Tuesday November 21st 2017

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The Benefits of Meditation for Addiction

It Begins with Nervous System Imbalance

Imbalance in our nervous system is responsible for a great deal of disease (and dis-ease), digestive problems, high blood pressure, and mood disorders. When we try to regulate how we feel using unhealthy or ineffective coping mechanisms in a bid to remain strong for too long, we create even more stress for ourselves. What behaviors often manifest?

  • Addictions
  • Co-dependent relationships
  • Unhealthy eating habits

What if I told you that daily meditation could make you more resilient as a human? What if mindfulness could improve your physical and mental health? Can meditation really be “the golden ticket”?

Here, we’ll review the benefits of daily meditation. We’ll talk about the research behind the use of meditation in the treatment of addictions. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end. In fact, we’ll try to respond to all our readers with a personal and prompt reply.

What is Mindfulness?

Over the last few years, mindfulness has become more popular. However, observing the mind is not a new concept. Mindfulness has been a facet of Buddhism for over 2000 years. But what is this somewhat foreign-to-us practice of “mindfulness”?

Simply put, mindfulness is the act of being consciously aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensory experience.

Mindfulness and the Mind

Neuroplasticity, the structural and functional changes in the brain caused by experience, is effected by our meditation practice. Our mental muscles can be worked out by daily practice in much the same way as the muscles of our bodies can be. Every time we connect with present moment in a place of non-judgement, love and compassion our capacity to experience those things grows.

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During the observational practice of mindfulness, practitioners become aware of the wandering nature of the mind. It is the nature of the mind to chatter. We begin to notice the monologue of negativity/anxiety that the mind produces.

Mindfulness opens a door into the self and what we find past the chatter of the mind is our core, one which is strong and loving. Ultimately, awareness of the processes of the mind leads to a sense of freedom and non-attachment to the negativity of the mind.

7 Benefits of Meditation

Practicing mindfulness requires the self-regulation of attention. In this practice, you adopt the attitude of an observer to what you are experiencing in the present moment. It is simple, but not easy. So before you get invested, what can you expect in terms of advantages to your life?

Here we have listed 7 of the many benefits of meditation. Please keep in mind that this list is not exclusive. In fact, the practice is so personal that every practitioner will have a different list of how mindfulness affects their life.

1. Being mindful of your thoughts and emotions promotes self-acceptance.

Mindfulness is not about becoming self-regulated to the point that the process becomes self-punishing. Rather, mindlessness is about gentle observation, openness, and non-judgement of one’s self and experience. Much like training a puppy, we learn to be patient with ourselves. You can’t be angry with a puppy for long. And puppies do not react well to punishment as a learning tool.

As we begin to love ourselves – even when we’re reactive, negative, or mean – we gather parts of ourselves to be whole again. We start to understand that we are much more than our thoughts.

2. Mindfulness can positively affect body and mind.

Current research points to the fact that when we develop self-awareness through meditation practice, it has positive effects on our:

  • Psychopathology
  • Anxiety levels
  • Stress levels

…and at the same time reduces the risk of developing related physical diseases, even cancer. Mindfulness is a great asset to a positive psychology approach to well-being.

3. Being mindful helps improve the quality of your attention.

Our working memory system stores information in our brains for future processing. In fact, there is a strong relationship between the quality of attention given and the efficacy of working memory. Van Vugt & Jha’s 2011 research took participants to an intensive month-long mindfulness training retreat and compared their memory recognition with a control group who had received no mindfulness training. The results showed a much faster reaction time in those that had received mindfulness training. These results suggest that mindfulness training, even when practiced for this relatively short time, lead to improvements in the quality of a person’s attention.

 4. Mindfulness can help you live in your character strengths

In the various types of Buddhist meditation, the aim is not only to relieve the suffering created by attachment, but to cultivate character assets like compassion and strength. How? Firstly, one can develop a mindfulness of the positive rather than flailing around in a sense of impending doom. For example, we can be mindful of and dwell within our sense of love and appreciation.

Second, the practice itself helps us develop and strengthen our persistence. Meditation can be an uncomfortable process. It requires patience, self-compassion, and commitment. So in as far as we practice meditation, we also develop these traits. In sum, mindfulness can help us be sensitive to our context and to express our character strengths in the most effective way possible.

5. Mindfulness Cultivates Resilience

Resilience is one’s ability to bounce back from difficult experiences and to be able to adapt to change well. The physical space in our brains that this process occurs within is called the “anterior cingulate cortex”. This anterior cortex plays important role in one’s ability to achieve optimal decision making.

Research findings show that those who attend mindfulness training for just 3 hours of practice heave measurably higher levels of activity in anterior cingulate cortex and have correlating higher performance when tested in terms of self-regulation and resisting distractors, compared to the control group. In other words, cultivating resilience is possible.

6. Mindfulness practice raises your basal happiness level

When depressed, our brain has high activity in the right prefrontal cortex. Inversely, we experience high activity in left prefrontal cortex when we are happy. So, what happens to this ratio when we practice mindfulness meditation?

Jon Kabat-Zinn showed that only 8 weeks of 1 hour daily mindfulness practice leads to significant increase in left-sided activity. YThat difference was maintained even after 4 months. So, even relatively short term practice can increase our happiness in measurable terms.

7. Mindfulness Reduces Stress

When we are white-knuckling though life, stressed out trying to keep plates spinning, a part of the brain called the “amygdala” takes over. Persistent high activity in amygdala is associated with depression and anxiety. Mindfulness practice can shrink the size of the amygdala, increasing our ability to manage stress. We can take responsibility for the experience our minds produce. If we can build on a mindfulness practice and hit 1.5 hours of mindfulness practice every day, we can even change the structure of our brains.

Are You Ready to Go Inward?

Our ego, intellectual arrogance, and simply our habits of mind get in the way of our freedom from suffering. We are always berating ourselves to:

  • be better
  • lose weight
  • earn more
  • be more

True, this state is exacerbated by the constant onslaught of cultural messages that come seemingly from everywhere: the media is a tool of suffering, after all. If we can approach life without this cumbersome and painful lens, what a blessing that would be.

The renowned pioneer of person counselling once said on seeing the self,

‘People are just as wonderful as sunsets if I can let them be… When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right-hand corner”… I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.’

Wouldn’t it be a joyful experience to see the miracle that is ourselves and the world us without the compulsion to meddle with it.

Good Luck!

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About Jason Shiers, Dip. Psych TA, MBACP

Jason Shiers, Dip Psych, MBACP is a Transactional Analysis Psychodynamic Psychotherapist, and Head of Digital for https://www.addictionhelper.com and https://www.ukat.co.uk. Jason has been helping people with all types of addictions for 23 years. He practices holistically calling on various modalities including, psychotherapy, 12 steps, mindfulness, energy and meditation to help people empower themselves to make positive change in their lives.

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