By Lauren Pastrana

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — To Terri Cooper, every breath is a gift.

“Take a deep breath in and a long breath out,” she tells her students multiple times during class.

On Thursday, September 1st, she will celebrate thirteen years of sobriety.

Terri managed to find peace and happiness, after almost losing her life to drugs and alcohol.

“I had an addiction problem. I would use drugs and alcohol as a way to numb out and not have to feel and not have to engage with the world,” she said.

Terri says she was a bartender, working on South Beach and spiraling out of control. Suffocated by depression and anxiety, she turned to substance abuse to ease the pain.

“Like all addicts, you hit a rock bottom moment. In that moment, I knew I needed to change my life or I was going to end my life. It really was one or the other. Ending my life sounded much easier than changing my life,” she said.

But Terri set a goal, and after a two-week bender in 2003 when she says she did more drugs than she had done in her entire life, something changed.

“Somehow, September 1st, I woke up and said, ‘Oh man, I gotta change my life.’ I started going to free yoga classes on the beach. I was a hot mess. There were days when I was angry and full of grief and crying,” Terri said.

She pushed through the tears and eventually found what she had been looking for all along.

“It gave my life purpose, which is something I was missing,” she said. “Part of depression and anxiety is not knowing who we are and what we can do for the world. At that time, I realized my life has value if I can spend my time making other people’s lives a little bit better.”

She’s been doing that ever since.

Terri started teaching yoga, but didn’t feel quite at home in a typical studio. So she taught yoga to women in crisis who needed to fulfill court-ordered community service, and then to teens at the juvenile detention center.

Terri created “Connection Coalition” to bring yoga, mindfulness and meditation to schools, shelters, and rehab centers.

She has a network of more than 800 trained volunteers in South Florida teaching free classes to thousands of kids and teens.

“All of it is energy all the time,” she said to her students at a recent free class. “It’s up to us to choose if we’re going to use our energy to make other people’s lives better, or other people’s lives more challenging. Let’s use our energy to make our own lives worthwhile.”

Terri says yoga saved her life.

It gave her the strength to survive her darkest days, and the ability to focus on a bright future ahead.

“It’s about healing from the events of our past and opening to the possibility of what our future can hold,” she said. “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Connection Coalition, formerly known as “Yoga Gangsters” is currently on an 18-city tour across the country teaching yoga to others.

To learn more, visit

Lauren Pastrana