. I find that people who come to me are attracted to the “permission to be real” they get with me. People want to be able to be themselves. The more real and authentic that I can be, the easier it is for people to be real and authentic with me.

This interview was originally published in Indystar. However the interview is now not visible on the website.

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One Response to Yoga gives substance abusers a way to reconnect with their bodies

  1. ~Namaste~

    We are collecting yoga stories for a wonderfully inspiring book. The premise…how has the practice and understanding of Yoga changed your life? The intention back of collecting stories from different persons, holding different perspectives, from different walks of life, is to connect as many individuals as possible through the sharing of a common interest, and an individual experience.

    Maybe your flexibility has improved beyond your imagination or perhaps the practice has helped you transcend sole identification with the outer body, perhaps you have come to a new understanding about life, or perhaps your understanding through the practice of yoga has bled into your day to day life, and illumined your world; whatever your experience has been, it connects with the experience of another and we would love to read it. We invite you to share your story by contacting us at:

    In Light & Love, we thank you.
    Jacob Daniel & Elizabeth Anna

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