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Mindfulness: How Practicing Meditation Can Change Your Brain During Recovery

Pleasure at leisureDuring recovery, many different changes happen. But you may not be aware of all of them. In fact, you may be surprised to know that most alcoholics experience a loss of mental functioning, along with a smaller brain size and even changes in the way their brain cells communicate after a battle with addiction.1

This type of brain change and loss of mental power is partially due to the amount of time an addict spent using. However, that doesn’t mean that the changes are permanent. According to Dr. Rachael Lazar, a neuroscience research clinician at Harvard University School of Medicine, you may be able to change the part of your brain that connects the left, and right hemispheres after just 20 minutes!

How? It’s called mindfulness meditation, and you can get it done in just one week to gain the brain boosting benefits. Just think of doing mindfulness meditation as teaching an old dog new tricks. During recovery, it can make a BIG difference in the way you take on that next step. Take it one day at a time, and remember that scientists now know that you can change the way your brain works in as little as 7 days!2

What Does the Science Say?

Do you believe that in just a few minutes a day you can change the way your brain works? It’s true! But it may be hard to absorb all at once. Here are just 3 more ways science says, “Go meditate!”

  1. It Slashes Stress. Researchers have shown that mindfulness is able to lower stress levels, even in those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).3
  2. It Triggers Brain Changes. Mindfulness is shown in clinical trials to change the brain in a protective way against mental illness. This may result in better signaling between connections in your brain, known as axonal density.
  3. It’s Calming. Did you know that by practicing mindfulness you may be able to benefit your ability to process emotions? One study showed that even when you are not meditating, your brain could process emotions differently due to changes in grey matter of the hippocampus region.

How Can I Practice Mindfulness Meditation?

There are many types of mindfulness meditations that you can do – in just minutes!

  1. Try a Breathing Meditation. Breathing mindfulness is also known as Pranayama. And all you have to do to become more aware of yourself, for smoother sailing through recovery, and real brain changes to help you along the way is – BREATHE. Here’s how to do it!

Alternate Breathing (Nadi Sodhan):

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight, and facing forward. Close your eyes gently if you can. And then place your hands, with the palms open on your lap.
  • Take your left hand and place the soft pad of your index finger on the left side of your nose. Press the fingertip in gently and plug your left nostril closed.
  • Then, take a long, deep breath inward. As you inhale, fill your belly all the way with breath. Then, exhale out of your mouth. Repeat this breathing cycle for 2 minutes, (about 20 breaths).
  • Take your right hand and place the soft pad of your index finger on the right side of your nose. Press the fingertip in gently and plug your right nostril closed.
  • Then, take a long, deep breath inward. As you inhale, fill your belly all the way with breath. Then, exhale out of your mouth. Repeat this breathing cycle for 2 minutes, (about 20 breaths).
  • Then, place your hands back on your lap in an open-palm position. Finish the breathing cycle for 2 minutes, inhaling through both nostrils, and exhaling out of your mouth.
  • For the final minute of this 7-minute mindfulness breathing meditation, repeat this mantra silently in your mind as you exhale, “One day at a time.”
  1. Find Your ZEN. The Latin word meditatio, means “to think with healing intention.” It is the basis for zen meditations. Find your zen as you practice mindfulness any way you like. Use breathing, or just focusing on yourself from moment-to-moment with awareness. Using mindfulness can happen any time you want it to, anywhere, so don’t worry about “meditating.” Just find your zen.

Your breath is a great place to start (prana), and you can then continue the traditional Buddhist tradition of Vipassana, or insight meditation.  

  1. Get Bliss. Anything that you love to do is your place of bliss. So go there! Go to the movies, or for a long hike, to the dog park, or to a restaurant, to an art gallery – whatever! Just do something that makes you feel good all over. That is your bliss. Go get it.

During recovery it is important to develop new hobbies, so  explore new options and find something that you love to do. It could be your next place of pure bliss.

A Final Note on Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation is simply a way of learning how do live your life in a different way. And there are so many ways that you can be mindful! Scientists say that practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to change your mind after addiction, as it literally alters your brain. So, why not give it a shot? All you have to do is breathe.

References:

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism No. 53, July 2001.
  2. How mindfulness can change your brain and improve your health. Harvard medical School. March 8, 2016.
  3. Elizabeth A.Hogea, Eric Bui. The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatry Research 26 January 2017.

 

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