Meditation is defined as focusing one’s mind or thinking deeply about something for a period of time. Meditating can take a few different forms and is performed for various reasons. Some meditations are in silence, some involve chanting, still, others are guided. The reasons people meditate varies; some do so for spiritual and religious reasons, others to relax, and still others for health.
Today, as meditation becomes more mainstream, we hear more and more about its amazing benefits to the body, mind, and spirit. When it comes to long-term recovery from alcohol or drug dependence, meditation can provide peace of mind and help to keep you focused in the present moment—both important for lasting sobriety. Regular meditation can also improve one’s health (both physical and mental)—also important when you are recovering from an alcohol or drug issue.
The popularity of meditation continues to grow. According to statistics, since 2012 the number of people practicing meditation has tripled. In the United States, about 14% of all adults have engaged in meditation, and seven percent of children as well. And while we are seeing a lot of momentum with mediation practice, mediation has been around for thousands of years.
Where Meditation Originated
In fact, meditation is deeply rooted in cultural practices from an estimated 5,000 years ago. Transforming from purely religious practice to a way to calm the mind and improve one’s health, meditation seems to be here to stay—and with good reason.
According to historians, meditation’s beginnings can be traced back to as early as 5,000-3,500 BCE (before the common era). While the exact date is undeterminable, archaeologists and historians agree it has been in practice for at least 5,000 years.
Meditation can be first documented around 1500 BCE. This documentation was found in the teachings of the Vedas in India. The Vedas are the earliest recorded Hindu scriptures. Following this, in 600-500 BCE, meditation began in Taoist China and Buddhist India. The history of meditation shows that yoga practices began to incorporate meditation in the time period of around 400 BCE to 20 CE (common era). Then, in 653 CE, the first meditation hall opened in Japan.
Fast forward to the 18th century…
Meditation began to find its way to the West. In the 1920s two books helped meditation gain recognition and followers. These were Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Following this, movements in Europe began which spread to the United States and quickly gained momentum.
Today, there are many in the U.S. and world who regularly practice mediation—and with good reason. While many continue to practice for religious reasons, many practice for the amazing health benefits for the body and mind. It is easier than ever to get started in meditation and find a type that resonates with you. From meditation studios in larger cities to meditation classes at gyms, if you are interested in meditation, it is more accessible today than ever before.
In an article in Time Magazine, Lodro Rinzler, a chief officer at the MNDFL studio in New York City talked about the accessibility of meditation today.
“It used to be that if you wanted to try Tibetan Buddhism and meditation, you had to travel all the way to Tibet, and if you wanted to try Korean meditation, you had to travel all the way to Korea. But now you can go to neighborhoods in New York and do both in an hour,” says Lodro Rinzler, author and ‘Chief Spiritual Officer’ at the Manhattan studio MNDFL, which opened in late 2015. “All of a sudden people are saying this can help you, but Buddhists have been saying, yes, we’ve known this for 2,600 years.”
And it’s no surprise that more and more people are gravitating to meditation. With global estimates of between 200 and 500 million people engaging in meditation, this trend is projected to continue to grow with most people who meditate citing health benefits as the reason.
What are the Health Benefits of Meditation?
The health benefits of meditation have been touted as one of the main reasons for many of those who practice. From lowering blood pressure and decreasing pain levels to helping with anxiety and depression, the health benefits of meditation have been well-researched and documented.
According to the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there is clear evidence to support mediation being helpful for blood pressure issues, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and more.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at these health conditions and how meditation helps.
- Blood pressure
Research from the NCCIH indicates that engaging in certain types of meditation can help to not only lower blood pressure but help reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure in higher-risk individuals.
- Pain management
In additional studies, pain has been shown to decrease with meditation, specifically, mindfulness meditation. One study indicated that this pain reduction is a result of meditation working on areas of the brain and how they respond to pain. It was also found that these areas are not the naturally occurring opioids in the brain. This means that meditation could work in tandem with pain medications and improve pain management.
A study important to mention found that when mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce stress the results were promising. It was found that those individuals who had both MBSR and CBT therapies reported less pain than those who received standard care for pain. This reduction of pain held true at both 26 weeks out and 52 weeks after therapy.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
More research is needed into digestive issues and how meditation helps. However, a few studies have shown a small reduction in the severity of symptoms of IBS with mindfulness meditation.
- Anxiety, Depression, Sleep Disturbances
While research into insomnia and meditation showed a significant reduction in sleep issues when meditation was practiced, the evidence for meditation helping anxiety and depression is surprisingly less. Research showed that meditation helped to moderately improve anxiety and depression, however, the behaviors associated with anxiety and depression—such as alcohol and substance abuse—did not curtail.
And while research continues and evidence mounts on the benefits of meditation, those who have begun to practice regularly can tell you firsthand of its vast benefits. How does meditation help with all of these conditions and more? Research is now showing that meditation can actually change the brain.
How Does Meditation Change the Brain
A study from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), found that those individuals who engaged in regular meditation had better-preserved brains and brain functions as they aged. This is theorized to be due to the preservation of the volume of grey matter in the brain.
Florian Kurth, author of the study from UCLA said the following, “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
In a review study out of John Hopkins, researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that meditation can help with depression and anxiety. After a comprehensive review of research, the team found that regular meditation can help to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain by 0.3. At first glance this seems very low, however, this is the same rate of reduction from antidepressants.
