How Fitness and Meditation Nurtured My Mind During Recovery

By Trevor McDonald

If you’ve ever been in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, you’ve probably wondered why so many people encourage you to work out or—worse—practice yoga as part of your recovery. As if simply living a sober life wasn’t hard enough, you’re supposed to practice meditation, too? It can seem overwhelming, and taking care of your body by lifting weights is the last thing you want to do. However, if you stick with your recovery plan, this resistance pattern only lasts during the early stages. Soon enough, you’ll discover just how important fitness and meditation can be to a healthy life.

Focus on fitness

This goes double for those in recovery. The body and brain are both constantly battling to remain sober. Humans need distractions, but those distractions need to be healthy. Exercise, by design, mimics the high addicts get from a fix. No, the high won’t be as severe and you might need to work harder for it. Both exercise and drugs release dopamine in the brain, and dopamine is what the body gets addicted to. This can be for better or worse, but it’s exactly what runners talk about when they mention getting that “high.” For addicts, replacing the high received from drug abuse with a high from exercise is a natural complement.

Try out meditation 

Meditation is also a critical part of recovery. It encourages you to look inward without distractions. This can be a terrifying prospect for anyone, but especially those in recovery. What happens when you look inside without the alcohol's numbness? Are you scared of what you might find? It can be scary, but it’s also a necessary part of growth. Meditation's goal is to achieve a “clear” mind. This doesn’t mean your mind will actually be blank. This rarely happens, even to the most seasoned meditation practitioners. Instead, it’s the practice of acknowledging the thoughts when they come and then dismissing them. It’s a practice. It helps prepare you for facing distractions in life—such as temptations with alcohol or drugs—acknowledge that they exist, and then sending them on their way.

Meditation doesn’t require hours of sitting uncomfortably on the floor. It can mean just a few minutes as soon as you get up in the morning, during a mid-day break, or as part of your sleep hygiene routine. There are also countless tools for meditation. Some do well with a guided meditation in a class setting, while others prefer candle meditation at home. Candle meditation is the practice of lighting and looking at the base of a flame (the tip is often too “hot” to gaze at). Partially close your eyes. Focusing on the movements of the candle can help calm the mind and keep you from stressing about the thoughts that may come.

Find a support group 

Although everyone can benefit from fitness and meditation, there’s a reason they’re so foundational in drug and alcohol recovery. It’s asking your body to depend on healthy substitutes for drugs and alcohol. For many people, this is uncomfortable and unnatural at first. It’s tempting to give up, and many will. It’s trying again that’s the secret. Keep in mind that not all workouts or meditation practices are going to be a good fit for you. Test out new ones, and if you really don’t like one or get bored, try another. From hiking to dancing, yoga to weightlifting, and scores of meditation options, there's going to be a right fit for you if you keep looking. Working out with a friend or in a group setting can provide that added support many people need. If you have others counting on you to show up, you’re more likely to do so.

Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who's been clean and sober for over five years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.