At Alpha Sober House we believe strongly in getting centred and grounded through some kind of breathwork or meditation practice. These are valuable tools in getting sober and staying sober. Most people know what meditation is, but what is breathwork?
Breathwork is a new modality which is often used in addiction treatment centres to help addicted people train their nervous system. But in reality it is just a new name for something that has existed for thousands of years.
Many human cultures have developed ways of using the breath to control heart rate and nervous system function. These traditions are often thousands of years old. Tibetan meditation traditions for example, have pioneered the use of the breath to slow the heart rate down. This then allows the meditator to tolerate cold temperatures. Many people will have heard tales of monks meditating in the snow, deep in the Himalayas. Well, these tales have some basis in truth. The tradition is known as Tummo, and Tummo has a modern counterpart – the Wim Hof method.
Wim Hof is a dutch national who holds many records for cold exposure, including sitting in ice blocks for longer than anyone else, swimming underwater in the arctic circle, and even running a marathon bare chested in the arctic circle. Wim uses special breathing techniques to heat himself up from the inside before engaging in these superhuman feats. Of course, he also regularly exposes himself to the cold by wild swimming and other techniques.
Wim claims that regular short doses of cold exposure combined with his easy to learn breathing techniques, have helped him to strengthen his immune system. In one study, scientists found that people using his method were able to repel infections from endotoxins better than a control group. This lends some credence to the idea that breathing exercises (and regular cold exposure) can strengthen the auto-immune response.
The Wim Hof method is increasingly being used by people who are working in the field of self-improvement. At Alpha Sober House we use an ice bath to recover after exercise periods. This is voluntary of course, but most of our clients find it aids them greatly in both mental and physical relaxation. We also use breathing exercises before all of our therapeutic groups.
THAI INSIGHT MEDITATION
Another type of traditional breathwork we use at Alpha Sober Living, is the simple ‘rising-falling’ technique common in Thai insight meditation.
Thai insight meditation is more commonly known as vipassana (or mindfulness). It can also be good for people in recovery because vipassana is excellent for cravings. Unlike concentration meditation which is more common in Mahayana Buddhism, vipassana allows the thoughts to surface. The meditator then acknowledges the thought and sits with it. Vipassana can be done in sitting walking or lying posture, so it is good for westerners who are not particularly used to sitting cross legged.
By following the breath as it rises or falls, the meditator can monitor changes in his or her emotions and more accepting of itches or moderate pain. Mindfulness is even prescribed as a treatment method for pain management by some health services (such as the NHS in the UK). As the opioid epidemic has swept the US, Europe and Australia, it has become increasingly important to find self-directed techniques to help manage pain, rather than just relying on pills. It is a well-known fact that long term use of opioid analgesics actually increases pain, a condition known as hyperalgesia.
At Alpha Sober House, we use mindfulness in the Thai tradition to help our clients reduce their automatic reactions to irritation and pain, by becoming more mindful. This also helps to reduce the intensity of drug cravings.
In recovery from addiction, we gain success by consistency. It is one thing to discover something that helps us in our recovery, and start doing. But is entirely another thing to keep doing it with consistency. This is where being part of a recovery community helps. When we are part of a recovery community our peers can help to motivate us when we are feeling uninspired. Being accountable to a group also helps us to stick to our recovery goals better than being on our own. Especially in early recovery.