How Meditation Can Aid Recovery
When you think of meditation, you probably think of someone clad in flowing robes, sitting motionless in a Lotus position on top of a mountain, deep in thought (or possibly chanting) and almost eerily calm most of the time. You might have dismissed meditation as being too “out there” or only for those who go on yoga retreats or head to exotic locales to “find themselves.”
The truth is that meditation can be a valuable activity for those facing addiction. Researchers have found that practicing meditation on a regular basis can actually change the brain – not just how to brain works, but the actual brain structure as well – giving addicts the skills they need to overcome the underlying issues of their illnesses.
What is Meditation?
In the simplest terms, meditation is a practice in which you train your mind or try to reach a different level of consciousness, with the end result being a greater feeling of calm and contentment. The practice itself varies; some people simply sit quietly, focused on clearing their minds while others may use prayer or worry beads, repeat a mantra or focus on an internal process.
Doctors believe that meditation works in those facing addiction because the period of intense thought and focus brings clarity to the issues that are underlying the addiction. For example, addicts may use drugs or alcohol to deal with underlying issues of anger, jealousy, anxiety or depression. Regular meditation helps the addict identify and recognize those feelings, so they can then choose to let go of them – and their addiction to the substances they use to mask those feelings.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
In the past, doctors believed that the brain was unable to be changed after childhood. In fact, many addicts fall into the belief that they cannot change, that the causes of their addiction are so deeply ingrained into their psyche that they are doomed to a life of dependency.
However, recent research has shown that this simply isn’t the case. Sara Lazar, from Massachusetts General Hospital, found that regular meditation can actually thicken the mid-prefrontal cortex and mid-insular region of the brain – and that it doesn’t take decades of meditation to do so. As few as four hours a week of mindfulness –quiet contemplation and focus — can change the brain, while bringing out the benefits of increased awareness.
In addition, research indicates that mindfulness increases the activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that affects emotions. Meditation, by its very nature, requires one to slow down, leading to a deeper, more regulated breathing pattern and lowered heart rate, which in turn reduces the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, being released into the blood stream.
The end result is a greater sense of calm, which can help those facing addiction get a better handle on the substances controlling their lives. And that’s not all – additional research shows that regular meditation can strengthen the area of the brain responsible for optimism, creativity, and feelings of well-being, all important to those attempting to beat an addiction.
How to Meditate
For those facing a serious addiction, meditation is only a part of the treatment puzzle; it will not work on its own. However, with regular practice it can be a valuable part of the treatment plan, and the overall lifestyle change. In fact, many who regularly practice meditation feel agitated or out of sorts without it; some might argue that the practice is addicting on its own, but the benefits cannot be denied. Some studies have indicated that those who use meditation as part of their alcohol or drug rehab are almost twice as likely to stay sober than those who don’t.
There are hundreds of options for developing a meditation practice, from visiting a full-fledged meditation retreat to using a mobile app on a smartphone. Addicts should work with their medical providers to find the option that works best for them; what works best for one person may not for someone else. In general though, successfully integrating meditation into recovery requires being open to introspection, and a willingness to face the painful truths that such deep personal searching are bound to produce.
Jillian Thompson is a full time mother and Advisor for DrugRehab.org. She is passionate about helping people successfully complete their rehab programs and going on to lead fulfilling, sober lives.
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