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The Role of Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga in All Stages of Recovery

The Role of Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga in All Stages of Recovery

Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are practices known to calm the mind and body and foster inner peace. While each is beneficial on its own, when practiced together, the effects can be particularly powerful, especially for those in recovery.

Focused attention and slow, deep breathing are at the center of each practice. The depth and rate of a person’s breathing can positively or negatively impact the body and mind. Studies have found that rapid, shallow breathing feeds anxiety and fear, while slow, deep breaths trigger relaxation, release of stress and a sense of well-being. The regular practice of slow, deep breathing benefits mental health, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular health.

The constant stress, fear, and anxiety felt by many individuals in active addiction or recovery contributes to increased levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. High levels of cortisol can cause high blood pressure, muscle weakness, irritability, disruption of sleep cycle, inflammation and other adverse effects. When mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are practiced regularly, cortisol levels decrease, providing an environment more conducive to recovery.

Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are distinct practices yet share a similar philosophy and approach. Let’s review each briefly below.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness encourages awareness of the present moment. Living mindfully allows individuals to focus on what we’re doing in the moment and experience it as it happens. This lack of judgment frees us from negative reactions, allowing us to become more trusting and accepting.

Practicing mindfulness leads to an increased awareness of our surroundings, as well as our thoughts and emotions in that present moment. As we monitor our inner thoughts and feelings, we recognize their validity but refrain from judging them as bad or good. We remain in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Mindfulness also helps open lines of communication with those we care about. Listening to others with focused attention, patience and a lack of judgment strengthens relationships. The more we practice mindful communication, the more open and honest our interactions with others will become.

A study published in the Clinical Psychology Review Journal on the “Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health” found those who practiced mindfulness expressed a greater sense of well-being and less tendency toward “emotional reactivity.” These findings are important to those in recovery, as the ability to stay calm, manage stress, and avoid overreacting to a triggering situation can help maintain sobriety.

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been found to improve “health-related quality of life in individuals with substance use disorders,” according to a study published in Military Medicine.  

Another study, published in Substance Use and Misuse, cites evidence supporting MBIs may reduce consumption of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, as well as reduce cravings for addictive substances.

These and other studies support the efficacy of mindfulness to reduce stress, cravings, and physical and emotional pain to increase a sense of well-being and to strengthen the immune system. Each of these benefits lends positive support to anyone in recovery.

Is there a difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Although mindfulness and meditation are similar practices, there are some distinctions. Mindfulness is a more focused awareness of our external surroundings and how we feel or react to what’s going on externally. The regular practice of mindfulness helps us to remain peaceful, regardless of what’s happening around us.

Meditation is an internal process helping us to let go of inner “mental chatter” as we seek a peaceful mind. Unlike mindfulness, meditation looks inward, disregarding the external environment.

Meditation

Like mindfulness, meditation is meant to help us maintain awareness of the present moment. As we focus on the inhalation and exhalation of our breath, or on an object, sound or other visualization, our bodies relax and our thoughts clarify. The continued practice of meditation helps us better understand our thoughts and feelings and learn how to release negative reactions.

Dr. Michael J. Baime, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the founder and Director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness, states, “Meditation cultivates an emotional stability that allows the meditator to experience intense emotions fully while simultaneously maintaining perspective on them.”

Multiple studies have shown meditation to effectively reduce blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, anxiety, depression, ulcerative colitis, and chronic pain, among other conditions.

Successful recovery necessitates healing of the body and mind. Meditation positively impacts all aspects of the healing process, including calming and strengthening the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions of the body.  A sense of inner peace, along with improved mental clarity, helps reduce cravings, which can help to prevent a relapse.

Both meditation and mindfulness strengthen our ability to remain calm when faced with stressful situations, helping us to cope in a healthy manner. A clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on the “Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders,” studied 3 groups:

  1. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) group which integrated mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral relapse prevention (RP) approaches
  2. RP approach only
  3. Treatment as usual (TAU), which included 12-step programming and psychoeducation only

Results of the study found, “MBRP participants reported significantly fewer days of substance use and significantly decreased heavy drinking compared with RP and TAU,” at the 6-month and 12-month follow-ups.

Yoga

Yoga delivers a mind-body workout by incorporating specific body poses, meditation, and controlled breathing. Regular practitioners report they are stronger, more flexible, feel happier, and have less chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and cravings. Many studies support these benefits, and cite additional benefits, such as better blood and lymph flow, improved sleep, stronger bones, slower metabolism, and improved heart and breathing rate.

All three practices – mindfulness, meditation, and yoga – are valuable to anyone’s recovery and treatment. When these practices are continued after treatment ends, quality of life is improved and the chance of a relapse can decrease.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.

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