Meditation is defined as “a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.” According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health meditation is a mind-body activity intended to promote relaxation, help people cope with illnesses, and improve well-being. Recent evidence suggests that meditation may reduce the consumption of alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines. Meditation can be beneficial to the addiction recovery process as it is also known to reduce the risk of relapse.
Effects Of Mindfulness On The Brain
The Mayo Clinic explains that the practice of mindfulness involves focusing on “being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment without interpretation or judgment.” Mindfulness practices can change one’s brain because of its neuroplasticity. Frontiers In Psychology defines neuroplasticity as “a general umbrella term that refers to the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.” Hence, the brain is a continuously evolving organ. Neural pathways are developed through synaptic connections that occur in one’s brain, directly resulting from a person’s habits and behaviors. These connections create a map of a myriad of circuits within one’s brain, influenced by outside stimuli, enabling the brain to process various experiences, and are essential in how the brain retains and accesses information. Neural pathways strengthen with repetition and can similarly become obsolete without repetition. Hence, because mindfulness practices require repetition, they have the propensity to change and heal the brain.
Empirically Supported Benefits Of Meditation
Most of the literature available focuses on mindfulness that is developed through meditation. Physiologically, participating in a regular practice of meditation can result in an individual lowering his or her blood pressure, can help to improve one’s heart rate, and can even help to improve one’s breathing. A 2012 study concluded that individuals who regularly practiced meditation throughout the study lowered the thickness of their arterial walls. This finding implies that these individuals have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. One study concluded that meditation practices are directly correlated to “changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” Research indicates that mindfulness practices, such as meditation, lead to an increase in the production of theta and alpha waves, which are the brain wave frequencies associated with enhanced learning abilities and overall mental well-being. There have been studies that indicate the tranquility effects elicited through meditation can be directly correlated to a reduction in one’s stress levels, which can subsequently have a positive effect on one’s immune system. Scientific evidence and empirical data illustrate the vast benefits of meditation, particularly for individuals recovering from substance abuse and/ or addiction.
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