In recovery, particularly early recovery, staying active and engaging in positive activities is essential to sobriety and physical and mental wellness. One such activity is mindfulness, which is essentially the idea of living in the present moment. To be mindful is to exist in the present and to carefully observe passing thoughts and feelings without judgment, and to meditate is to put this practice into action.
What is mindfulness and why should I practice it?
Research has found that mindfulness reduces rumination and stress, improves working memory and focus, decreases emotional reactivity, increases cognitive flexibility, and can help predict satisfaction in relationships. It has also been found to enhance a number of other brain functions that contribute to such principles as morality and intuition.
The practice has its roots in the late 1970s when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Its effectiveness is tied to the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself. Over time, practicing mindfulness can lead to a shift in mindset, one that automatically sets itself to a mode of presence.
Meditation, tied closely to mindfulness as essentially its physical manifestation, can help center your mind and body (mindfulness is more to center the former), relieve distractions, assist with managing thoughts, and promote positive thinking. For those overcoming a substance use disorder, meditation and mindfulness may prove useful in helping to curb cravings.
How can I practice mindfulness?
First, you’ll need to set aside time to be mindful, especially if time to yourself isn’t something you’re used to. You don’t need complete silence or any extra materials, but a quiet space where you can be alone is most conducive to getting started with mindfulness.
Allow yourself to feel the emotions that you are experiencing, rather than repressing them. Acknowledge each thought and its existence, rather than passing judgment. Now simply continue the pattern of observing the present and letting judgment pass.
Try setting a timer for 15-20 minutes and giving yourself that time to mindful. Also, be easy on yourself. Thinking without judging your thoughts is difficult, as is maintaining a focus on present thoughts and present thoughts only, so don’t be hard on yourself if it takes you a few tries to put aside your other, distracting thoughts.
How can I practice meditation?
As with mindfulness, you’ll need to set aside time for meditation. You don’t need a yoga mat or anything (but it’s fine if you have one)— just a quiet place to be alone. Get yourself into a comfortable position and set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Then relax your posture and focus on your breathing, the inhale and the exhale. Breathe in and out deeply through your nose and quiet your thoughts.
Do your best to focus on the present moment and bringing your mind back to the present when it wanders. If you want, you can
Isn’t mindfulness/meditation just a fancy way of saying “yoga”?
Nope. While yoga is a great way to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your daily routine, there are non-yoga alternatives that promote these additions to your mental health. Tai chi, a meditative exercise good for reducing stress, focuses on deep breathing, and pilates is a somewhat elevated form of yoga. Martial arts and dance are two more good options.
At Royal Life Centers at Puget Sound, we incorporate healthy mindfulness/meditation activities such as yoga, as well as a host of other holistic therapies, into guests’ regular schedules because we care. Please reach out today to begin your recovery journey with us in the Pacific Northwest.