My dharma is to serve the recovery community. Through my prayer and meditation practice, it continues to show up and lead me in that direction. I have never wavered from that mission since I started.
– Gwen Rebbeck E-RYT 500
We recently had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Gwen Rebbeck, the founder of Yoga4Sobriety, for deep talks about her life, work, studio, students, and how Gwen’s offerings bring the powerful messages of recovery into a the practice of yoga with a chakra-focused practice.
Gwen founded Yoga4Sobriety in 2013 after recognizing a missing physical component in her own recovery.
“I live by the steps in my life. I became aware of the physical impact of depression, anxiety, and stress in my body. Once I learned how energy affects and impacts the body and recovery, I was inspired to share it.” – Gwen
Gwen brings the language and principles of the Twelve Step recovery program into yoga, teaching students how to breathe while releasing tension from the body, deepening the connection to a higher power, and walking the path of recovery.
Want to find Gwen? Visit the Camel Clubhouse in Mercer County, at 117 W. Ward Street in the Second Floor, in Hightstown, NJ, located above the 4 Seasons Deli Cafe. You can also find classes in Monmouth County at the Hope Lutheran Church in Freehold; in Gloucester County at Seeds of Love Yoga in Pittman; and in Camden County at Living Proof Recovery Center (at the Center for Family Services) in Voorhees.
Now onto the interview:
Bridget: Hi Gwen! We are so grateful to sit down with you for this interview, and to learn more about your amazing business. Let’s start with the basics: how long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?
Gwen: I began to explore deeper meditation practices around 2001 because I was struggling with severe anxiety. Meditation and prayer were the only things that help me feel better. As I got deeper into my own practice I wanted to learn how to sit longer and more comfortably which led me to the physical practice of yoga.
Bridget: I love when students come to the practice with an intention to meditate rather than “push harder” or “do more” in a physical sense. How did you feel after your first yoga class?
Gwen: The benefits of yoga were present from my first practice at home. When I took a class at the gym I felt amazing and when I took it at the studio I was completely locked in.
Bridget: How do you want students to feel after they practice with you?
Gwen: It is my hope that when students leave my class they feel better physically, mentally, and more connected spiritually. Additionally, my hope is that students feel the benefit and want to continue to learn and grow their practice.
Bridget: How would you like to “be the change you want to see in the world?”
Gwen: I would like to be the change by walking the walk. When I allow myself to be human, be gentle with myself, be my true self, and help others it gives the people I am around permission to ease up on themselves as well.
Bridget: What does “Namaste” mean to you?
Gwen: To me, “namaste” is recognizing we are all one. We are all the same. I recognize the divine within you that also resides within me.
Bridget: What impact has yoga had on your life?
Gwen: Yoga has taken me on a journey that I never would have imagined. It brought me out of trembling panic attacks to a place where I continually step out of my comfort zone. I have the deepest gratitude for the mental and spiritual growth that has come from my yoga practice. The thirst for learning more does not seem to leave me. That seventh chakra just keeps unfolding!
Bridget: Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?
Gwen: Before I began my journey I was living life on a more superficial level. I had a very basic spiritual practice but it was just that. Basic. It took what it took to open me up to deeper understanding, more compassion for self and others, and a desire to serve others as I do today. My transformation has brought me from living a fearful life to one with courage and compassion.
Bridget: Why did you decide to start teaching yoga?
Gwen: I decided to teach yoga to others because the impact it had on my life was so profound. I could help others, especially those struggling with addictions, anxiety, and depression, create a toolbox of practices so they could be comfortable in their own skin. I felt this was how my own suffering would benefit me being of service to others.
Bridget: What led you to open your own studio?
Gwen: I needed a place to bring workshops, training, classes, and sober events to those I was serving.
Bridget: Who is your greatest teacher?
Gwen: Tracey Ulshafer, the owner of One Yoga Center, has taught me more than any other teacher. Her advanced training took my yoga teaching to the next level, learning to teach from the heart, not the ego. I have to add Anodea Judith who I am continuing my studies with. I connect with her teachings beyond any others at this time.
Bridget: What has been your biggest struggle in the “business of yoga”?
Gwen: The biggest struggle in the “business of yoga” is not losing the passion of why I started teaching yoga. It is easy to get stuck in the business end and lose focus on my true purpose. I continually come back to being of service to God and others.
Bridget: What’s your biggest “aha” moment?
Gwen: I don’t know if it is the biggest but it was such a great moment I will use it as an example. I was in warrior one, the teacher was cueing our alignment and got us all into the pose and focused on the breath. Warrior one isn’t the hardest pose but it was a long hold. Earlier in my practice in long holds, I would struggle with the discomfort. In this class, in this pose, I was able to go to that place, that place where you don’t struggle even though the hold is long and you are being challenged. It was such a beautiful place to be and I can remember the “aha” as I realized what was happening.
Bridget: What was your biggest “uh oh” moment?
Gwen: Biggest “uh-oh” moment was in one of my classes. My classes are all trauma-sensitive and this was a chair class. My intention was to teach how to breathe in and out through the nose. Every time I brought the students back to the breath I would cue in and out through the nose. Halfway through the class one of the students started crying. She told me it felt strange to breathe in and out through the nose and it was causing her more anxiety because she couldn’t do it. Since then I have changed my cueing to encourage people to make any adjustments they need to in order to feel comfortable, reminding them it is their practice.
Bridget: What does your “off the mat” practice look like?
Gwen: Love and service follow me off the mat into my family, my life in recovery, and my community. My strongest off the mat practice is my karma yoga. I took yoga into the prison for about two years, I continue to be of service in the Twelve Step community acting as a sponsor to several women, leading meetings, and have held service positions for the groups I attend.
Bridget: Tell us about a student who inspires you.
Gwen: How can I pick just one when there are so many who inspire me?! In general, the students I teach in the treatment centers inspire. They are at the very beginning of putting their lives back together. Yoga can be a scary thing to participate in if you have never done it and you are less than 60 days clean and sober. So many of them open themselves up to this and when it takes hold even just a little I am in awe.
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