Addiction has devastating impacts on every part of a person’s life, ranging from their habits to their relationships.
Part of the challenge facing those in recovery is that each person’s path and experience though addiction is highly individual.
As a result, holistic approaches to addiction treatment are among often the most successful, and active meditation can be an incredible tool during that process.
As we explore how meditation impacts the mind and body, we will discuss how the following types of meditation are especially effective additions to the various treatments, therapies, and exercises used in addiction recovery:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Body awareness meditation
- Movement meditation
- Transcendental meditation
Meditation Promotes Long-Term Addiction Recovery
The exhaustive changes and damages that addiction brings often cannot be categorized as only physical or mental. Instead, these lasting impacts cause global changes to a person’s instinctive and emotional reactions to everyday stimuli, and these reactions are tied to their brain chemistry and behavioral patterns.
Overcoming these patterns is one of the biggest challenges involved in addiction recovery. While the early stages of treatment, particularly when dealing with chemical dependence, the largest hurdles are often the physical discomfort and/or potentially life-threatening physical damage that many people face.
However, after the acute recovery phase, the long-term work that needs to be done unpacking and unraveling harmful behavioral patterns is where some of the hardest work for lasting recovery is accomplished. Meditation, which has been found to result in improved cognition, emotional health, and brain plasticity, is an excellent way to get a head start in this process.
The incredible aspect of meditation is that the many advantages it offers your life require consistent but manageable efforts. Developing a healthy daily routine can be an integral part of recovery, and meditation, which has been shown to confer positive effects with as little as ten minutes of daily practice, can fit neatly into your routine without disrupting it or demanding too much too soon.
Additionally, the many physical benefits that meditation does offer are a part of the equation that we should not discount. Addiction is a disease of the mind and body, and while the mental and emotional progress meditation can bring are essential, they go hand in hand with the physical improvements that regular meditative practice can bring.
Short Meditation Can Improve Your Physical Health
While meditation has been a common practice in many ancient cultures and religions, extensive research within the last decade has revealed just how beneficial regular meditative practice can be. As an increasing number of people in Western cultures have turned to meditation, scientific and medical professionals have examined its effects in several populations.
An overwhelming amount of evidence has increasingly convinced healthcare professionals that meditation should be part of many types of treatment plans, including addiction recovery. Among its many health-promoting effects, regular meditation has been shown to:
- Reduce whole-body inflammation
- Lower stress hormone levels
- Increase the time and quality of sleep
- Decrease the risk of chronic disease
- Improve your immunity
- Lessen the perception of pain, particularly among chronic pain sufferers
All of these health benefits can encourage and further your recovery, as reduced physical stress will better your psychological well-being at the same time. And, as your body benefits from regular meditative practice, you can utilize the mental and emotional changes that meditation brings to further your progress behaviorally and mentally.
Choose Your Meditation Style Based on Your Psychological Needs
As we discussed above, regular meditation can provide numerous advantages to your physical health, and when attempting to start your meditative practice, it is important to keep in mind that there no “better” or “best” style of meditation. You need to choose the meditation style that provides the most meaningful long-term benefit for your health.
We will be going over four types of meditation in this discussion, specifically focusing on how these meditation styles benefit addiction recovery. As you consider which style appeals most to you, your personality, and your needs, keep in mind that the physical health benefits proven for one particular style should not be your main motivation.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Meditation Style
While any improvements to your physical health can improve and solidify your recovery, the most critical benefit of meditation in addiction recovery is in the changes to your brain (both physical and mental). As we brought up from the outset of this post, the long-term work of addiction recovery involves retraining harmful behavioral patterns.
To allow your meditative practice to help in that effort, the most important questions you should ask yourself when choosing a meditation style to practice are:
- Which meditation style allows me to make the most progress mentally and emotionally?
- Is there a specific style that I am more likely to be consistent with?
- Am I choosing a meditation style because it is “easy” or less “uncomfortable”?
- Are the mental and emotional benefits of the style I choose helping me establish or maintain a recovery routine?
