Once Misunderstood–Now Recommended
At one time, meditation was misunderstood, and few people considered it a viable option for improved health. Now, scientific studies confirm that various forms of meditation provide benefits that, while still unique to each individual, are quantifiable enough to be part of a recommended wellness plan.
People in recovery from substance abuse, process addictions, and behavioral health issues have to regain proper brain function. For example:
- The amygdala is hypersensitive to stimulation and fear if any of the above conditions are left untreated for too long. As part of the limbic system, the amygdala’s primary purpose is to help regulate behavior and emotion. But there’s not an on/off switch to revert back to proper operating stasis. Overstimulated, the amygdala triggers the hypothalamus—responsible for sleep, hunger, and other nervous system reactions—to stay in perpetual “fight or flight” status, which is exceedingly stressful for both body and mind.
- The prefrontal cortex—the thinking, planning, and problem solving region of the brain—is also highly compromised by these conditions…and vice versa, as it also regulates self-control over impulsive behavior. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says shifting balance between reward and stress circuits and the prefrontal cortex intensifies compulsivity. Once heightened, it’s difficult to calm down, which is why many people with addiction can’t simply stop even if they want to.
So how does meditation help?
Here are a couple of examples.
Neuroscientist Susan Lazar at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital pioneered some of the first research between control groups and people with long-term meditation experience.
Right away, she noticed that seasoned meditators who practiced 20–40 minutes daily had “an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex,” she told The Washington Post. “Which makes sense. When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.” Lazar also discovered people who meditated had “more gray matter in the frontal cortex, associated with working memory and executive decision making.”
Additionally, in as little as eight weeks, Lazar’s control group participants had reduced amygdalae as they went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, providing more stability over emotions and behaviors.
Psycom reports that even a simple three-minute guided meditation provides benefits such as:
- Lessened anxiety and social anxiety disorder, based on promising research from Stanford University.
- A more measured stress response so that, in certain circumstances, you don’t react quite as much as you might have previously.
- A greater success rate of relapse prevention among people who meditated daily compared to those who don’t.
Developing a meditation practice is easier now than ever before, and there are numerous options.
Try These Resources for Meditation
Some people prefer to meditate in private; others like a community atmosphere. Long-time meditation practitioners might have a certain style they’re comfortable following on their own; beginners might appreciate using guided meditation at first to understand different techniques and learn what they like best.
There’s really no wrong way to meditate. Just remember some key points:
- You can’t really “stop thought,” so don’t worry if your mind scurries about in the beginning. Meditation prompts brain waves to move through various stages a little at a time. So if a thought appears, don’t dwell on it. Instead, visualize it as a bubble or a cloud and simply let it float away.
- Be comfortable and secure. Most people find it best to meditate while sitting upright with their backs supported. Whatever temperature makes you feel the best is where you should be.
- Start with a few minutes and build your practice. It’s totally fine to simply do a few minutes for a while, then add on as you feel comfortable.
- If you don’t like one method, try another. Not every style fits each person. Fortunately, there are many options to explore, and one is bound to resonate with you.
- Some meditation techniques are free, others might have a cost. The dividing line is usually between community programs and certain podcasts or videos vs. special techniques and apps.
- Meditation is not a religion. But some faiths incorporate meditation into their observances.
Here are some methods to consider.
Learn in person
Tucson is rich with holistic influence, and there are many areas where you can work with a meditation workshop leader or learn more in a community setting. Opportunities include the Tucson Community Meditation Center, the Tucson Shambhala Center, the Transcendental Meditation Center, and Kadampa Meditation Center.
Find options online
Many reputable sources offer free or small-fee meditation programs. Many of these are guided mindfulness exercises, but a few might only provide a certain sound atmosphere and let you proceed with whatever imagery, repeated phrase or affirmation, or even a mantra—which is a sound or word recited during practice—that suits you. Try the Free Mindfulness Project, the Chopra Center, UCLA Health, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s Love 2.0, Meditation Oasis, Tara Brach, and Max Strom.
Download an app
There are dozens of meditation apps that provide stress relief with the touch of a finger. Some of the more popular ones that work with both Apple and Android devices include Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, ZenFriend, and breethe.
Avenues for Meditation at Cottonwood Tucson
As part of our holistic wellness services, our expert staff facilitates various mind-body techniques to enable an individual to not only make it through rehab treatment, but also have reliable tools to integrate into daily life for long-lasting wellness. Learn more about our adult behavioral health and addiction treatment components.