How a Chemsex Activist Teaches Yoga as Harm Reduction

    In the context of a neocolonial global marketplace commodifying South Asian religious practices, yoga and mindfulness have been utilized by abstinence-based recovery. But one yoga teacher, massage therapist and chemsex activist is about to flip the script.

    On February 18, Adam Nathan Schultz, a Polish migrant based in the Netherlands, will launch the first session of Breathing Space Yoga—a harm-reduction-oriented, Zoom-based program for transgender and cisgender men who have sex with men, and who are struggling with their sexualized use of chems, namely methamphetamine, GHB/GBL and synthetic cathinones.

    “I don’t preach sobriety. That approach never quite worked for me,” Schultz told Filter. He started using meth around 2010, right when chemsex was taking off in the United Kingdom, where he was living at the time. “Yoga was a way to engage with my body, to hear what it is trying to tell me, what type of journey it is trying to take me on.”

    By 2018, Schultz arrived at the destination of his “journey out of active chemsex.” Yoga, he said, “was one of the most important parts” of his recovery from problematic meth use. He realized that “this could be a reality for other gay men.”

    “Yoga is harm reduction in its very essential form.”

    The nine-week program hosted by Schultz’s small massage and yoga business, Body Quake, will address in each session a theme he himself had to work through in his own recovery. They are, in order: impatience, vulnerability, boredom, presence, loneliness, stress, desire, intimacy and “My Body.” Every session will start with participants’ anchoring their breath, then transition to movement, then finishing with reflecting on the surfaced emotional experience, especially as it pertains to that session’s theme.

    For Schultz, yoga “is harm reduction in its very essential form.”

    “It gives people a space to congregate, to talk freely, without fear of judgement,” he said. “I think that’s the most important of harm reduction: to allow people to speak, to express through the body, [through] the use of words or through body sensations—this entire vocabulary.”

    Schultz hopes the program will equip participants with a “sense of narrative, purpose and direction.”

    “Starting with patience,” he said, “and going through topics that are very important to the chemsex experience, we [will] finally arrive at something essential: the body.”

    The concept of embodiment is too often overlooked in chemsex responses, Shultz said. While the drug-using body is systematically scrutinized by the medical profession and the carceral state, chemsexeurs themselves lack organized supports to make sense of what it means to inhabit their own body.

    “There’s such a gap in actually addressing the body, the body being an essential part of sex,” Schultz said. “It’s the driving force; all emotions are bodily experiences. Us not talking about what’s happening in the body—there’s an opportunity to fill that gap.”

    “We’re so brainwashed about the poses.”

    Schultz has a nuanced perspective on yoga, particularly regarding its appropriation and commodification by bourgeois culture in the Global North. In recent years, diasporic South Asian and Indigenous scholars have analyzed the continuities between the violent British colonization of India and today’s multi-billion dollar “yoga industrial complex,” as well as knee-jerk reactions by liberals to “decolonize yoga” in order to ameliorate guilt rather than be actively anti-colonial.

    “We’re so brainwashed about the poses,” Schultz said regarding the commodification of yoga participants’ ability. In Breathing Space Yoga, participants will be cultivating an “awareness about [their body’s] own needs,” and not focused on competing with one another. After all, queer men are already familiar with the commodification of their bodies. “We have been reduced to the visual on [the hookup app] Grindr,” Schultz lamented, which has contributed to the mental health complications that can lead to or be exacerbated by problematic chemsex.

    Schultz obtained his yoga education in India, but has no intention of conducting an exoticized rehearsal of Hindu traditions from that country, where some queer men are also struggling with chems.

    “It’s a philosophy that wasn’t developed by the culture I grew up in. What’s important,” he said, is “not [creating] a dishonoring copy.” Rather, Schultz intends to integrate elements that he finds inspiring with his own chemsex recovery experience.

    In short, he said, the program is “a love letter” to yoga from queer men struggling with chemsex—and hoping to find respite within it.



    Photograph of Adam Nathan Schultz, courtesy of Schultz

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