While researching the benefits of Hatha Yoga for our last blog, I noticed that any literature I read made it a point of noting that while yoga was strongly recommended as a tool to help the recovering addict, it was that much more effective when coupled with the practise of meditation. There are many forms of meditation and most serve to help induce an inner calm, promote relaxation , build internal energy and enhances one’s ability to be more loving, compassionate, patient, generous, and forgiving plus the meditator enjoys an “indestructible sense of wellbeing” (1),helping them cope with life’s ups and downs . As we know the emotional and spiritual state of an addict in the first phase of recovery is very tumultuous, and the inability to face these challenges can lead to failure. Meditation in general is used as a tool by recovering addicts and alcoholics to help gain some control over their erratic emotions, while helping to promote a clarity of purpose. There are many types of meditation but, it is the practise of Mindful meditation in tandem with Hatha Yoga that is most beneficial to the recovering addict and alcoholic.
Mindful meditation or mindfulness requires the practitioner to actively pay attention to the present moment, remaining aware of thoughts, feelings and emotions, as they occur and not be overwhelmed by them. Human beings become stressed or anxious when their thoughts turn to the future, it is our fear of the unknown coupled with the inability to control that which is unknown which triggers anxiety and panic. In the case of a recovering addict the reaction is magnified ten times, mindful meditation helps one to remain focused and engaged in the present, this in turn decreases their stress and anxiety levels. Another benefit of mindful meditation is its positive effect on the human immune system. It is a well-known fact that high levels of stress and anxiety will negatively compromise one’s immune system however, for the person who regularly practises mindfulness, their susceptibility to disease becomes greatly mitigated. This form of meditation is also helpful in treating and preventing depression, as it frees the individual from their usual negative thought patterns.
Mindfulness can also help with pain management, this is a huge benefit particularly with those who are recovering from addiction. Most physicians hesitate to treat former addicts with conventional pain meds, and those in recovery fear that taking any kind of prescription medication will challenge their hard earned sobriety; most find meditation is key to dealing with pain. How? A person’s response to pain is twofold, first they become of aware of pain sensation, and second when the mind realizes the body is experiencing pain it (the mine) panics which then serves to heighten the pain sensation. Buddhist’s best explain this using the two arrow metaphor, “When people are hit by an arrow they will experience pain and discomfort. They will usually make things worse by allowing their mind to go into panic. This is like being hit by a second arrow, because it doubles the amount of discomfort they experience. An individual who is skilful at mindfulness will be able to avoid this second arrow” (2) and thus lessen the pain sensations considerably.
While mindful meditation will help the recovering addict and alcoholic overcome the emotional, and mental stressors that have lead them to use in the past, it is also an exceptional tool in helping them make better life choices by making them aware of their own thoughts. Most of the choices made by those struggling with recovery are made at the spur of the moment, usually in reaction to some emotion, and the consequences of the actions are never considered. Mindfulness helps the practitioner understand that the emotions he or she are feeling in the present are transitory; just as good moments pass, so too will bad moments. When one fully believes this, not only will they be able to better handle any strong negative feelings but, their responses are thoughtful and measured rather than reactionary.
How does one mediate? Here are some tips;
- Sit comfortably, upright, lotus position, whatever feels right for you.
- Begin by taking a couple of deep relaxing breaths.
- Allow your breathing to return to normal.
- Pay attention to your breathing WITHOUT trying to control it. Focus upon the rise and fall of each breath, or the in and out if you prefer.
- If your mind begins to wander, gently bring it back to the moment and re focus on your breath.
We recommend that you seek an experienced mindful meditation guide or teacher when you are beginning your practise.
Best of Luck