The Power of Mindfulness in Early Recovery

Detoxification and other addiction treatment modalities in a rehab environment are major adjustments for people in early recovery. Body and mind are suddenly challenged in ways that can cause stress and anxiety.

A patient in detoxification may experience a whole range of unpleasant symptoms and sensations such as headaches, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, heart palpitations, shallow breathing, sweating, shivers, tremors, and—most of all—strong cravings for drugs or alcohol.

Clients may also intensely worry about what the future holds for them financially and professionally and how they can rescue their relationships with loved ones.

“One of the best ways to stabilize people in early recovery is the practice of mindfulness,” says Malissa Schwamm, Valiant Living’s newly appointed wellness director.

Many people with addiction misuse substances to suppress difficult emotions. They want to avoid being present and attempt to escape from their emotional pain, if only for a short while.  Mindfulness offers a different, much healthier solution. Instead of avoiding difficult emotions, mindfulness enables us to just be with them without being overwhelmed.

“Mindfulness allows patients to be more at peace, calmer, more grounded, more centered when they are triggered to use,” explains Schwamm.

“Mindfulness involves being in the present moment and being aware of where you are and what you’re doing,” wrote Janelle Cox on PsychCentral in June. “The essence of mindfulness is awareness of your breath.”

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn—the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction—outlined seven attitudes that constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.

His practice of yoga and studies with Buddhist teachers led Kabat-Zinn to integrate their teachings with scientific findings. His secular version of mindfulness can help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness—making it an ideal tool to be utilized in addiction treatment.

Schwamm likes to emphasize the element of trust. “I work from a space of empathy to create a sense of trust—it’s about building relationships with clients. People who come to a detox program are looking for people they can trust. They want someone to see them, they need someone to hear them. I cultivate that space of trust with yoga.”

What she doesn’t emphasize is the term yoga. “People often assume that it involves rigorous physical movement but we’re not expecting them to do hot ashtanga vinyasa. We’re doing easy postures that may require deep stretching and we may ask them to hold a posture for several minutes. We want them to feel the body open, feel the release. It’s about learning to be still and breathing is key. I work through lots of breathing exercises with them.”

Yoga postures and breathing exercises allow patients to explore their feelings. “They may be  shaking, sweating, and feeling dehydrated but they learn that it’s okay to feel those feelings. A yoga session may feel like a massage in a way. People with addiction usually neglected their bodies for years and tend to hold a crazy amount of tension in their shoulders, their hips, and their bellies—there is a lot of stuck energy to be released.”

Schwamm usually ends classes with a metta prayer, a Buddhism-inspired prayer of lovingkindness. They are asked to repeat the words of the instructor, extending lovingkindness to themselves, a loved one, someone they are in conflict with, and the wider community. “It’s very powerful when four or five people are saying the prayer together, it heightens its positive effect. It’s simple but very meaningful—one client told me afterward: ‘that was hard to get through without crying, please write that down for me, I need to say this for the rest of my life.’”

If you are seeking a more comprehensive start for your treatment of addiction, contact Valiant Living Detox and Assessment at 303-647-4932 and get the individualized attention you need for stabilization, assessment, and discerning the best next steps in your journey.

The Professionals Program at Valiant Living helps male professionals understand and harmonize their minds and, thus, helps them and their family system heal. If you or a loved one has turned to drugs or alcohol to keep up at work and manage a high degree of daily stress, don’t hesitate to reach out for help by calling us today at 303-952-5035.


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