Spirituality and Psychotherapy: Common Boundaries—Yoga and Addiction

Sample from the Winter 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Leslie Vani Kalechman, LCSW, CYT

Leslie Vani Kalechman is a licensed clinical social worker and student of Yoga for over 30 years. She successfully integrates Yoga into her work with addicts and she talks about a program that she and Bhavani Kludt developed to help people use the eight limbs of Yoga to positively impact addiction.

Integral Yoga Magazine: How did you get involved in Yoga and when did you begin to integrate Yoga into your clinical practice?

Leslie Vani Kalechman: I grew up in Connecticut and Integral Yoga had just come there. So, I started asana practice when I was 16 or 17. I knew I’d teach Yoga one day. I knew that Yoga was an incredibly powerful tool. I loved all the traditional psychology studies, and I am definitely a human service person.

Later, I tried to figure out how to integrate psychology and Yoga. In the early ’80s I worked with the chronically mentally ill. Because they had difficulty with stressors and coping skills, I modified IY’s Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation). People calmed down and began to breathe. I found deep relaxation to be a very powerful tool. In the early ’90s, the hospital asked me to teach Yoga to our staff.

IYM: Was your approach to try and see if Yoga could replace therapy?

LVK: I find that addicts need specialized work. The denial is so strong that the practices in and of themselves may not penetrate that barrier or shield without additional support such as specific addiction treatment–but certainly there are exceptions. In my own history I was trying to spiritually bypass and transcend my own pain through Yoga. It only wound up increasing my denial.

I think I’ve been able to help people heal through Yoga therapy because I’m a highly trained and experienced psychotherapist and Yoga teacher, proficient in that integration. Oh, and the Grace of God helps a lot, also!

IYM: How do you integrate?

LVK: In my professional opinion, the basic Integral Yoga sadhana is ideal for addicts. It experientially teaches people how to slow down and focus within. The Hatha Yoga in the IY class is not just asana. It’s done in the spirit of sthira sukha (steady and comfortable). We are not striving, or competing or sweating; but the spirit is steady and comfortable. This is a real issue for people with addictive disorders. There is a pattern of frenetic activity, being driven, perfectionistic. They resist getting calm and quiet out of fear of what might come up. I think when Sri Gurudev came to this country he saw how crazy, striving, and addictive we are!

IYM: What other connection do you see between psychotherapy and Yoga?

LVK: As I worked with addiction and the 12-step program I began to see more and more connections between the 12 steps and Raja Yoga. I saw that Western and Eastern modalities are complementary. The12-step program is so successful because it shows people the importance of connecting, through prayer and meditation, with a Higher Power.

IYM: What are the differences that you see?

LVK: Well, 12-step doesn’t teach you how to connect with the Higher Power–how to pray or meditate. Also, Yoga can help us work with the physical body to support the detoxification process. Addicts usually treat their cars better than their bodies! They are disconnected from their physical bodies. Yoga can add that piece to the 12-step program.

IYM: How do you move from asana to the other limbs?

LVK: It’s difficult for addicts to get quiet and feel comfortable with the stillness. It’s useful first to focus on the body and how it feels in different asanas; how they are breathing. This provides a safe container for them to move into meditation. And that is where the work is–to change the underlying structures of addiction…

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

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