Cheyenne Leskanic, 27, who is from the Mvskoke and Pawnee nations with mixed European ancestry, found a saving grace through yoga — which continues to serve as a healing tool in her journey recovering from an addiction with heroin.
She’s been sober and practicing yoga for a decade.
A year ago, Leskanic had a dream which told her it was time to create a business to help others by combining her ancestral knowledge with her experience using yoga for healing and recovery. This August was the first anniversary of her digital wellness platform, The Yoga Commune. Leskanic shares growing, healing, and vibrating high with others in recovery around the world through The Yoga Commune. Membership includes access to digital guided yoga practices, Pranayama breathing classes, and weekly journal prompts and starts at $5 a month to be accessible.
Leskanic knows first-hand that yoga is a healing tool for those in recovery. “Yoga is an amazing way of bringing together mind, body, and spirit which is needed in recovery, especially from trauma,” she said. Yoga and sobriety go hand-in-hand and have many similarities. “Yoga has the ability to deconstruct who you think you are and lead you to who you truly are. Sobriety also has that ability,” she said.
“Yoga is an amazing way of bringing together mind, body, and spirit which is needed in recovery, especially from trauma.”
The 200-hour certified Ashtanga yoga teacher traces her path to substance use disorder to her childhood when she felt a constant need to be understood. “Since my very earliest memories, I felt a longing to be connected to my family, friends, and something bigger than me. I was never able to connect in the way I saw other people connecting. In the search for always trying to gain this connection but just not having it, I began to become exhausted. I was lonely, even in a room full of people and community, I never felt they understood me or that I could feel their love as I thought love was.” she said.
The exhaustion she endured left her depressed. “I would rather have died than lived in pain anymore,” she said. She began using heroin and alcohol as a coping mechanism for her suffering. “I found drugs and alcohol took away the feeling of wanting death because it took away all of my feelings and left me only with being high. I was so happy to be without pain. I don’t think I ever used alcohol or drugs in a normal manner, I went pretty hard straight away. It didn’t take long for me to not want to be sober at all, I would stay higher for longer. To not be high was too painful. Increasingly, I couldn’t function as a normal human, I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t be around people without being high. I made my way into mental hospitals and long term therapy but none of it helped. Heroin was my everything, and I’d do anything for it. I did anything for it,” she said.
Generational trauma, mental illness, and addiction were prevalent among many of Leskanic’s paternal family members. ”No one ever made it into recovery. I believe in my DNA and Spirit that mental illness and addiction was passed to me. I was able to heal the addiction and mental illness for all of us. I believe I have helped free the ones who never made it into recovery. My Mvskoke and Pawnee relatives had a great deal of trauma they had to endure,” she said.
“Yoga has the ability to deconstruct who you think you are and lead you to who you truly are. Sobriety also has that ability.”
When Leskanic was 17, she was arrested. Her family gave her a choice of jail, homelessness, or rehab. She agreed to rehab and went to the Gatehouse Academy in Wickenburg, Arizona. Leskanic participated in a holistic wellness approach focused on the intertwined complexities of addiction and trauma. The long-term facility included working through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with a sponsor and going to meetings. While in rehab, Leskanic was introduced to yoga.
At first, she hated yoga. She was newly sober and it was difficult for her to be still. She had an awful time with the concept of just “letting go” of her thoughts and feelings. It was Pranayama (breathing techniques) that eventually helped her fall in love with yoga. “Practicing Pranayama was the first time I actually felt that my mind went ‘still’ and I didn’t hate being inside of my body,” she said. Yoga and meditation helped Leskanic strengthen her body and connect her mind, body, and spirit. “Sobriety is really really hard, yoga in my everyday life in early sobriety gave me the ability to have hope.”
