WRAD President Helen Taylor, guest speaker Father Joe Perreira and WRAD director Geoff Soma at tonight’s AGM.

Yoga Priest adds a new dimension to addiction recovery

Beyond the trendy studios and designer leggings of our health obsessed society, yoga is helping to rebuild and transform shattered lives. In India – the birthplace of yoga, and the Victorian coastal town of Warrnambool, yoga is providing potentially life-saving support to people on the road to recovery from serious drug and alcohol addictions with great results!

In Australia, drug use is a serious and growing health issue and in 2016 there were more than 1,808 drug related deaths recorded (AIHW), the highest number in twenty years! The trouble with addiction is that it’s a complex and chronic problem that’s prone to multiple relapses – even after receiving professional treatment, making it one of the most difficult illnesses to treat and overcome. But there’s a small group of yoga teachers, social workers and even a priest who are leading the way, by combining Eastern and Western approaches to help people overcome their addictions.

Visiting Melbourne this month is Reverend Father Joseph Perreira, a Catholic Priest and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher from Mumbai who is challenging the status quo with his unique brand of charity work. Father Joe as he’s become known, is the founder of the Kripa Foundation, the largest NGO in India treating adults and children with drug and alcohol addictions, in 26 residential locations and 75 projects across 12 states.

The Kripa Foundation’s intense rehabilitation program is one of the first in the world to combine daily yoga and meditation practice with the 12-Step Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) model most commonly employed by rehab facilities, to deliver a holistic approach to addiction recovery.

Father Joe explains, “while the 12-step approach is the best model of recovery, it is two-dimensional (psycho-spiritual and psycho-social) and does not address the psycho-somatic dimension – the body. We use yoga as a tool for both psycho-spiritual and psycho-somatic therapy.”
As a result, the Kripa Foundation’s success rate is perhaps one of the highest in the world, where Father Joe reveals they, “can maintain a year-long record as high as 68 percent. After about five years, it drops to 38 percent.” In comparison, the psychiatric studies show that more than 85% of individuals relapse within the year, and estimate that over two-thirds relapse within weeks to months of completing treatment.
Beginning his work in 1981 with a handful of alcoholics and addicts in Bombay, Father Joe had first encountered B.K.S. Iyengar – the founder of Iyengar yoga, more than ten years earlier. He remained close with Iyengar right up until his death in 2014, training to become a certified teacher and developing the Kripa Foundation program under his direct guidance.
Known for its emphasis on precision, alignment and the use of props, Iyengar yoga is most concerned with developing awareness, balance and stability, while qualities of strength and flexibility most often pursued in Western yoga classes are seen as a side-effect. The specially developed Kripa Foundation yoga practice for addiction consists of a series of supported and restorative poses. Held for longer periods of time, each position (known as an asana) has been designed to calm the mind and bring the practitioner back into their body.

Mark Griffiths – a social worker from Melbourne who works directly with many people suffering from addiction is another strong advocate for using yoga as a therapeutic tool and agrees that, “the traditional models or perspectives on addiction tend to ignore the body as a significant factor in addiction. In contrast, the focus in yoga is on the body as a vehicle for learning about the self and overcoming limitations.”

Unfortunately, there’s very little research done in alcohol and drug recovery, let alone yoga in Australia and this is what led Mark to complete a PhD at the University of Melbourne entitled ‘Teaching Yoga in Addiction Recovery, A Social Work Perspective’.

In his thesis, Mark explains that one “successful strategy in fighting a negative addiction is to gradually replace it with a positive addiction such as yoga and meditation. Over time, the compulsive nature of the positive activity can decline. Then it becomes more like part of your daily routine just like eating or brushing your teeth.”
“As well as achieving specific therapeutic objectives, there is a kind of adult play going on in the use of yoga props and partner work in practice with blankets, walls, belts, chairs, bolsters, hanging ropes, blocks and other pieces of equipment all being used to create enjoyment and pleasure in the Iyengar yoga class.”

For the last year, Karen Wilde a physiotherapist, and certified Iyengar yoga teacher has been teaching Kripa Foundation Iyengar yoga to patients in the Sliding Doors Non-Residential Rehabilitation Program at the Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre (WRAD) in Warrnambool. Because the drop-in program only runs for 6-weeks and does not see a consistent attendance rate, it’s difficult to see any real outcomes yet but Karen says, “it actually works. Students come out of class saying – I didn’t think yoga was going to be like that!”

Karen met Father Joe while studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), the heart and soul of Iyengar Yoga in Pune, and went on to complete the 200-hour Kripa Foundation teacher training course with him. Father Joe will be visiting Warrnambool, where he will be speaking at WRAD about the therapeutic benefits of yoga on 20 November.

Father Joe has received much recognition for his unique work, including the Padma Shri (one of India’s highest awards) in the field of Social Work and a lifetime award from the President of India. In addition to a Licentiate in Divinity (Theology), his qualifications also include a Masters in Psychology and Philosophy, Certifications in Counselling Theory and Practice (Carkuff Model) and training from the Hazelden Institute of Minnesota, USA.

Father Joe will be teaching a weekend workshop at the Yarraville Yoga Centre in Melbourne from 16 – 18 November. A free talk and screening of documentary ‘The Circle’ which looks at the power of yoga in treating drug addiction in the street children of Mumbai, will also be held on the Friday evening. All profits and donations from the workshop will go to the Kripa Foundation.

Visit www.iyengaryoga.asn.au for more information about Iyengar yoga and to find your nearest school or teacher. A sequence for addiction can also be found in the back of B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Yoga – The Path to Holistic Health available in most book stores.