Now that we’ve spent some time introducing mindfulness, breathework, and the reasons why these practices are so helpful for living alcohol-free, let’s dive into meditation. Meditation is a focused type of mindfulness that adds another portable tool to our toolbox and builds on our favorite concept: neuroplasticity.
Why meditation? If you think it sounds a little hokey, take a look at the scientifically proven benefits of meditation and think again:
Improved emotional health
Longer attention span
Early research shows it may improve age-related memory loss
Can decrease blood pressure
So how does meditation impact the brain? Meditation changes our brain in so many positive ways, but Mindful points out four particular changes you may see with consistent practice:
Increased gray matter in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (cognitive flexibility) Prefrontal Cortex (impulse control, decision making, planning), and the Hippocampus (learning, memory, stress). We know that sustained alcohol use can weaken and decrease the gray matter in these areas; we can reverse damage done by alcohol in the brain.
Decreased Amygdala size: where our “fight or flight” system lives, meaning we have lessened stress responses with prolonged meditation practice
Strength in positive neural pathways, diminished strength in negative neural pathways: meditation is a very intentional form of building neuroplasticity and can literally change our thoughts with practice
Decreased activity in our Default Mode Network (DMN), otherwise known as “monkey mind.” You know when your thoughts bounce around uncontrollably? This quiets down with meditation practice.
In its simplest form, meditation is simply the practice of directing your attention to your breath, and bringing your attention back to the breath if and when it wanders. (Because it will!) There are many different varieties and variations of meditations, though, and finding what works best for you is a journey. While it would be impossible to cover every single kind of meditation today, we’ll look at a few meditations for those just starting out.