For the uninitiated, the word “meditation” may bring to mind images of monks sitting blissfully on mountains. Or quiet chanting in a candle-lit room.
While the conventional picture of meditation is one of calm and composure, the practice has many benefits for those in the turbulent process of recovery and healing.
Meditation, in particular mindfulness meditation, has grown in popularity as members of the scientific, spiritual, and recovery communities have come together to show their support.
This support is well founded. A growing body of research backs up the benefits of meditation for purposes of trauma and healing.
For those new to the practice, many questions come to mind:
– What is meditation?
– What do you do in a meditation session?
– What healing benefits can meditation offer me?
In this piece, I hope to answer some of these questions and provide a comprehensive guide for those who are looking to explore this transformative practice.
What Is Meditation?
The term meditation is a broad label. It applies to many different contemplative techniques, used in a variety of spiritual (and now secular) traditions. While some form of meditation is common in most major religions, it is most often associated with Buddhism and Hinduism
The techniques may vary, but all forms of meditation share common ground. At its core, meditation is a way to heighten consciousness by bringing awareness to thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.
During a session, practitioners often sit still and direct their attention to an object, sensation, or mantra. This concentration grounds them and can lead to greater insight into what they’re experiencing in the present moment.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness is a specific type of meditation that has boomed in popularity during the past decades. This is in part due to the emergence of meditation apps like Calm and Headspace and support from prominent members of the scientific, business, and entertainment communities.
Though mindfulness meditation has become a modern phenomena, it began as an ancient practice. In Buddhism, Mindfulness (or sati) is roughly translated to “bare attention”.
Practitioners often sit in a quiet place and pay attention to a sensation – usually their breath. With awareness anchored to the breath, they “bare attention” to passing thoughts, sensations, and emotions that arise.
Benefits Of Meditation
For thousands of years ancient religions spoke of the life-changing effects of a meditation practice. In the 21st century, modern science has caught up with ancient wisdom.
Researchers have used body scans, neural imaging, and case studies to prove the wide-ranging benefits of meditation techniques such as mindfulness.
Research has shown meditation can help:
– Relieve anxiety
– Reduce stress
– Increase self-awareness
– Develop appreciation for the present moment
– Increase creativity
– Cultivate patience
Meditation for healing from addiction & trauma
Addiction is one of the areas where meditation has proven particularly beneficial. The work of activists like John Kabat Zinn and Daniel Siegel have brought mindfulness techniques to the areas of trauma and healing.
John Kabat-Zinn states:
“When we can actually be where we are, not trying to find another state of mind, we discover deep internal resources we can make use of. Coming to terms with things as they are is my definition of healing.”
Meditation expands consciousness. This proves useful in the recovery community as it exposes unconscious thoughts and feelings that can get in the way of health & healing.
Meditation techniques can also help people in recovery cope with painful memories, feelings, and triggers. Other recovery specific benefits of meditation include:
– Providing a supportive tool to work with trauma rather than avoid it
– Developing self compassion for past actions and transgressions committed against you
– Learning to relax and cope in moments of stress
– Responding proactively rather than reactivity to triggers and stressors
Three meditation techniques for healing
There are dozens of meditation techniques. This list is by no means exhaustive. I’ve highlighted the meditation techniques that have been the most helpful for myself and others recovering from trauma and addiction.
Mindfulness of the body
What it is:
Mindfulness of the body (or body scan) is a mindfulness technique that cultivates greater awareness of bodily functions and sensations. Practitioners normally move up or down their body and notice the sensations that arise in each part.
How it helps those in recovery:
Trauma research proves we hold stress and trauma in our body. This core truth has led to the rise of body-centric healing such as Somatic Experience (SE) and mindfulness meditation.
Through meditation we can bring pent up stress to our consciousness. When we pay close attention to the body, we familiarize ourselves with stress-related sensations and what triggers them.
Additionally, this form of mindfulness equips us with ways to relax and cope, giving us greater control in situations where our body-based trauma responses are triggered.
Mindfulness Of Thought
What it is:
Mindfulness of thought (Vipassana) asks us to pay greater attention to the thoughts which arise in our consciousness. Thoughts shape how we see ourselves and the world around us. However, many of these thoughts arise unconsciously.
This type of meditation can help us unearth unconscious thoughts in a non-judgmental way. During a typical session, you will sit in a quiet place and direct attention to your breath allowing thoughts to come and go without getting swept up in them.
How it helps those in recovery:
Those in recovery may suffer from negative thoughts around their addiction and past trauma. Thought-based mindfulness supplies a safe space to examine these thoughts without judgment.
More importantly, it teaches us that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts come and go. Some may be pleasant and some may be unpleasant. But the thoughts that ebb & flow are temporary. They do not reflect who we are or how far we’ve come.
Loving Kindness Meditation
What It Is:
Loving Kindness or Meta is a way to cultivate compassion for yourself, others, and the world at large.
The technique starts with the practitioner bringing to mind someone that they love – this can be a friend, family member, even a pet. The practitioner will wish this being love and happiness.
Next, the practitioner will bring to mind someone they don’t know well and extend feelings of compassion to them.
The practitioner will continue to cast this net of love & compassion – bringing in acquaintances, strangers, even enemies – until they’ve expanded their circle of compassion to include all living things.
How It Helps Those In Recovery:
Many of us have been hurt, neglected or harmed by others. When we engage in compassion practice, our sense of empathy broadens. We often recognize the people that have hurt us the most have also suffered dearly.
This is by no means condoning abusive behavior, but when we can see others through a deeper understanding, compassion for self and others arises- this is healing!
The pain we’ve experienced was necessary to birth a new consciousness. It puts our suffering in a proper context and helps us see we are connected to things greater than our circumstances.
If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to check out some of the meditation resources on my site. These include the guide meditations linked on this page.
I’ve also talked extensively about meditation on my podcast, including the ways it has changed my life and aided in my recovery.
If you’re new to meditation, start small. A lot of healing can happen simply by practicing for 5 minutes a day.
If you’re experienced, stay consistent. Set aside time every day to sit in contemplation.
If you would like 1 on 1 support with meditation, or in any other part of your recovery, consider booking a free discovery call to see how I can help.