Mindfulness Practices for Addiction Recovery
As a yoga teacher and meditation facilitator for Second Nature Entrada as well as the yoga director for a local, in-patient addiction treatment center for adults, I become giddy (if not a little smug) with every new article or study that references mindfulness as a means of complimentary treatment for behavioral or psychological disorders. Mindfulness is gaining a greater voice in the field of psychology and physiology and we practitioners of such a concept are celebrating!
The most recent of my intellectual delights has come from the National Institute of Health. A study published in August of this year shows that addicts seeking treatment are inherently lower in mindfulness than a healthy population according to the Toronto Mindfulness Scale –a 13 question survey. This survey measures two components of mindfulness. The first is decentering- one’s ability to look at themselves and their experiences from a place of detachment and objectivity. The second component is curiosity, specifically one’s curiosity in themselves or a desire to further explore and understand themselves. Addicts scored 6.78 (vs. 11.93 for healthy population) in the decentering portion of the survey while scoring 5.58 (vs. 13.72) in curiosity. The study suggests that a lack of mindfulness could be a precursor to addiction just as depression and anxiety can lead to addiction. The author of the study further affirms that, as a result of poor mindfulness ability, addicts are less able to handle distressing experiences from a place of objectivity and are more likely to be absorbed by and reactive to stressful events. Moreover, they reach for their substance of choice as a coping mechanism for what might be better described as a poor capacity for being present in stressful circumstances.
Another study from the Journal of Substance Abuse (2009) looked at the efficacy of mindfulness based practices against that of typical addiction treatment tools. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) uses the general principle of mindfulness – increasing non-judgment and broader awareness of intrapersonal experiences (emotional and cognitive) as they arise in situations whether that situation is deemed negative or positive and how that awareness helps foster better behavioral choices. According to this study, those who participated in MBRP had significantly lower rates of substance use, demonstrated greater decrease in cravings, and increased acceptance as compared to the control group participating in standard treatment plans (12 step groups, talk therapy, etc.)
In steps the happily-validated yoga teacher: A few months back, I wrote a blog describing this very phenomena as it plays out on the yoga mat. Within an hour long class, multiple opportunities arise to witness and experience controlled, intentional moments of distress, discomfort, and pain. Within those moments, one must choose whether they are absorbed in and reactive to the discomfort or can “rise above” it, breathe, and witness the experience without clinging to it. Whether I am teaching asana (physical practice of yoga) or mindful eating, the purpose is the same – slow the mind down so that all sensations and observations that arise in any circumstance can be explored without attachment or judgment. From here such experiences can be processed in a way that empowers the individual to master their perceptions and subsequent choices. In yoga, we call this liberation. In addiction treatment we call this recovery.
I am forever grateful, humbled, and inspired to witness the tremendous shifts our clients at Second Nature Entrada make in their progress toward recovery and the role mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga play in that journey. I am equally grateful for the strides the scientific and clinical communities are making to validate and give voice to what the ancients have been whispering for centuries regarding such pursuits… Freedom (from our mental and emotional afflictions) comes from the acknowledgement that we are more than our pain or pleasures, our fears, our insecurities, our dramas. Our truest nature is not bound by our story but simply invited to shine through it.