Meditation and mindfulness exercises are used globally by drug and alcohol addiction centers as a complementary form of treatment to help patients improve physical and mental health.
Substance abuse can cause problems ranging from kidney failure to depression to parasitic relationships. While professional help is the best course of action for treating addiction problems, meditation and mindfulness can be used in tandem with addiction treatments to provide additional help.
Meditation is proven to:
- Improve depression and anxiety symptoms
- Improve cognitive abilities
- Reduce chronic disease symptom severity
- Improve interpersonal relationships and more
While all of these benefits are great, especially for someone in addiction treatment, many people may not know how to meditate or practice mindful exercises and don’t know how to get started.
While a professional can provide the best guidance on this, there are some things you can do today to achieve mindfulness and improve various aspects of your physical and mental health.
Thich Nhat Hanh, sometimes referred to as the “Father of Mindfulness,” described five steps people can take to achieve mindfulness.
1. Mindful Breathing
The first step is simple: breathing. For this exercise, the key is to be constantly aware of your inhales and exhales. When you are inhaling, you recognize you are breathing in, and the same goes for your exhale.
The point of this is to bring your attention to yourself and your body – this is how you become mindful, by being constantly aware of what you are doing. You will eventually learn to do this in various aspects of your life, but when you are starting out, it is best to begin with the basics.
When you can focus your attention on your in-breaths and out-breaths, mental clutter will begin to fade, and you will get more clarity. This is something which happens naturally, without you having to make active, strenuous efforts.
The second step in helping you achieve mindfulness is to concentrate your thoughts throughout the entire breathing process. It can be easy to get distracted and think about things, but focusing solely on your breathing, your inhales and exhales, allows your mindfulness to become uninterrupted.
Short or long breaths are irrelevant. Consistent focus on those breaths is the key.
Awareness needs to be sustained. If you can achieve this, your breathing will naturally become slower and more controlled, which will help your mind relax.
3. Awareness of Body
After concentrating on the breath and becoming fully aware of the inhale and exhale, creating consistent mindfulness, it’s time to move onto the body.
During your in-breath and out-breath, focus on your body. Become aware of the movements your body is making and how it’s interacting with the space around it.
Specifically, you can focus on how your chest and diaphragm are moving as you inhale and exhale. Eventually, this will help your mind and body work together to become one. Oftentimes our body is in one place, but our mind is elsewhere, thinking about random things – not present in the moment.
As you continue to work on this portion of the exercise, the relaxation and calmness you are feeling in your mind will begin to permeate throughout your entire body.
4. Releasing Tension
Once you become truly mindful of your mind and body, you can work on step 4: releasing built-up tension.
Becoming aware of your body will allow you to feel the tension and stress throughout. After you have identified your tension areas, you can continue your breathing exercise with a new focus on releasing these stressors with every exhale.
Thich Nhat Hanh notes these techniques can be done at any time as long as you are in a relaxed position, even while you’re sitting at a red light.
When we stop at a red light, we can become anxious or stressed as we are eager to get where we want to go and don’t want to have to deal with delays. By practicing this exercise while waiting at red lights, you can release your stress and feel calmer.
This is a great example of how you can put these exercises to use in your everyday life.
Just remember: when you breathe in, become aware of your body and when you breathe out, release the tension with the exhale.
5. Walking Meditation
The fifth step is optional. Essentially, it is bringing together all of these techniques and putting them to use during a walk.
This step may be difficult at first when you are still learning about mindfulness. While learning, it can be easy to get distracted and have your mind pulled away from the task at hand. As you continue to learn and get better at staying present in the moment, you will be able to practice these exercises elsewhere.
Putting these mindfulness methods together while you are on a walk can be extra beneficial. You are not only releasing tension and improving mental health, but you are also getting in some physical exercise, soaking up vitamin D from the sun, and maybe even enjoying nature if you go on a hike in the woods or mountains. When looking for alternative treatment methods, physical exercise and addiction recovery often go hand in hand.
If you follow these five steps and practice them consistently, you will likely see positive emotional and behavioral changes in yourself soon after.
Practicing mindfulness and making it a consistent part of your daily or weekly routine will lead to major physical and mental health benefits. It will help you de-stress and improve your overall mood.
Mindfulness exercises can be helpful for anyone, but they are especially powerful if a person is dealing with high-stress times or is going through transformational life events like substance abuse treatment.
Just remember: breath in, breath out.
About the Author: Joe Gilmore works for The Hope House, a luxury rehab in Arizona dedicated to providing the highest quality of care for its patients. The Hope House recently partnered with Arizona State University to make additional mindfulness and exercise treatment programs available for its patients.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.
Recommended for You
- How I Overcame Body Dysmorphia and Rediscovered Myself - October 2, 2023
- EMDR: A Powerful New Weapon in the Fight Against Substance Use Disorder - September 28, 2023
- Healthy Aging: Strategies to Maintain Mental Well-being in Later Life - September 26, 2023