Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga for Addiction Recovery
Meditation and Yoga, when used in treating addiction are typically considered an alternative therapy. Alternative therapies provide a natural, non-medicated way for people in recovery to manage their symptoms, even after leaving rehab. Research shows that meditation can become a valuable technique for people affected by substance use disorders to help manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse.
How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work?
Traditionally, meditation techniques were taught in informal meditation centers. In fact, many people being introduced to meditation for the first time are initially skeptical about the whole idea of meditating.
Yet, in recent years many addiction treatment centers have integrated alternative therapies into traditional treatment models to provide a natural and holistic component to treatment.
Mindfulness is Focusing on Emotions and Thoughts
Mindfulness meditation is the intentional and non-judgmental focus on things happening right now, in the present. Throughout a guided meditational session, people in recovery are taught to focus on their emotions, sensations, and thoughts happening right now.
A person caught in the grip of addiction may have developed a level of habitual mental functioning. For example, the person may have spent plenty of time being pre-occupied with obtaining, using or recovering from substance use. As such, a type of ‘auto-pilot’ response develops, where emotions, impulses, sensations, cravings, and thoughts control an individual’s actions almost automatically.
Meditation is Focusing on Being in the Moment
By comparison, meditation directs the recovering person to focus only on being in the present moment. There are a lot of different types of meditation, but it’s common for people to assume they’re only there to ’empty their minds’ or just sit around cross-legged in silence.
In reality, mindfulness is about allowing thoughts and memories and feelings to come and go. The meditation directs the person to focus on those thoughts and sensations but remember to remain in the present.
As the mind is focused only on the here-and-now during meditation, it becomes easier to separate experiences from certain emotions. The recovering person is then able to witness those emotions and impulses in an unemotional and detached way rather than being controlled by them and acting upon them.
The result makes it easier to manage cravings and avoid relapse back into self-destructive patterns of substance abuse.
Does Mindfulness Meditation Work in Addiction Recovery?
Several studies have been published showing the effectiveness of meditation as part of an integrated addiction treatment program. The key to its efficacy lies in understanding how drugs and alcohol change the brain’s chemistry.
When a person takes mind-altering drugs or alcohol, the brain releases a flood of dopamine into the body that causes the euphoric feelings they experience. When the effects of the substance wear off, the person’s dopamine levels drop too low. The brain is unable to adapt, so the person experiences a crash and a strong craving to take more of the substance.
In 2002, a study published in the John F. Kennedy Institute discovered that a person’s dopamine levels increased by up to 65% during meditation (2). The natural and healthy release of dopamine into the system is interpreted as a reward by the brain, so the recovering person no longer feels such a powerful need to give into urges, or cravings, to take more drugs or drink alcohol.
How Does Yoga Work?
Yoga uses specific poses and postures in combination with controlled breathing techniques to promote a sense of relaxation and calmness.
The gentle nature of the movements and postures are slow and appear to be doing very little. In reality, yoga is a physical exercise that triggers the body to release endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel good’ hormones.
Essentially, yoga can help replace artificial highs with natural ones.
Yoga Increases Emotional Awareness
Just as with meditation, yoga also promotes mindful awareness of experiences and emotions. The mind becomes more able to view emotions or thoughts from a detached distance, rather than acting on those urges and giving in to emotions, which helps reduce the risk of relapse.
As a purely physical exercise, yoga promotes improved mobility and muscle tone, increased flexibility, improves posture, and promotes weight loss. It can help boost physical fitness, strengthen bones, and improve cardiovascular and circulatory health.
It’s Physical, Mental, and Spiritual
Many people recovering from addiction have long overlooked the importance of maintaining their overall health. Self-care is an important aspect of the addiction recovery process, as it improves a person’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Yoga provides a gentle way to begin taking care of one’s physical, mental and spiritual self naturally.
How Does Yoga Benefit Addiction Recovery?
Studies indicate that yoga can enhance recovery from addiction in a number of ways (5). Yoga helps target stress-related thoughts and emotions and makes it easier to control behavioral urges and cravings.
Many people who have been struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol over a period of time may have physical health problems. For example, the person’s muscle tone may have atrophied over time, or they may not have been eating well, resulting in malnutrition.
It’s also worth noting that many people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction may also struggle with bouts of insomnia. Many yoga postures promote and induce good sleep, which helps relieve insomnia naturally and without the need for medications.
Perhaps the most underrated benefit of practicing yoga is the mental strength and concentration practitioners are able to develop. Regularly practicing yoga helps to strengthen the mind and boosts concentration levels.
After all, if you’re holding a pose or posture for a long time, it takes mental strength and determination to remain in position. Throughout the practice, a person has the choice of giving up or concentrating on the end result. It’s through that persistent determination that mental strength grows, and concentration levels are enhanced.
There’s also the added social and peer benefit of joining in with a public yoga class. When you attend a public class regularly, it’s easier to begin forming new social connections with people who are also focused on self-care and good health, which reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Managing the Underlying Causes of Addiction
Traditional addiction rehab treatments focus strongly on treating the symptoms of addiction. For example, if a person is recovering from addiction to prescription opiate painkiller medications, traditional treatments might include methadone or Suboxone replacement therapies. The treatment given treats the symptom of the addiction and helps enormously throughout the detox process, but it doesn’t address the underlying psychological triggers behind addictive behaviors.
Treat the Underlying Causes of Addiction
By comparison, alternative therapies offer a natural, medication-free way to begin working on some of the underlying causes behind the addiction.
Studies show that chronic stress is a high-risk factor for addiction. Uncontrolled stress levels also increase the risk of relapsing back into a pattern of self-destructive behavior after a period of abstinence.
Regularly practicing meditation and yoga can help relieve symptoms of stress. Research published by the EOC Institute shows that meditation provides a holistic and healthy way to increase a person’s maximum stress threshold, which can make it easier to deal with stressful situations using natural alternatives without the need for drugs or alcohol.
Meditation and Yoga for Dual Diagnosis
Further studies show that a significant percentage of people struggling in the grip of drug or alcohol addiction also have an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental health disorder at the same time. The co-occurrence of two or more disorders is known as dual diagnosis.
There is little point in trying to treat the addictive behavior without simultaneously treating the co-existing mental health issue.
Meditation is well known for its ability to promote a sense of relaxation and calmness. It’s also known to help reduce stress and relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.
Both meditation and yoga can provide healthy options for supplementing a medicated treatment approach that can benefit those recovering from both mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders.
Integrating Meditation and Yoga after Leaving Rehab
Even after a recovering person leaves rehab and returns to independent living, the benefits of yoga and mindfulness meditation can have continued benefits.
There are many studies advocating the regular practice of meditation and yoga to help reduce the risk of relapse after leaving rehab. Learning to manage cravings and control stress triggers using healthy alternatives can be a key factor for remaining clean and sober after returning to independent living.
Coupled with a strong relapse prevention strategy, regularly practicing meditation and yoga each day helps reduce the risk of relapse. Both yoga and meditation also provide a healthy way for the body to generate dopamine and endorphins naturally, which further reduces the need to return to a pattern of substance abuse.
While there are a number of benefits for integrating mindfulness meditation and yoga into an addiction recovery program, it’s important to remember that alternative treatments are designed to be complementary treatments. Mindfulness meditation and yoga work best when combined with a tailored program of traditional addiction rehab treatments from Silvermist Recovery.