As a recovering alcoholic, meditation can bring peace and acceptance. It’s an opportunity to breathe into calmness while offering a back door for anxiety and anger to slip out of. In fact, it is one of the most powerful tools I have to overcome the stress that may otherwise lead me to relapse. Meditation for trauma survivors, however, can have an entirely different effect.
For them, their mind is a dark place filled with experiences they may have been attempting to avoid. David Treleaven writes in “Is Mindfulness Safe for Trauma Survivors?”, “For people who’ve experienced trauma, mindfulness meditation can actually end up exacerbating symptoms of traumatic stress. When asked to pay focused, sustained attention to their internal experience, trauma survivors can find themselves overwhelmed by flashbacks and heightened emotional arousal.”
Meditation for Trauma Survivors Is Worth the Effort
Still, meditation for trauma survivors has many healing benefits. If practiced with care, it can positively impact an awareness that reminds the victim that they are safe today and in this moment, giving them a means with which they can use to cope with triggers and memory anxiety. It can help them regulate their emotions. Furthermore, the act of giving yourself the gift of self-care in the form of meditation can increase self-compassion.
But the most surprising benefit of meditation for trauma survivors is that it may actually restructure the brain. According to B Grace Bullock, PhD., brain scans on “23 male Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans” who practiced Mindfulness-Based Exposure Therapy or present-centered group therapy showed increased connections in the systems in the brain that controlled mind wandering and rumination. potentially giving trauma victims greater ability to control “negative thoughts, feelings, and memories that accompany traumatic stress.”
So how does a recovering addict or alcoholic and trauma survivor get the benefits of mindfulness without creating further stress on an already tender mind?
Take Meditation in Small Doses
One way might be to take meditation in small 2-minute doses. In fact, meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting for hours in difficult pretzel-like poses while chanting “om”? Nor does it involve having an empty brain for long periods of time. And it certainly doesn’t include floating inches above the floor while your soul transports to different lands. Although I do think that would be pretty awesome.
In truth, meditation has very few hard rules, and it can be practiced while standing in a crowded grocery store for as little as a few minutes. Furthermore, if you are new to meditation, you might actually have difficulty sitting quietly for a short ten-minute meditation session. Furthermore, short meditation for trauma survivors can help them access mindfulness while limiting the risk of drawing up unwanted memories. Committing to short two-minute daily sessions may be the perfect answer for those wanting to try something new.
Easy 2-Minute Meditation for Trauma Survivors
Here’s how you do it.
1. Make a Commitment to Meditate Daily
It’s not like you have to eliminate your favorite activities in order to meditate for two minutes, so making a commitment to practice meditation once or twice daily should be easy.
2. Pick a Time or a Trigger
Why not pick both? For example, I meditate daily as part of my morning routine. It feels natural to sit quietly for a few minutes and focus on breathing just as I am waking up. In fact, doing this in the morning sets me up for a positive day. I also sometimes practice meditation at the end of the day as a way to destress myself from the struggles of the day. However, it may also be good to decide on a trigger event such as feeling an increase in anxiety or a lowered emotional mood. Meditation during these times can help to reset your disposition.
3. Find a Quiet Place
This can be a place that you find naturally calming such as your back porch surrounded by sounds of nature. However, it can also be in a quiet room at the office. It’s important to note that you can meditate anywhere, including while sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Where ever you are, try to choose a space that makes you feel calm, where you’re not likely to be interrupted or distracted by a lot of noise. It’s important to note that some trauma survivors might feel anxiety at the thought of closing their eyes in a public place. The good news is that this isn’t necessary. You can still meditate while ensuring your surroundings are safe.
4. Sit (or Stand) Comfortably
You don’t want to spend the entire two minutes focusing on how uncomfortable it feels with your leg twisted under your behind. Instead, your body should be relaxed and balanced. If sitting, uncross your legs, let your hands rest on your lap, and point your head straight forward. If you are standing, place your feet shoulder-width apart and balance your weight equally on both. In both positions, be sure to sit up straight with your shoulder comfortably raised as opposed to in a slouch.
5. Remember that the Next Two Minutes Is for You
This will help you let go of outside thoughts. It’s only two minutes, and you can forget about the rest of the world for that small amount of time.
6. Focus on Your Breath
That’s it. For two minutes you will pay close attention to how you are breathing. Take one, deeper than normal, breath in through your nose, then let it out slowly through your mouth. Pay attention to the air as it flows in and out of your nose. Feel how your chest lifts and falls with each inhale and exhale. Imagine it filling your body and refueling your soul. You can even repeat to yourself, “breathing in calm” during the inhale and “breathing out stress” during the exhale.
7. Remember to Refocus
Your mind will want to wander. That’s natural and completely unavoidable. Thoughts like, “did I remember to close the garage door?” or “If so and so is late to work again…” This will happen, but part of the practice is learning how to refocus your mind away from distractions, so you can take it where you want it to go. That is part of the focus.
Repeat steps 6 and 7 for two minutes.
I always like to finish my meditation with an affirmation that helps me focus on something positive for the rest of the day. For example, I might say, “today I am full of smiles for every stranger I meet” or “I will spend my day looking for gifts of gratitude.” On the other hand, you may have something important happening during the day such as an interview for a new job. If that is the case, you could increase positivity by saying, “I will crush that interview.”
Remember, your goal is not to dedicate yourself to the yogi lifestyle. Rather, you are simply trying to introduce mindfulness into your daily habits. Practicing meditation for trauma survivors and recovering addicts for two minutes a day will help you strengthen that habit. And who knows, over time you may discover it has had much more impact on your life than you could have imagined, prompting you to increase your meditation sessions length.
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