During rehab, Leskanic found a person within that she didn’t know existed. Her experience at rehab created a path to recovery and let her true self shine through. “I was seven months sober and entering my 9th step of AA when I realized who I was and that I was actually an okay person. The shame that surrounded me because of my addiction and the things I did during addiction was so heavy. It took a lot of deconstruction through working with a sponsor, a therapist, myself, and a spiritual guide to begin to understand I didn’t deserve all the shame I’d taken on.”
“Sobriety is really really hard, yoga in my everyday life in early sobriety gave me the ability to have hope.”
Ultimately, yoga helped Leskanic finally achieve the sense of connectivity she sought since adolescence. “Yoga gave me the ability to connect and clear what had been blocking my heart and Spirit. Yoga has allowed me to find a deep connection to myself, people, the world at large, and my Spirituality,” she said. Her life has improved exponentially since she began a regular yoga practice while sober. “My regular yoga practice has kept me disciplined and aware of how my body and mind react to life on a daily basis, which I need to be aware of to watch my patterns and mental health,” she said.
Today Leskanic teaches a full-scope wellness approach to recovery, healing from trauma, and dealing with anxiety and depression through The Yoga Commune. “Being in recovery, it’s my ultimate goal to help other people freely gain recovery,” she said.
Pranayama is still one of the most powerful aspects of yoga for Leskanic.
She used to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, then learned how to manage them with Pranayama. “I practice Pranayama every day. In the morning or during my nightly prayers and meditation, I add 5-15 minutes of Pranayama,” she said. Her favorite Pranayamas are Alternate Nostril Breathing or Left Nostril Breathing. “Both bring me clarity and enhance my mind and Spirit connection. I think Pranayama is one of the highest forms of self-care you can do,” she said.
Her Pawnee and Mvskoke Nations’ cultures have impacted her yoga practice and classes. “Reclaiming the traditions for me and my children, learning the ceremonies, and the ways of the Elders and Medicine people have been really awakening for me, and acting accordingly, as they’d want me to. The music has also been very necessary for me to find healing,” she said. She shares this ancestral knowledge with her community through information about the sacred medicinal plants of her people such as wrapped smoke medicine bundles, solar teas, and other medicinal plants for indigenous herbal healing. “Having access to the healing practices of my Ancestors is very near and dear to me. I believe Medicine should be available to everyone in honest and traditional ways. I love that I have the ability to offer the Medicine from my Nations in a small, sustainable way to others who it can help heal,” she said.
“Being in recovery, it’s my ultimate goal to help other people freely gain recovery.”
On The Yoga Commune, Leskanic shares her Ashtanga-inspired practice and employs several teachers. The Yoga Commune also has a channel of Pranayama practices and journal prompts prepared by Leskanic. “We were made to journal in rehab and every sponsor and therapist I’ve worked with since recommends it. Writing things down can take away the power of fears and enhance the peace of reality. I make prompts on how to get through and process some of these wildly common big and small traumas. Some prompts are more light-hearted and focus on manifesting, which I think adds to the stream of our life,” she said.
The Yoga Commune is a safe space for all people of color.
Leskanic was horrified when she’d ask people about the first time they’d had a POC teacher, they’d often say never. “The wellness world can be very whitewashed, ableist, and appropriative. I feel greatly indebted to Desi women who carry this practice of yoga in their blood,” says Leskanic. She’s expanding the brand this year and hiring other Brown instructors including Desi and Spanish-speaking Latinx folks to combat cultural appropriation in the yoga world and be inclusive of non-English speakers.
“Being a Native woman and having my culture taken away from me then used for profit makes me very aware and empathetic with the appropriation in the yoga world. I’ve seen studios try and take yoga’s roots away from India. I’ve seen teachers practice white savior-ism by stating the ‘evolution’ of yoga was needed and enhanced yoga, I’ve seen teachers reluctant to use Sanskrit or talk about the spirituality of yoga for fear of losing clientele,” said Leskanic.
Leskanic is dedicated to the life she’s grateful to have. She gives others what was given to her through this transformational approach, which clears away the calamity so who we really are can shine through. She believes yoga created healing for herself and that she can help others find the same.