As we go through the major reasons why each of these meditation styles makes for effective addiction recovery exercises, consider these questions carefully. If you have never meditated before, give yourself time to try each of these styles over a few weeks, practicing in short sessions without judging yourself or your thoughts.
Based on your experiences with each of these styles, you may decide to choose one style to stick with to establish a consistent meditative routine, or you may decide that multiple styles offer you something helpful to your recovery. Your addiction recovery will be as individual as you are. The only thing that matters is that you are challenging yourself in a healthy way and making progress.
Mindfulness Meditation Reveals Recurrent Thoughts
The first type of meditation we will discuss is perhaps the most commonly referenced today: mindfulness meditation. Despite how well know this style is relative to the many others that exist, there are some major myths about how mindfulness is supposed to work that you may need to unlearn before you can start to reap its many rewards.
A misconception that many people have about meditation is that it is “thinking about nothing,” and that idea likely sprung from a fundamental misunderstanding about mindfulness meditation specifically. This form of meditation does not require an empty mind but rather an observant one.
When practicing mindfulness meditation, the aim is to consciously observe and release your thoughts as they occur. The second part of that process, the “release,” is likely where many people become confused. The purpose of this meditation style is to let your thoughts flow uninterrupted by internal judgments or attempts to control your thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation can be highly beneficial to change deeply rooted behavioral patterns, especially when practiced in conjunction with certain therapy techniques. Regular mindfulness sessions allow practitioners to observe and reflect on recurrent thought patterns, giving them insight into how their mental patterns affect emotional and behavioral patterns.
When those insights are put to use, through both conscious efforts to change behavior and in discussion with health care providers, they can be a helpful part of advancing addiction recovery. Beyond emotional and behavioral control, studies have also shown that mindfulness meditation can reduce cravings, minimizing detrimental urges before they even occur.
Body Awareness Meditation Relieves Tension
Next, we will discuss body awareness meditation, which is sometimes also labeled as focused meditation or body scan method meditation. Although often still considered to be a subset of mindfulness meditation, body awareness exercises deserve distinct attention from mindfulness exercises we discussed previously as they differ in focus.
Body awareness meditation, much like the name suggests, is all about focused on physical sensations. One of the most common exercises is the body scan method, where practitioners generally follow a guided meditation that asks them to periodically shift and scan their focus down different parts of their bodies.
While both traditional mindfulness meditation and body scan exercises are well known for reducing stress and promoting relaxation, body awareness exercises have been shown to help release physical tension, which can often build up in specific areas of your body based on your daily activities, mental/emotional state, and posture.
As a result, body awareness meditation can deliver a deeper, longer-lasting sense of relaxation for those whose bodies are under considerable stress. High levels of relaxation have also been associated with increased immune system function and reduced inflammation, which helps reduce overall disease risk.
When facing the difficulties of addiction recovery, it is important to maintain your physical health to minimize factors that could trigger a relapse, so if physical tension is something you are struggling with, body awareness meditation can be a productive way to bolster your physical health while also benefiting your mental and emotional health at the same time.
Other Forms of Body Awareness Meditation
Body scan exercises are not the only option available when it comes to body awareness meditation. At its core, this style of meditation is all about centering and observing your physical sensations, so exercises can focus on any of your five senses.
Other types of body awareness exercises include:
Movement Meditation Improves Impulse Control
Unlike mindfulness mediation, which often is done in relative stillness, the next type of meditation focuses on controlled, deliberate movements to train your mind, emotions, and awareness. Known as movement meditation, this style of meditation is regularly done in combination with several forms of martial arts.
In particular, tai chi and qi gong, as well as yoga, are very commonly practiced meditatively. These movement meditation exercises, in contrast to many other physical activities, are less about exertion and more about control.
While body awareness meditation requires you to focus all your attention on what your body is feeling, movement meditation channels that awareness into control what your body is doing. Likely to the inherent link between increased mental control and physical movement in this meditation style, movement meditation has been shown to increase concentration and mental focus.
Additionally, several research studies have indicated that movement meditation exercises can aid in improving impulse control, a skill that is important during the addiction recovery process.