Goyal stated the following,
“Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
And while meditation isn’t a one-stop fix, it can be an effective tool in helping to manage and decrease these difficult to manage mental health issues.
Meditation works to change the brain in certain ways thereby impacting the body and mind. One of the important ways is how it changes the brain’s structure. Research has shown that the cortical thickness of the hippocampus—the area of the brain that controls learning and memory—increases with regular meditation.
In addition, this increase in important brain matter was also shown in some of the areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing. Not only does the research show changes in these vital areas of the brain, those individuals with these changes reported improvements in stress, anxiety, and depression that correspond to the brain’s changes.
Addiction Treatment and Meditation
Growing research continues to support the use of meditation in addiction treatment. Studies show that the changes brought about in the areas of the brain connected with self-control may be helpful in recovery from addiction.
Recovery from addiction, to alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, etc is a long-term journey. Meditation helps individuals to navigate some of this. When it comes to recovery from alcohol or drugs, individuals must learn to change the way they think about certain things.
With meditation, the brain is calmer, more focused, and able to work through cravings and temptations in a healthier way. For many who have become addicted to any substance, the racing mind can be detrimental to recovery. Meditation has been found to help slow this racing mind or ‘monkey mind’ as it sometimes called.
Slowing these racing thoughts helps to reduce anxiety and enable individuals to think before they act. This is often key in relapse prevention. It is often heard in 12 Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous that you should ‘play the whole tape’ before taking action, particularly when an individual is contemplating taking a drink or drug. ‘Playing the whole tape’ means that you don’t just think about how good a drink would feel right now. But instead, you look at the entire picture and where that ‘one drink’ has led you before.
Meditation helps with this not only when faced with wanting to take a drink or drug but also in other life circumstances where a calm, clear mind is crucial. Overall, those who engage in regular meditation, report feeling calmer, more clear-minded, and happier.
How to Meditate
After seeing how meditation can improve one’s quality of life, it’s easy to understand why so many are engaging in this mind and body practice that for so long has helped to bring calmness, peace of mind, and improvements in health to many.
But how do you get started?
A quick Google search for types of meditation yields varied results. You’ll see 12 types of mediation, seven types of meditation, and even four types of meditation. In each article, the author talks about each type and when, where, and sometimes how to engage in it. However, this can get overwhelming—the exact opposite of what most want from meditation.
And while there are many types of meditation, you only need one type to get started. Let’s take a quick look at the basic types of meditation that you can easily start doing today.
1. Mindfulness meditation
This type of mediation has been mentioned a few times in this blog. Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that trains the brain to be calmer, think less negatively, and decrease racing thoughts.
This is the type of meditation used most in addiction treatment and helping those with anxiety, depression, and the like. To get started with mindfulness meditation, you begin by becoming aware.
Sit quietly or lie down somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Begin by focusing on your breathing. Pay attention to how your body moves when you breathe. Feel how the stomach expands on the inhale and compresses on the exhale. Then just let go and sit. Watch your thoughts that come and go. Let them come and go, then return to focus on the breath.
For some, this can be difficult to do. If you find this to be true for you, maybe try guided meditation.
2. Guided meditation
Guided meditation is just what it says; meditation guided by another person. There are various types of guided meditations from inner peace and inner child meditations to releasing negativity and connecting with intuition.
For many who find it hard to practice meditation, guided meditation is a great place to start. You can engage in guided meditation using apps, YouTube, or even a Google search will take you to a variety of individuals who offer free guided meditations.
Some of the most used apps are Headspace, Insight Timer, and Calm.
3. Mantra meditation
A mantra is a word, phrase, sound, or syllable spoken repeatedly during meditation practice. The chosen word or words are repeated over and over during the meditation in order to help one focus and promote intention.
These mantras can be spoken, whispered, sung, or repeated silently in the mind. Some examples of mantras are, “I am strong”, “I am creative”, “Everything is always working out for me”, and more.
4. Movement meditation
Like the name sounds, movement meditation is simply moving while meditating. The key to movement meditation is being in the present moment much like mindfulness meditation. You can engage in movement meditation at any time, doing any activity. While in mindfulness meditations the focus is on the breath, in movement meditation the focus is on what the body is doing.
For example, if you are practicing movement meditation while walking you’ll focus your awareness on how it feels when each foot touches the ground, how your arms brush past your body as they sway back and forth, etc.
It’s good to start off slowly with movement meditation until you get more used to it. If you are doing a walking movement meditation, walk slowly at first so you can really feel each movement and stay present with your body.
No matter what type of meditation appeals to you, the most important part is to give it a try. And since World Meditation Day is right around the corner (May 21) there’s no better time than now to start. Commit to doing some type of meditation each day for 30 days and see what happens. If you stick to it, you just may feel less anxiety, feel more connected to yourself, feel healthier, and enjoy an overall improved quality of life.
Remember, meditation is not the sole answer to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, or addiction, but it can be an important tool to use. If you are struggling with any type of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, an alcohol or substance abuse issue, or mood disorders, it’s vital to seek professional help.
Futures Recovery Healthcare not only treats those with addiction issues, but Futures also has a unit solely devoted to inpatient mental health treatment for those adults with anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders. In addition, Futures is a leading treatment center for those with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues.
Contact Futures to learn more today at 866-804-2098 or online.