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How Meditation Can Help with Recovery

It’s common these days for treatment centers to offer meditation classes. Only 20 years ago, this might have been considered a California thing–or possibly a Boston thing–but now meditation is widely accepted as an effective complement to addiction treatment.

There are many different kinds of meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the most common, especially in treatment. There are several reasons for this. One is that Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have done so much to popularize it and bring it into mainstream practice. There have been a lot of studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation and there are standardized training programs so that therapists interested in incorporating the practice in their treatment can point to evidence of its effectiveness.

This evidence typically includes lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which at chronically high levels can damage your health. This may be because mindfulness meditation moderates activity in the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. High levels of stress are dangerous in recovery as stress is perhaps the most potent relapse trigger. Studies also show regular long-term meditation thickens the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with regulating emotion. Strengthening this part of the brain can help you choose positive emotions over negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and pessimism.

Of course, you don’t feel your left prefrontal cortex thickening. Most people feel don’t really feel any change day to day. You might feel calm one day and agitated the next and wonder what the point is. You can usually feel a change in your thinking after a couple of weeks of daily practice and studies as short as eight weeks have found changes in brain scans and blood tests.

It’s likely that the most profound changes will not show up on a brain scan or a blood test. At its most basic level, mindfulness meditation is about sitting with your thoughts without judgment or distraction. Just by virtue of sitting still for 20 minutes, you train yourself to be less impulsive and more tolerant of discomfort. Your brain will keep throwing mud at you, but you learn not to take it personally. After a couple of weeks, you will probably notice you feel more relaxed in general and more willing to let go of things that are bad for you.

Meditation is really just practicing doing something with your mind. You can practice concentrating intensely or you can practice open awareness. You can find guided meditations for whatever kind of challenge you might be dealing with. Mindfulness is a good foundation for all of these. Just being more aware of what’s happening in your head will make every part of recovery easier.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.