Movement meditation provides many of the same benefits of mindfulness exercises, but instead of requiring stillness, it allows you to achieve control through continuous but deliberate effort. Some people find movement meditation a more achievable alternative, especially since it can be done with any controlled, deliberate activity, including walking, dancing, or even household chores.
Transcendental Meditation Creates a Mental Anchor
Finally, transcendental meditation, also known as mantra meditation, is the final style that we will discuss here. This form of meditation involves silently repeating a personal mantra to oneself through the meditative session. The mantra itself can be a single word or sound, and its purpose is to provide a mental anchor onto which you can center your full attention.
This technique was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and traditionally, it is meant to be practiced in complete stillness with your eyes closed. The idea is that you will focus on this mantra until your mind calms to a state “transcended” past thought, consciousness, and awareness of yourself as separate from observations from the world around you.
Additionally, this style of meditation is meant to be practiced twice a day for at least 15 minutes at a time. However, as with other styles of meditation, mantra meditation sessions have been shown to have benefits even when only done for a few minutes at a time. The key element needed to see benefits is consistency over time.
As such, if you decide this is the right style of meditation for you, do not focus on the time on the clock when you start, especially if you find it difficult to make it to the proscribed 15-minute mark each session.
Like any other skill, meditation requires practice, and you will have days when you are better at and days where it seems much harder. Have patience and persistence and set reasonable goals for yourself. Starting with just five minutes a day will still benefit your physical and mental health and will set you up for long-term success and consistency, which are key in any addiction recovery journey.
Benefits to Addiction Recovery from Transcendental Meditation
With all the tumultuous emotional and psychological stresses of addiction recovery, these positive changes can make a significant difference in your chances of successful progress. Like the other forms of meditation, transcendental meditation also offers lessened stress and anxiety.
Interestingly, this meditation style, in particular, has been linked with tangible changes in brain matter and “positive psychological outcomes like self-acceptance, purpose in life, and autonomy.”
Also, recent research has shown that transcendental meditation may decrease the chance of addiction relapse and promote long-term addiction recovery. This is perhaps explained by the fact that as you develop the mental association between your chosen mantra and mental control and calmness, you can even use that mantra as a mental anchor to avoid maladaptive behaviors in response to stressful situations.
The more that you practice this meditation style, the more effectively you can use it when needed in your daily life, and the more control you can potentially gain over your addictive responses.
Remember, Meditation is a Tool and Not a Solution
When in addiction recovery, people often face overwhelming feelings as they struggle with ignoring urges and habits that have left tangible impacts on their minds, bodies, and spirits. Dealing with feelings of failure, frustration, and even anger are common during the addiction recovery journey, and it can be tempting to perceive the potential positive impacts of meditation as a lifeline or “cure” from these feelings.
The reality of the situation is that meditation should be used as an effective tool that requires practice and consistency to use effectively. While meditation can help rewire your brain, improve emotional control, and reduce impulsivity, your meditative practice needs to occur in conjunction with other treatment efforts.
It is important to consider that just as addiction affects every part of your life, so should your addiction recovery plan. Meditative practice and exercise should supplement and not replace your other effort to continue and cement your recovery. Make sure to continue to work with your health care providers wile incorporating this healthy habit.
Remember that many of the negative feelings you may have during this process are normal, and there are several types of meditation that you can try to calm your mind and gain control over your reactions to your own emotions. As you gain experience with meditation, you can test out each of the different styles and learn, which improves your efforts in your recovery.
Consistent meditation will give you a chance to reflect on emotions, practice calming yourself in preparation for emotional stressors, and improve your physical health, all of which can motivate and aid you on your recovery journey. No matter which meditative style you decide is right for you, with commitment and effort, you can reap the physical, mental, and emotional benefits for your recovery and your life.
Treatment is Within Reach at Steps Recovery Center
At Steps Recovery Center, we believe in holistic treatment that combines traditional and contemporary methods. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can depend on our treatment center to help you reclaim your life. Please reach out to us with any questions you may have. We have centers in Salt Lake and Utah counties in Utah.