Meditation in Recovery
In the most simple definition, this word means to “spend time in quiet thought.” For many of us, the idea of sitting still with no interruptions and only our thoughts is one of the most frightening things we could imagine. In fact, in the fast paced world we live in, with the constant bombardment of entertainment, media, and other distractions, sitting quietly alone can feel very uncomfortable. For without the constant stimuli, what types of things fill our brains? For many people, the answer to this question is anxiety, depression, fear and other emotions that are difficult to deal with. But what if by practicing meditation, we could learn to combat those feelings and enrich our lives? Are you ready for the good news? You can. Meditation in recovery is the angle.
Changing Brain Structure
One of the most exciting things about meditation is the ability it has to actually change the structure of the brain. It can help to create new pathways and wake up parts of the brain that have been inactive for long periods of time. This is excellent news for the recovering addict, as most of our old pathways led to jails, institutions, misery, and near death experiences.
One study in particular has shown positive changes in brain structure that after just eight weeks of starting a regular mediation schedule. The amygdala, which is important in terms of stress, fear, and anxiety, had reduced in size for the group participating in the study. The left hippocampus, which plays a large role in learning and emotional regulation, was also impacted in the meditation group. In addition, the posterior cingulate, which is related to focus and mind wandering, was also changed in a positive way.
To Sit, Or Not To Sit
Most of us picture the act of mediation taking place in a seated position in a quiet room, but did you know that it could be practiced in other ways as well? A type of mindfulness sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” can also bring on many healthful benefits.
Yoga is an excellent example of this type of meditation. In addition to the physical benefits, most practices help individuals to be in the moment and clear the mind. Focusing on the breath throughout the practice is a perfect way to bring yourself into a meditative state.
A walking meditation is another wonderful way to relax the mind. Focusing your thoughts and being in the moment during a walk is an excellent choice for someone that is trying to start this type of practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
Learning to calm the mind and genuinely be in the moment is a skill like any other. It is important to recognize that it will take practice to improve, and that no one is an expert from the beginning! For most of us, this is something new that we are trying for the first time, so it is important to start with an open mind and a sense of humor. Starting small for even just a few minutes a day is all it takes to start building a new habit.
Everybody take a deep breath….
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.