Mindfulness Practice for Relapse Prevention
Practicing mindfulness through both daily meditation and attentive living can be a powerful tool to aid your recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Mindfulness is, “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, with non-judgment” (Kabat-Zinn). It is about intentionally experiencing what is in the here and now without judgment. While relaxation sometimes occurs during mindfulness practice, this is not the primary purpose of the practice. Enhancing awareness is a primary intent of mindfulness.
How Mindfulness Helps in Recovery
We use and abuse substances for two main reasons: We crave a high, and we seek to avoid physical, mental, and emotional pain. This creates addiction, and the addictive behavior causes further suffering. Incorporating mindfulness practice into everyday living can help you:
- Increase awareness of the cravings and the avoidance patterns that trigger addictions
- Reduce and eliminate painful mental/emotional attachments to people, places or things
- Be less judgmental of yourself and others
- Increase clear thinking to make healthy choices
Scientific research provides evidence that mindfulness practice is effective in relapse prevention as well as reducing anxiety and depression that trigger addictions. In essence, mindfulness practice helps us recover from addictions through developing greater openness, awareness, compassion, tolerance, and ease with ourselves, others, and the challenges in life.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Sit comfortably in a chair or on a mat or pillow on the floor with your back straight, arms relaxed in your lap. You may either close your eyes or keep them open with a “soft gaze.” A soft gaze should be directed at an object that will not be thought provoking, such as a place on the floor, the wall, or a piece of furniture in front of you. Eye contact with others should be avoided.
Focus ALL your attention on your breath. Turn your mind toward noticing the breath. Let your breathing do its own thing. Feel the breath enter your body with each inhalation and exit the body with each exhalation. Don’t try to control the breath. Let the body breath itself. It will change, sometimes slow and deep, sometimes short and shallow. Just let your breathing take its own natural course and notice where you feel it strongest in the body. Rising and falling of the breath. Ride the exhale all the way to the end and notice the slight pause before the body inhales again.
Your focus will likely drift away from your breathing. You may notice sensations from your body and in your environment: sounds, temperature, the feeling of sitting, etc. You may notice thoughts or emotions coming and going. This is normal. The nature of the mind is to wander. When you notice something other than your breathing, just acknowledge it and gently return to your practice of focusing on the breath. Do not become attached to what your attention wanders off to; do not try to push it away. Just let it be, and refocus on your breathing.
This is the practice of mindfulness… focusing on the breath, then gently bringing awareness back to the breath when your attention wanders off… back and forth… no judgment… breathing in and out. Practice mindful meditation every day for at least 20 minutes.
How to Practice Mindful Living
Mindfulness is a skill and attitude of being fully engaged with life. It is simply being present in the immediate, here-and-now situation. It involves observing non-judgmentally and without psychological attachment, avoidance, or reaction.
Present moment awareness is the key, using all of our senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. This produces mindful living. The point is to pay attention to the activity or task at hand as if experiencing it for the first time. We practice this in our daily lives in simple tasks as well as complex situations.
Wake up from being on automatic pilot, and be present and alive in the moment.
Practice mindfulness during simple tasks like washing dishes, walking, being in nature, brushing your teeth, cooking, and enjoying a meal. Practice it, too, during complex situations such as communicating with others, participating in group activities, or concentrating on your work.
Practicing mindfulness in daily life results in clear thinking, which allows us to make more skillful choices, noticing ways in which we increase our suffering and learning ways to reduce it. Mindfulness practice leads to the acceptance spoken of in the Serenity Prayer.
Susannah Furr, M.Ed., LPC, is a Certified Instructor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and has more than 20 years of experience in the counseling field. She served as a counselor and administrator at the University of Mississippi Counseling Center before opening her own private counseling and consulting practice in Oxford. At Oxford Treatment Center, she teaches mindfulness practice for groups.
For further reading, Susannah recommends:
- “The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery: A Practical Guide to Regaining Control Over Your Life,” by Lawrence Peltz
- “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” by Thich Nhat Hanh
- “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle
- “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabbat-Zinn