Meditation is a form of therapeutic treatment used for a number of different kinds of mental health issues. It has its origins in the tradition of Buddhism and Eastern religious practises, however, the meditation used in Western psychology has no religious or spiritual elements. Instead, it focuses on simple practises which develop the mind’s ability to focus, to be present in the current moment, and to experience happiness and pleasure. Researchers like Jon Kabat Zinn (1) and Professor Mark Williams (2) have isolated those aspects of meditation which are most psychologically beneficial and formulated them into their own Mindfulness meditation programmes with the specific aim of improving mental health.
Why use Meditation for Addiction Treatment?
Meditation has been found to have a wide range of benefits for people struggling with addiction. A 2005 study (3) showed that people who regularly meditate have stronger activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for feelings of happiness. This is the part that is activated during ‘highs’ in drug users and people struggling with addiction. The findings demonstrate that meditation can serve as a ‘natural high’ that can help people struggling with addiction to find alternative ways to feel good.
Meditation teaches us how to have an impulse or feeling and to be able to hold it in our minds without acting upon it. This has far-reaching benefits for all aspects of mental health. In particular, an element of addiction that people struggle with is impulse control, and meditation is designed especially to improve this ability. Meditation teaches you how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and to be able to resist temptations more easily.
Finally, a 2002 study (4) showed that meditation can raise dopamine levels by 65% during a meditation session. Addiction occurs through the dopamine pathway (known as the pleasure principle) which stimulates the brain and causes the brain to seek out the dopamine-releasing behaviour or substance persistently. Meditation allows you to raise your dopamine levels in a natural, harmless way, whilst also providing stress-relief, increased focus and happiness. This can help to manage urges to engage with the addictive substance and also bring pleasure back to other parts of your life.
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What happens during Meditation?
During meditation, you will be asked to find a comfortable position to sit in and usually asked to close your eyes. All forms of meditation require an object of concentration, although this object may vary depending on the type of meditation you are doing. It is common for the object of concentration to be the breath, and you may focus on the physical sensation of breathing, or focus on counting breaths. You will be guided gently to keep your attention on the object of concentration for a period of time, usually only a couple of minutes when starting out. Other forms of meditation may focus on repeating a ‘mantra’ (a helpful phrase) or on thinking about different parts of the body (bodyscape).
Generally, people find it difficult at the beginning to keep their attention focused. Yourinstructor will give you guidance on how to improve your focus, but it is important to keep on bringing your attention back to the object of concentration.
This is the ‘exercise’ of meditation and brings about the important health and emotional benefits.
How effective is Meditation?
When practised regularly, meditation has been shown to reduce stress, improve happiness and concentration levels. Many studies have foundthere are measurable neurological changes that take place in those that meditate regularly.
Benefits of Therapeutic Meditation
Meditation has a number of scientifically proven health benefits, including the following (5):
- Reducing stress
- Reducing anxiety
- Decreasing depression
- Enhancing self-awareness
- Improving concentration span
- Reducing age-related memory loss
- Generating kindness
- Fighting addiction
- Improving sleep
- Controlling pain
- Decreasing blood pressure
Facts and Statistics about Meditation
- Mindfulness meditation reduces the likelihood of a further episode of depression in people who have suffered depression in the past by 40-50% (6)
- A study from the University of Surrey (2018) showed that participants who underwent a mindfulness meditation course experienced a 63% reduction in depression, a 58% reduction in anxiety and a 40% reduction in stress. These results were the same at 3, 6 and 9 months after the study was completed
- Kabat-Zinn, J., (2004), Wherever You Go, There You Are, Piatkus
- Williams, M. & Penman, D, (2011), Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Piatkus
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