For centuries, cultures across the world have used meditation for a number of purposes. Some practitioners seek enlightenment, while others simply wish to increase their sense of present-moment awareness. Many believe that calming the mind can help us to seek answers, while others put their focus toward the development of feelings such as gratitude, compassion and forgiveness.
Those who struggle with substance use disorder often find meditation especially beneficial. Substance use takes its toll on us physically, mentally and spiritually. By contrast, meditation may benefit our health and development in all three of these areas. As a result, many treatment centers now offer meditation and other holistic therapies in addition to the primary clinical features of their programs.
At Amethyst Recovery, we work hard on perfecting this blend of conventional treatment and alternative care. This allows us to employ a multi-dimensional recovery model, providing individualized treatment to all clients and providing them with a plethora of tools to assist them as they seek long-term recovery after treatment. The cultivation of mindfulness and focus will teach us to overcome obstacles without resorting to escapism. We will learn to evaluate our circumstances objectively, interacting with our insights and emotions without letting them control us.
Just how will the benefits of meditation manifest in our lives? Allow us to break it down into the core areas in which we can expect to see improvements.
Emotional and Mental Stability
Substance dependence takes us on an emotional roller coaster. This does not cease the moment we enter recovery. In fact, when we first sober up, we often face numerous emotions we previously attempted to avoid through substance use. Past traumas, unpleasant experiences, and tendencies toward negative self-talk come rushing back to meet us. We realize that our substance use never truly got rid of these thoughts and feelings. They remained in the back of our minds, simply waiting for us to sober up.
The practice of mindfulness meditation helps us to quiet this harmful tendency toward mindless chatter. In the process, we learn to achieve a better sense of emotional balance by focusing on the present instead of lending all of our attention to our resentments toward the past and our fears concerning the future. We change our temperament, and even our brain’s physiology. Meditation activates areas of the brain associated with compassion, optimism, and an overall sense of well-being. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which we associate with calm and relaxation. This draws our focus away from such negative feelings as depression, pessimism and fear, all of which may otherwise lead to overstimulation of our “fight or flight” response. By diminishing this response, we overcome many triggers that might otherwise lead to relapse.
According to ECG and MRI results, meditation can also stimulate neural pathways and increase grey matter. Mindfulness proves especially beneficial when seeking to improve our self-control. Mindful observation of our thought process allows us to look at our impulses more objectively. This promotes rational thinking and healthy decision-making, especially when dealing with cravings. We feel no guilt over our cravings, as the mind often acts on its own. Nonetheless, we learn that we do not need to let these desires guide our actions. We are not puppets; we have clarity of mind, and can strengthen our recovery by making healthy and insightful choices.
Improvements in Physical Health
Mindfulness helps us develop a stronger program of relapse prevention by helping us to observe our thoughts and remain wary of triggers; however, it also helps prevent those triggers from occurring in the first place. As noted above, meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This calms us down, reducing stress. Since we usually experience stress physically as well as mentally, these effects on the brain may improve other aspects of our health as well.
For instance, studies show that meditation practice may reduce our average heart rate and lower our blood pressure. In fact, the cardiovascular benefits of meditation may even protect us against heart disease. Focusing on the breath helps us to regulate our respiratory patterns, and the general practice of slowing down may prevent negative health effects associated with compulsive behaviors such as smoking and overeating.
Those who suffer from chronic pain may find meditation beneficial in numerous ways. When struggling with particularly intense bouts of pain, the urge to use opioids may increase. Not only will meditation’s impact on the brain improve our sense of self-control, but the pain itself may become more bearable. Studies show that mindfulness training improves our ability to handle pain by decreasing activity in the areas of the brain related to pain perception. We perceive the pain as less intense and therefore more tolerable. Meditation does not stop us from experiencing pain altogether, but it does reduce the level of suffering associated with harmful bodily sensations.
Elevated Sense of Spirituality
Meditation is a spiritual practice, and many believe that recovery hinges upon the acceptance of a spiritual program. Whether you believe this or not, one can hardly argue that meditation greatly improves the practitioner’s spiritual life. In fact, we can already see this in many of the benefits discussed above. With rational thinking and emotional balance, we can discover a life of serenity and purpose.
It helps that meditation increases the density of our posterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain associated with creativity and self-reflection. The PCC enables what we know as self-referential processing, the manner in which we relate our life experiences to our sense of self. Our ability to create meaningful connections between the events in our lives and the way in which we identify ourselves can allow us to meet all life circumstances with greater acceptance. Even in our darkest moments, we can take a step back and see how our experiences allow us to grow. We resisted such practice in active addiction, preferring to run away and hide in our substance abuse. As we grow spiritually, we learn to meet life on life’s terms. We grow and evolve with every trial that comes our way.
Meditation also helps us relate to others. Those who struggle with substance use disorder often have damaging relationship histories in our past. It makes it difficult to trust others, and we struggle with the concept of forgiveness; however, meditation improves brain function in the temporo-parietal junction, which broadens our perspective and allows us to experience a greater sense of empathy. This enhances our compassion, and our sense of connection to our fellows in recovery. Strengthening our spiritual connection to the world around us decreases our sense of isolation, which in turn lends greater meaning to our recovery.
Meditation at Amethyst Recovery
We offer many opportunities to engage in meditation practice at Amethyst Recovery. For instance, many of our clients participate in a group called Seeking Safety once per week. This group, designed to overcome both substance use disorder and post-traumatic stress, teaches clients to understand the inner workings of their own minds before practicing a guided meditation for between 10 and 20 minutes. Clients who find this group beneficial may participate in another group called Personal Mastery. This group goes even deeper, and meditation may last up to forty minutes or more.
Amethyst also offers free yoga classes, allowing clients to practice what is commonly known as meditation in motion. This shares many of the same benefits as standard sitting meditations, activating the parasympathetic nervous system while promising greater improvements to physical health. Clients may also get in touch with present-moment awareness through massage therapy and other holistic therapies. One of our facilitators also teaches numerous groups on the benefits of spirituality and present-moment awareness. Clients who incorporate these teachings into their meditation practice will find it much easier to cultivate a sense of mindfulness that may greatly benefit their recovery.
For more information on holistic care and other features of our programs, you may contact Amethyst at any time. We pride ourselves on our multi-dimensional path to recovery, and hope that you will find it useful as you seek to develop a lifestyle that provides serenity and freedom from the bonds of substance dependence.