Meditation is a vast and multifaceted practice. For some, it is spiritual, while for others, it’s just a way to reconnect the mind and body after a long day. All told, there are hundreds of ways to practice meditation, and that can make figuring out which method best suits your recovery a challenge. From traditional Buddhist sitting meditation to guided visualization, understanding how meditation helps and what forms work best in recovery will benefit you from now long into the future.
The sound of a babbling brook. The pop-crackle and rich, bright flame of a fireplace. Getting lost in thought listening to the birds while you’re curled up in your favorite chair. Closing your eyes for a few minutes in the shower and just letting the water pound away your stress. Each of these sweet moments has one main thing in common: they’re meditative. They relax you, telling your brain to slow down, unwind, and let go of everyday frustrations. For the recovering addict, that can be the difference between a slip and success.
While each of these tender and introspective experiences certainly has its place in your recovery story, practicing various forms of meditation regularly may be even better. Research shows that various forms of meditation can successfully quell anxiety, depression, and stress.
Live and Dare, a wisdom and inspiration website, quotes 76 individual science-based benefits associated with including meditation practice in your everyday life. Just a few recovery-specific benefits include:
- Lower anxiety.
- Less depression.
- Better focus.
- Less boredom.
- More optimism.
- Improved emotional intelligence.
- Resilience against both emotional and physical pain.
- Easier logic-oriented thinking and decision-making.
Each of these is immensely valuable to us as we pick up the pieces of our lives and begin again (no matter how low our rock bottom). Regardless of which meditation format you choose, you’re likely to experience some benefit just by making self-care a regular part of your day.
This is often the most accessible and easy-to-understand form of meditation for newcomers to the practice. With thousands of guided meditations available online, both on YouTube and on other more spiritually-minded websites, getting involved is as easy as plopping yourself down and opening up your mind.
Guided meditation, sometimes referred to as visualization, has roots in ancient Earth-based religion and Native American spirituality alike. There are references to it in many different cultures, with everyone from the Druidic Celts to the Algonquian Indian tribes using it in one way or another throughout history. The practice sees the practitioner sit, close their eyes, and be guided through a scenario, either simply created in their own mind or by listening to another speak the guidance by voice.
In recovery, this form of meditation allows you to visualize yourself succeeding, resolving personal problems, or even just relaxing (depending on the scenario). For example, you might listen to a guided meditation that focuses on having you walk through a serene forest when anxieties are high.
Psychology Today even points out that visualization affords you the ability to “practice” certain tasks – like saying no to substances, perhaps – in your mind before you actually encounter them without the same level of risk. That can help with acceptance, especially if you’re having difficulty accepting your struggles in the first place.
By far the most common form of meditation in Western and Eastern culture, humans have practiced sitting meditation for thousands and thousands of years. Truthfully, we don’t really know when people began to sit in meditation, but the earliest records seem to show a link to the origins of Hinduism in what was once known as the Indus Valley (now Pakistan). Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and even Native American culture all show ties to sitting meditation in the past.
In sitting meditation, the practitioner, well, sits (bet you didn’t see that coming) and focuses on either an object or an occurrence. This is typically the in-breath or out-breath, but may also be a candle, a religious object, or in the case of addiction, even your treasured 1-year sobriety coin! The main focus is on stilling the mind without force. You don’t want to stop thinking; rather, you want to be able to recognize your thoughts and let go of them as they occur.
You can try meditation for yourself by taking just 5 to 20 minutes out of each day to sit tall, relax your body, be still and silent, and focus on your in-breath. Each time you feel your attention wandering, gently pull it back in and focus on your breath. Visualize your thoughts as passing clouds; just watch how your mind reacts to them. Though this can be very difficult at first, it does become easier over time.
Recovery is all about repairing the mind-body-spirit connection. Tai Chi, a noncompetitive martial art focuses on that connection, helping you to integrate thoughts and feelings while reconnecting with your body.
The ancient art’s origins began in China, where soldiers and laypersons alike would utilize it to help them develop skills like coordination, rhythm, and inner peace. Considered by many to be a form of “movement meditation,” Tai Chi affords you the opportunity to get to know both your mind and body more intimately.
Tai Chi’s benefits for the recovering addict come from this slowed-down self-focused concept. For someone who likely self-medicated mental or physical health problems for months or years at a time, Tai Chi can allow them to reintegrate what it feels like to be present and in the body without substances.
Better still, science shows that those who practice it show marked improvement in areas like anxiety, stress, and cardiovascular health.
Interested in trying Tai Chi for yourself? The best way to do so is to attend a class locally. Depending on where you call home, you may even be able to find a recovery-focused group to practice with. If you don’t have access to a local class, martial arts expert Jet Li’s Taiji Zen Online Academy has an excellent series of videos available for beginners.
These are just a few of the many ways to begin focusing on your own self-care in recovery. Whether you prefer meditative practices that allow you to reconnect with your body or you just like to close your eyes and listen to a roaring fireplace in winter, those quiet moments of solitude are so very necessary for long-lasting sobriety. The most important facet is that you choose what works best for you and stick with it long-term.