Meditation for Addiction and Mental Health Recovery

Meditation is essentially practices are techniques that encourage and develop a range of positive mental, emotional and physical effects including:

  • concentration
  • serenity
  • positivity
  • clarity
  • relaxation

Through practicing meditation you may be surprised to find that your mind is always active, always thinking. Often the process of meditation brings about a sense of relief as you begin to understand that you are much more than your thoughts.

There are many different meditative approaches, it is a good idea to try a few to find which one works for you. Different exercises focus on:

  • Breathing: Breathing mindfully, focusing on inhalation and exhalation.
  • Muscle Relaxation: This form of meditation focuses on relaxing each part of your body one part at a time until you are totally relaxed.
  • Repeating Mantra: Repeating a word or phrase and bringing the attention back to the mantra when the mind starts wandering. Often people will choose a word that means something to them, a word like peace, love, or forgiveness.
  • Guided Meditation: During guided meditation a practitioner will guide you verbally through the meditation process.
  • Dynamic meditation: This meditation essentially consists of movement in the form of dancing, walking, and yoga – and being mindful of each part of your body, breath, and overall experience as you are moving.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and what works for one person may not work for another. If you’re interested in using meditation to prevent relapse and to cultivate more peace, it’s a good idea to keep an open mind.

Benefits of Meditation

The benefits of meditation are very personal so each meditator you talk to will tell you a different story about how mediation has impacted their lives in a positive way.Meditation requires patience, self-compassion, and commitment, so as you practice meditation, you will develop those assets almost by default.

In ground-breaking research[i] Barbara Fredrickson, and her colleagues Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008 found that that practicing loving kindness/metta meditation for just seven weeks increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe in the meditators. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal strengths such as increased mindfulness, sense of purpose, social satisfaction and a sense of wellness. There is also strong evidence that meditation reduces the risk of developing physical diseases.[ii]

The benefits of meditation include:

  • Lower heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relaxation
  • Calmed fight and flight stress response
  • Activated sensory awareness and control of attention

Long-term benefits of meditation practice include:

  • Increases resilience
  • Increases positive emotions
  • Increases insight and self-awareness

Types of Meditation Used In Recovery

An integral part of recovery from addiction is to heal and find new ways of dealing with difficult emotions like fear, depression, and anxiety. Often addiction develops as an obsessive compulsive pattern,, meditation can enable you to develop the capacity to let go when experiencing addictive compulsions. Through meditation you can learn to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and watch them fade away rather than having to act out on them.

Many recovery rehabs incorporate meditation into their therapeutic programme. Practicing mediation, alongside traditional forms of treatment such as individual counselling and group therapy, can help cultivate peace of mind and a general sense of wellbeing.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be described as a non-judgmental way of paying attention to your experience of the present moment.

During mindfulness practice when your mind wanders to the future or past, or when powerful emotions such as cravings arise, mindfulness refocuses our attention on the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness in recovery will help you to manage emotions differently. When an uncomfortable feeling like a craving arises, mindfulness will help you to recognize it, observe it non-judgmentally, rather than automatically engaging in addictive behaviours.

In short, mindfulness can help:

  • Increase awareness of addictive process
  • Change habitual reactive behaviours
  • Change the way you think from automatic to mindful observer
  • Increase your ability to regulate you emotions without the use of substances
  • Acceptance of the “present moment” rather than focusing on the next “fix”

Yoga

Although not what many people consider meditation yoga has many meditative qualities. Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices which originated in ancient India. Yoga combines the principles of mindful movement with strengthening and stretching practice. It is very much a holistic practice which contributes to the overall wellbeing of the practitioner. Among the most well-known types of yoga in the west are Hatha yoga and Rāja yoga.

Often addiction arises as a way to cope with distress – yoga is an alternative, and positive way to generate a change in consciousness. Yoga provides access to a peaceful, restorative inner state that contributes to overall wellbeing and leaves you more able to cope with the ups and downs of llife.

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental Meditation was created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from India. It was derived from the ancient Vedic philosophies and introduced in the west in the 1960’s.

The Transcendental technique promotes relaxed awareness whilst taking the power out of distracting, negative thoughts. When practicing you will sit in a comfortable position, usually with your eyes closed and silently repeat a mantra. A mantra is a repeated word or a sound that is used to focus your attention.

The benefits of Transcendental Meditation include:

  • Better sleep patterns
  • Reduction of anxiety
  • Increased Alertness
  • Greater sense of peace

How Can Meditation With Addiction and Mental Illness Problems?

Imbalance in our nervous system is responsible for a great deal of disease (and dis-ease), in the form of addictions, compulsions and chronic mood disorders. Addiction often arises as a way to cope with preexisting difficulties, but when we try to regulate how we feel using unhealthy coping mechanisms they only serves to exacerbate our problems.

When we are fighting our way through life, and feeling stressed out much of the time, a part of the brain called the “amygdala” takes over. Persistent high activity in amygdala is associated with developing more chronic problems like depression and anxiety. Meditation practice calms the system as we increase our ability to manage feelings effectively, bringing the size of amygdala back to normal.

A study in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,) found that long-term meditation can have positive changes in brain structure and functioning;

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar.) “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

In short regular meditation practice can improve your mental and emotional health. Meditation promotes a sense of inner peace and calm, increases self-awareness, improves mental functioning. Meditation can help reduce cravings, prevent relapse and help you to detach from unhealthy thought patterns.

Is It Effective?

Research findings [iii]show that those who attend meditation training have measurably higher levels of activity in anterior cingulate cortex and have correlating higher performance when tested in terms of self-regulation when compared to the control group. Self regulation is a necessary quality for living a successful and happy life. When we have a high capacity for self-regulation we can weather the storms of life without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms and processes.

In terms of cultivating mindful awareness and increased attention Van Vugt & Jha’s 2011 research[iv] took participants to an intensive month-long mindfulness training retreat and compared their memory recognition with a control group who had received no mindfulness training. The results conclude that mindfulness practice, even for beginners, leads to improvements in the quality of attention you are able to bring. Being able to be in the present moment, mindfully and nonjudgmentally, can offer significant relief from anxiety about the future and distress about the past.

review study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, found that mindfulness meditation may rival antidepressants in terms of efficacy in treating the symptoms of depression. The authors of this study took thousands of earlier studies on meditation, and focused on a small number of randomized clinical trials. The research concluded that when it comes to the treatment of depression, anxiety, and pain, the practice is as effective as medication.[v]

Citations

[i]Friedrickson, Barbara et al Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Nov;95(5):1045-1062. doi: 10.1037/a0013262.

[ii]Paul Grossmana,*, Ludger Niemannb , Stefan Schmidt c , Harald Walachc Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits A meta-analysis,d a Freiburg Institute for Mindfulness Research, Konradstr. 32, 79100, Freiburg, Germany bDepartment of Psychology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany c Institute of Environmental Medicine, University Hospital Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany d Samueli Institute, European Office, Freiburg, Germany Received 5 March 2003; accepted 8 July 2003

[iii]Yi-Yuan Tang, Yinghua Ma, Junhong Wang, Yaxin Fan, Shigang Feng, Qilin Lu, Qingbao Yu, Danni Sui, Mary K. Rothbart, Ming Fan, Michael I. Posner Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulationProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2007, 104 (43) 17152-17156; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0707678104

[iv] Van Vugt et al, Investigating the impact of mindfulness meditation training on working memory: a mathematical modeling approach.2011 Sep;11(3):344-53. doi: 10.3758/s13415-011-0048-8.

[v] Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-beingA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357–368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018

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