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Meditation: Back to Basics

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Author: Justin Mckibben

Meditation is more than just sitting in a pose and humming to yourself, in fact a many forms of meditation are nothing like that. Meditation is an approach to training the mind, and cultivating a spiritual connection, which is part of the reason why it is seen as such an influential tool in the development of individuals in recovery from drugs and alcohol. In many ways meditation is considered one of the best medicines for people trying to obtain sobriety from substance abuse.

Meditation is a form of training the mind similar to the way that fitness is a form of training the body. Different meditative practices require different skills, but it is most often exceedingly difficult for a beginner to sit for hours at a time with an “empty mind.” However, it is possible, and there are a few basic descriptions of meditation techniques that have specific benefits.

Concentration meditation

A concentrative meditation technique focuses on… well, focus. The point is to set your focus on one point throughout the meditation, which could entail:

  • Concentrating on the breathing
  • Repeating a single word or mantra
  • Staring at a candle
  • Listening to a repetitive gong
  • Counting beads on a rosary or other necklace

In concentration meditation, the idea is to refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Instead of allowing your mind to be pulled into random thoughts that can become negative emotions, you simply let them go. Through this process, you can also improve your ability to concentrate.

Now obviously, especially for those new to meditation, focusing the mind is typically an uphill battle, and with those who are recovering from drug or alcohol addiction it can be an even more difficult task trying to rest a mind that has been pushed and pulled in so many directions through substance abuse, and then detox and post-acute withdrawal syndrome. A beginner might meditate for only a few minutes, but they typically work up to longer duration with continued attempts at meditation.

Mindfulness meditation

The technique of mindfulness meditation encourages the individual to actually observe the wandering thoughts as they fade in and out of focus through the mind. The difference here between putting too much focus on those thoughts is to observe them with the intention of not getting involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it emerges.

Through mindfulness meditation, you can see the underlying patterns in how your thoughts and feelings connect and develop with one another. Continuing with this process you can become more aware of our human instinct to pass judgment on ourselves and our experience as “good” or “bad” (“pleasant” or “unpleasant”).

Practicing mindful meditation helps us create an inner balance where we can see our experiences without placing blame, without casting doubt, and without developing resentment or fear. Mindfulness meditation is about accepting the experience as it is, learning from it and letting go.

This kind of meditation can prove difficult for addicts and alcoholics as well, with things like resentment, guilt and emotional vulnerability being things we often cling to. But when we learn more about acceptance and about living our truth, and our disease without judging ourselves, we gain more of a foothold on what it truly means to live in the moment.

Other meditation techniques

There are various other meditation techniques. There is a type of daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks specifically focused on the cultivation of compassion, which works with envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by using compassion as a filter to change their perception of them. Like looking for silver-linings or hidden lessons in every shortcoming.

Also not all meditations require people to sit still like you see on TV. There are also moving meditations techniques, such as:

  • Tai chi
  • Chi kung
  • Walking meditation

Truthfully finding the time to reflect and raise your awareness is time you can consider as meditation. Many would say that it is not the length of time meditating that matters, but the quality of your presence in that moment. Some say they get their meditation during exercise, long car rides, or during other activities where they can be mindful.

Benefits of meditation

In cases where relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is usually still one result of it. Back in the 1970s a researcher at Harvard University Medical School named Herbert Benson, MD, coined the term the “relaxation response” after conducting research on people who practiced transcendental meditation. The relaxation response, in Benson’s words is,

“an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.”

Since then, studies on the relaxation response have documented several short-term benefits, but beyond that the benefits of meditation are endless and totally personal to you and the technique you use to obtain a particular experience. There are many benefits to the nervous system as well such as:

  • lower blood pressure
  • improved blood circulation
  • lower heart rate
  • less perspiration
  • slower respiratory rate
  • less anxiety
  • lower blood cortisol levels
  • more feelings of well-being
  • less stress
  • deeper relaxation

Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, taking into account the positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators. It has been said that meditation can be the best medication for some addicts. But regardless of all these other benefits, the point of meditation according to many Eastern philosophers is to simply be present.

Meditation is just one way the holistic healing methods can not only save a person’s life, but transform that life in every aspect. Living these tactics don’t just happen overnight, so take every opportunity to learn about the things that could mean the difference between a life of suffering and a life worth living. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135


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