[Stories from Dr. Yukari ]

Guided by the hope of St. Nichiren, we continue to work towards a peaceful society. Honolulu Myohoji Mission collaborates with Psychologist Dr. Yukari Kunisue, a trained and experienced therapeutic life coach, to offer a safe online space: Stories from Dr. Yukari

One of my favorite yoga teachers in Hawaii is named Martha. She is an absolute beauty, not just because of her physical beauty seen in her long flaxen hair, flexible body, and smooth tanned skin but also in her friendly and charming personality. She once shared with the class that her ethnic background included everything from white, Portuguese, Filipino, and Chinese-Indian Malay. Normally yoga classes have a majority of female practitioners but more than half of Martha’s class were men. Martha had all of the characteristics of a real-life goddess.

In a couple of my past blogs, I may have mentioned that I previously received training to be a substance abuse counselor on the Big Island. After my daytime work, I would attend an evening class at the community college in order to be certified as a counselor. Many of my classmates were former drug addicts or family members of current drug users. 

In this class, I was paired up with a young man in his 20’s who recently got out of prison for an illegal substance related charge. He was a Polynesian man and his body was covered in elaborate tattoos. As a former drug user, he was a great teacher to us and even shared nicknames of different drugs that only “the real specialists” knew. I also became friends with another classmate who is a woman in her 40’s. She told me that her opium addicted husband passed away due to an accident from his carpentry work. She later said that he was in fact, murdered by a group of drug dealers. I was surprised to find out that the instructor herself was also a recovering addict. This class really opened my eyes to how prevalent substance abuse is within our local community in Hawaii.

One day, we were assigned to attend and report from a few AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. I chose to attend weekly meetings for NA and it is there that I learned a lot about the variety of drugs people became addicted to besides crystal meth. Cannabis was also illegal during this time in Hawaii but many people viewed cigarettes and cannabis addiction as the same.

Despite my preconceived notions, the attendees were regular people who you might run into at a local grocery store or a park. The crowd included everyone from college students, a friendly neighbor, a housewife, or office workers. Their ethnic background included White, Samoan, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and multiethnic. 

One Friday, I attended a NA meeting as a guest around 7PM. The group welcomed me with open arms after learning about my desire to learn more about recovering addicts. Within the group, we shared first names and we never asked about each other’s residency or work. A man who has been sober for 17-years even expressed the challenges he experiences to not touch the drug. Another man said that it has been almost 30 days since he has been without the substance. To this announcement, everyone cheered in support of him.

A person walked into the session shortly after the session started. I was shocked to see her familiar flaxen hair and fit athletic body. My favorite yoga teacher Martha walked in and smiled upon recognizing me. After taking a seat, Martha shared that she had been off of drugs for around three years and eight months. She briefly explained to us that she was suffering from anorexia since her teens and had looked for help through drugs. She also mentioned that teaching and practicing yoga was her way of dealing with her fight against drugs. She also turned to me to say, “I can stay away from drugs thanks to my yoga students!”

I was stunned by her openness. I was deeply moved by her explanation that drug addiction is not just a matter of a strong or weak willpower. It is closer to a mental illness. She sounded sincere when she talked about how seeking help does not mean the person is weak. I have come to realize that Martha is not just a beautiful yoga instructor but she is also an authentic woman who understands her own weaknesses and struggles. Her yoga practice is not about how much you can bend your body and lift your legs but it is also about understanding suffering and human pain. Upon listening to her story, I realized that is indeed a yogic warrior.