Recovery in yoga

Through every stretch, pose and breath, yoga instructors Paige Trisko and Desiree Nowaczyk help their students find ways to heal.

The duo currently run the Recovery Yoga class at Alpena Community College. The class is free and runs from 10:30-11:30 a.m. every Friday in room 201 of the Besser Technical Center.

“Our target student population are those recovering from trauma, addiction. That is open to interpretation. It could be alcohol, substance abuse, it could also be eating disorders, sexual assault, any kind of PTSD,” Trisko said. “We create an environment here that is safe and sacred for the students. We don’t ask them to disclose what they’re working on unless they want to talk about it. Then it’s usually a before or after class, kind of one-on-one when they want to chat about those kinds of things.”

They both make sure to create an environment where people feel accepted and comfortable. Trisko said no matter what, the students aren’t judged and they receive love in class.

“I believe that it comes from a place of intention (not to judge). That is a presentation before any words are spoken. So our intention is to provide a safe place, to act compassionately. They will feel that. They will see that. We get lots of thank yous and so much gratitude. It takes a ton of courage to get here. Then it’s at the end we’ve all shed layers of self-doubt and fear,” Nowaczyk said.

They also model this approach when they’re vulnerable as well.

“There have been a couple times where I’m dealing with my own stuff. I’ve come to class crying or really red-eyed. Des asks ‘Is this a day you want to go home.’ I’ve always said ‘I think it will help me being here.’ They need to see I don’t have my stuff together all the time. I think they appreciate that. Knowing we’re not perfect,” Trisko said.

How they started

Trisko has been involved with yoga since 2008 when she attended her first class at the suggestion of her mom.

“My mother told me I need to figure out a way not to be so anxious. She saw the college I was at had a yoga class. She told me I should take it. I kind of scoffed at the idea. I did not believe it in at all. After my first class I was hooked. My first teacher had sound therapy bowls. It might’ve been that or the gentle movement, or her voice or maybe a combination of all those things,” she said.

It wasn’t until two years ago when they first developed a friendship Trisko said.

“She suggested I go to yoga teacher training. I started looking at programs. I have a master’s in anthropology. I found Be the Love yoga teacher training in Petoskey. I did that. This summer I went to Kripalu in Massachusetts to do the first 200 hours of my certification,” Trisko said.

She continues her yoga therapist certification training which is 1,000 hours, she said.

Nowaczyk is a physical therapist and teaches about 15 hours of yoga a week. They both also are adjunct professors at ACC. Nowaczyk teaches a recovery yoga class at Sunrise Treatment Center.

“They’ve been given funding to implement other pathways, avenues other than AA for recovery,” Nowaczyk said.

The idea of the recovery yoga class for the whole community blossomed from there they said.

How the class works

They started everything about a year ago and have about five to 10 students for every class.

Class will begin in a comfort pose and position and everyone will connect to the body. Nowaczyk said this means to observe any sensations, any thoughts, feelings and bring the focus inward.

“Something unique to class is we take a therapeutic approach. I’m training to be a yoga therapist. With that and with all yoga classes there are themes,” Trisko said. “We follow a little bit of a formula bringing in different aspects of yoga that make it more than just a physical practice. Exploring emotions, sensations, deep stuff. The stuff that sometimes can be really hard; of course the physical. Sometimes that’s where people want to stay. It’s always their journey,” Trisko said.

In class they also incorporate breath work, meditation and affirmations.

Sometimes they move in a gentle way, other times they try to draw on their strength.

During class Trisko also plays Tibetan singing bowls. These are used to help relieve any stress people may carry with them.

“That’s what we learn in training for trauma. When you’re in that sympathetic state you have coping mechanisms. You freeze, you fake it, you fight, you flee or you forget. So if we can recognize and have awareness that we’re in the state and return to the greatest resource we have for soothing the nervous system which is the breath, conscious breathing. Breath is one of the few things, it happens automatically but we can control; essentially gain control, which is empowering,” Nowaczyk said.

Trisko said they received grants from Gaiam and the Give Back Yoga Foundation to cover the cost of yoga mats so no one is required to bring one. The college also gives them the space for the class, which they are grateful for.

When students are at ease and continue with their yoga practice Nowaczyk said they recognize their journey.

“It just feels like an unfolding. You see them one time a week, and it’s truly like a flower that starts to open up. They come in holding on to so much. They recognize their own beauty and own essence they come to life. It’s incredible. I say I teach what I need to learn. There’s this constant interchange that we’re all teachers and students. There’s this dynamic occurring as a whole. They’re teaching us too,” Nowaczyk said.

They both said the class is a way to give back to the community.

“This class is such a gift to me. I don’t know what I’d do without these students,” Trisko said.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687.