Meditation's Benefits For Mental Health & Substance Use Disorders

Have you ever asked yourself, ‘What is meditation?’, or ‘Why do people meditate?’ 

Meditation is an alternative healing practice, in which people bring full attention to focus on their breath, a sound, an object, an image, movements, or on attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment. 
Meditation can be done with the eyes open or closed. 
 
 Meditation has been practiced for over 5,000 years. It was originally used as a spiritual discipline in Taoist China and Buddhist India. They believed that meditation would train one's mind to ‘become familiar with one's self’, and develop higher spiritual qualities such as compassion, love, patience, forgiveness and generosity. 
  
Today meditation is used for more than just a spiritual practice; it is used for its physical benefits to the body. Scientific research has proven that meditation is an important complimentary treatment and prevention for many stress-related conditions, such as ulcers, colitis, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines high blood pressure and heart disease. Daily meditation practice of only 10-15 minutes for several months has been shown to decrease blood pressure, promote cardiovascular health and lower cholesterol. Meditation is the first mind-body intervention to be adopted by main stream healthcare providers and incorporated into evidence- based therapeutic programs. (4) 
  Since meditation research began in the 1960’s in the United States, ‘there are no reported side effects from meditation, except for positive benefits.’ (1) 
During meditation, alpha brain wave activity increases creating a wakeful rest state. 
Meditation also stimulates activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, decelerating the body’s internal activity, creating a feeling of calm. (2)
  
In addition to the numerous physical benefits, it has also been shown to have positive benefits on mental health disorders. Meditation shifts the mind and body into a “restful awareness response” which is the opposite of the “fight or flight response” often accompanied with anxiety and panic disorders. Meditation decreases depressive symptoms, due to the effects it has on balancing moods and emotions, as well as increasing a state of vitality in its users.(5) 
 
Recent evidence shows that meditation promotes abstinence from drugs of abuse and reduces self-injurious behaviors of personality disordered patients. It does this by having the mind maintain a focused concentration, which can act as a distraction from the obsessive thoughts that are symptomatic of addictive disorders. One of the mindfulness techniques in meditation is to be able to allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to arise, while maintaining a non-judgmental, detached attitude. This meditative practice decreases the effect thoughts that trigger you to want to use can have, making the addict less vulnerable to relapse. 
Meditation truly is a healing practice for the mind and the body. 
For those of you who would like to try meditation but have never practiced it before, there are 4 requirements to get the most benefit from it. 
   
1. It should be practiced in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible.
   2. It should be done in a comfortable position, whether lying down, sitting up, or standing. Some people like to do walking meditations. 
   3. It should be done with concentrated focus in order to bring the mind present (this can be done with practice). 
   4. It should be done without judging or analyzing your thoughts, feelings or sensations (this can also be done with practice). (1)
 
I have invited many of my clients to incorporate meditation as a treatment to managing their stress, anxiety, or compulsive behaviors. Several times I have heard them say, ‘I can’t calm my thoughts enough to concentrate.’ To remedy this I do a guided meditation with them. They are able to feel the relaxation in their body and the calming of their mind within several minutes. Then they ask for more! If your treating provider is uncomfortable doing a guided meditation with you, you can start by using a guided meditation CD. I recommend Sarah McLean's guided meditation CD’s. 
If you have difficulty with concentration and focusing, one way to increase this discipline is by practicing the ‘Candlelight Meditation.’  
 
Candlelight Meditation: 
 • Light a candle
 • Sit or lay in a comfortable position, where you can see the small flame.
 • Without taking your eyes off of the candlelight, practice not moving one muscle in your whole body for 1 minute. 
 • Pay attention to how your body feels before and after the one minute. 
Watching a flame has a hypnotic effect, and its movement can hold our attention, thus allowing for concentrated focus. You can do the candlelight meditation longer than one minute as your concentration and focus increase. 
If you have trouble relaxing your body, the ‘Sleep Breathing’ meditation works quickly at reducing muscle tension. 
Sleep Breathing Meditation: 
 • Take in a slow, deep breath. As you breathe in, say in your mind, ‘Breathing in peace.’ As you slowly exhale, say in your mind, ‘Breathing out all stress, tension and negativity.’ 
   Do this breathing several times, until you feel your shoulders drop and relax. 
 • Let your breathing go back to its natural breathing pattern.
 • Close your eyes and focus on how your body breathes on its own without any assistance from you at all. I call this ‘sleep breathing’ because this is how your body breathes for you when you are asleep.
 • Practice this for at least one minute or until you feel all your muscles relax like loose rubber bands. 
Allowing our body to breathe all on its own without any assistance from us, tricks our body into preparing for sleep, thus creating the ‘wakeful rest state’ which allows for the full restorative benefit of meditation. 
 
Feel free to incorporate several minutes of daily meditation into your life and reap the benefits of a calmer, more balanced mind and body ;)
 
Written by Elisabeth Davies, MC- Counselor & Author of Good Things Emotional Healing Journal-Addiction 
Illustration by Bryan Marshall
References
(1) Medical –dictionary. com/meditation 
 (3) nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm
(5) Sarah McLean, 2012 Soul Centered-Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation pg 36

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