What Is Meditation?
We probably all have a vision of what meditation is. Perhaps it’s of a yogi seated in the lotus position, focusing on his third eye. Maybe it’s of a woman of a certain age, head full of wild silvery curls tumbling over her shoulders as she stands in a prayer pose.
It can be that, but it’s also so much more. Treating addiction with mindfulness meditation can be a solid therapeutic approach.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. It may be most linked to India or to Buddhism, but other faiths, including Islam and Judaism, have meditation practices. Even in Christianity, moments of silent contemplation can be seen as a form of meditation.
The word meditate comes from the Latin word meditari, which means to think about or to contemplate. Meditation is also often mentioned going hand-in-hand with yoga. As the Yoga Journal says, you don’t need to meditate to practice yoga, and you don’t need to practice yoga when you meditate, but “the two practices support each other.”
Practicing yoga may help a person concentrate and relax, both of which are vital to meditation. Yoga aims to find the “interconnectedness of every living thing.” The Yoga Journal says meditation is “the actual experience of this union.” Becoming physically and mentally grounded, people are said to be both aware and disengaged all at once. That harmonious interplay of opposites is key to meditation.
These days, meditation is used by many to relax and reduce stress, as a form of “mind-body complementary medicine.” The goal is to focus and remove chaotic and stress-inducing thoughts. The result can be a happier mind and healthier body.
Benefits of Meditation
Physical health, especially when negatively impacted by stress, can benefit from meditation. Anxiety, cancer, chronic pain, depression, high blood pressure, sleep troubles, and tension headaches may all be alleviated via meditation practices.
According to a report on addiction by the U.S. surgeon general’s office, there are benefits of meditation in a rehabilitation setting. Therapeutic approaches used to treat addiction such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) incorporate meditation skills such as mindfulness. In some studies, high numbers of people experienced considerable improvement by using such approaches.
It’s clear to see why, as meditation has a number of benefits:
- Reduces stress
- Improves quality of life
- Controls anxiety
- Boosts creativity
- Develops self-awareness
- Improves attention span and focus
- Sparks stronger sense of self
- Reduces depression
- Helps insomnia
- Manages pain
In addition, meditation can help a person combat addiction by improving self-control and willpower as well as teaching people how to handle their emotions and understand what’s behind their self-destructive behaviors.
Studies have found that recovering alcoholics who learned to meditate better managed their cravings. This management lowered their chances of relapsing from sobriety. Researchers have found that people who practiced mindfulness were more likely to remain sober after a few months. Stress levels went down, too, and meditation also helped suppress people’s thoughts of using alcohol.
Using meditation and mindfulness has also been helpful for veterans. More than half of service members returning from tours of duty in the Middle East as well as many older veterans admit to suffering from chronic pain. Many also deal with mental and behavioral problems connected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries. One unfortunate side effect of such physical and mental pain has been a greater dependence on opioid drugs. Sadly, veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction was developed in the 1970s in part to complement chronic pain treatment. It’s now much more commonly practiced, and studies continue to find that meditation is effective at reducing pain, anxiety, and depression, which in turn can better help someone manage their addiction.
While meditation is not a replacement for traditional therapies, it can be an excellent supplement.
Types of Meditation
There are many forms of meditation. In addition to traditional teachers and classwork, virtual reality options and apps are available, too, to help guide meditation. No matter which approach you try, the goal is a better sense of well-being.
Popular methods of meditation include:
- Guided: Practitioners create mental snapshots of things they find soothing. Typically as many senses as possible are incorporated. Visualize a beach and imagine the sun shining down, the sound of waves splashing, the smell of tropical flowers nearby.
- Mantra: This involves silently repeating a calming word or phrase, or thinking of something calming to drive out tense thoughts.
- Mindfulness: The focus is being more in the present moment, on calming breaths or being conscious of current emotions and thoughts, but letting them flow past without judgment
- Qi gong: A combination of meditation, relaxation, physical movement, and breathing. It’s a part of traditional Chinese medicine and the goal is to achieve balance.
- Tai chi: Gentle movements and postures are done slowly while practicing deep breaths.
- Transcendental Meditation ®: Practitioners repeat a personally assigned mantra — it can be a word or a sound. The body can relax and mind can find calm through little effort.
- Yoga: Postures and controlled breathing. The result is a stronger, more flexible body and a more peaceful mind. The poses help practitioners let go of everyday distractions and feel the here and now.
Meditation has a few defining traits, including:
- Focused attention: This helps shake off distractions.
- Even breathing: Promotes relaxation.
- Quiet locations: Less distractions can make meditating easier.
- Comfortable spot: Meditation can be done while sitting, walking, or laying down — among other poses — but good posture and a relaxed location are most important.
- Attitude: Openness is good.
Meditation Exercises for Addiction: How to Get Started
There is really no right way to meditate. There are classes to help develop the skill, but meditation can also be done solo. It can be formal or informal. There is no set time. Whether a few minutes or a few hours are devoted to regular meditation, that doesn’t matter.
Meditation can include virtually anything:
- Sound, like a mantra or chanting. The mantra can be a word or line you like. It can be a few words of prayer, or something from a poem. Anything that resonates with you will work. Chanting involves both rhythm and pitch to help a person get in the zone, so to speak.
- Visualization (like a flower, or one’s chakras). Or, imagine a sacred image or being and focus on feelings of love or gratitude.
- Focusing on an object like a lit candle
- Breathing, but nothing elaborate is needed. Simply focus on breathing in and out, or noting if the air is cool as you inhale, for example.
- Focusing on a sensation, such as if your hands feel warm. Or, for example, if there’s tension in your neck, imagine that with every breath you exhale, more tension seeps out of you.
People don’t need to perform meditation in a yoga position. A person can sit, stand, recline, or walk. Walking in the forest or in the park, or even around your neighborhood can work. The goal is to focus on each step and to remain in the moment.
Listening to music or journaling can also work.
There’s no special breathing needed. Simply inhale and exhale deeply and slowly through your nostrils and focus on that. A common complaint or concern among people when they first begin meditating is that their minds wander. That’s not wrong. It’s perfectly normal, in fact. If your attention drifts, simply refocus. In time it will become easier.
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- healthline.com – 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation
- yogajournal.com – A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
- depts.washington.edu – Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- addiction.surgeongeneral.gov – Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health
- mayoclinic.org – Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress
- pewresearch.org – Meditation Is Common among Many Religious Groups in the U.S.
- blogs.va.gov – Mindfulness and Meditation: A Promising Tool to Help Reduce Chronic Pain and Opioid Use
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – A Narrative Review of Yoga and Mindfulness as Complementary Therapies for Addiction