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Treating mental health disorders and addiction often requires a multipronged approach to be effective. Human beings move back and forth between different spheres of life at any given moment. Each sphere overlaps to influence a person’s health. Treatment may fail to take hold if the way these various aspects relate to one another is not explored. Meditation is one of several techniques that address the mind-body connection. This article will explain the principles of holistic medicine and why clients should consider incorporating meditation into their long-term recovery plan.

What Is a Holistic Medicine?

Holistic medicine has its roots in “holism,” a concept that was pushed forward by a biologist-philosopher named Jan Christian Smuts in 1926. Holism is a “Way of comprehending whole organisms and systems as entities greater than and different from the sum of their parts.” It describes a comprehensive approach to resolving the root cause of the illness, not just treating symptoms. Holistic medicine is sometimes associated with names like natural or Eastern medicine, but these only describe parts of it. 

Dimensions addressed by this approach to treatment include:

  • Ethics
  • Family
  • Society
  • Biology
  • Spirituality
  • Psychology

Attitude and Set of Values  

On the contrary, holistic medicine is not a list of specific techniques; instead, it is an attitude and set of values applied to health care. Through this lens, a client is viewed as unique. What works for one might not work for another despite sharing the same disorder and set of symptoms. There is an understanding that the clinician and client share a mutual relationship and that individuals play a key role in improving their health. 

The following are three schools of medicine from which holistic medicine derives its principles: 

  1. Humanistic medicine: Focuses on the relationship between the clinician and client
  2. Behavioral medicine: Orientated toward psychosocial causes and effects of a disorder
  3. Psychosomatic medicine: Focuses on interdependence and mutual influence of psychological and physical factors

Types of Holistic Practices

The principles underlying holistic medicine reject the notion of overemphasizing one aspect of the holistic approach at the expense of another. For example, relying on essential oils and yoga to treat anxiety when psychotherapy — or perhaps even prescription medications — may also be needed would violate these principles. 

Holistic medicine is also referred to as complementary or integrative medicine because it considers the relationship between multiple aspects of a person’s well-being and integrates complementary therapies into their treatment plan. This includes conventional techniques like medical tests and procedures.

The National Cancer Institute describes the five categories of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM):

  1. Energy healing like reiki
  2. Mind-body therapies, such as meditation
  3. Biologically-based practices and special diets
  4. Whole medical systems, or Ayurvedic medicine
  5. Manipulative and body-based practices like massage

Why Choose Meditation?

Meditation is one of many CAM techniques used to treat mental health disorders and addiction. Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a “Formal practice that can calm the mind and enhance awareness of ourselves, our minds and our environment.” The purpose of meditation is to become more resilient to challenges by being mindful of what’s happening internally.

Ways to Meditate

Meditative practice is not homogenous; there are many ways a person can participate, depending on their preferences. However, the primary goal is generally the same: to stay grounded in the current moment.

Meditation can look like:

  • Repeating mantras or phrases 
  • Being mindful of one’s breath 
  • Focusing on the feeling of one’s feet making contact with the earth while walking
  • Doing a body scan to heighten awareness of sensations in the body, including tension and stress
  • Taking a compassion-focused approach, which involves having an awareness of suffering in the world

How Meditation Impacts the Brain

Meditation can work by changing brain activity.

The brains of individuals who have meditated over long periods of time have shown increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and hippocampus, while decreased activity occurs in the amygdala. These areas are involved in stress and anxiety, and results indicate that meditation may improve emotional regulation.

When a person is better able to control their emotions, they can respond to things with more composure. This helps to resolve or avoid conflicts and reduces the disorienting effects of stressors. Meditation may be particularly beneficial for individuals managing mental health disorders or recovering from addiction.

Benefits of Meditation

This practice has been found to have a number of benefits in areas of wellness that reinforce each other and contribute to the management of mental health disorders and addiction, such as:

  • Supports abstinence
  • Improves sleep patterns
  • Manages eating patterns
  • Improves mood and overall quality of life
  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Decreases cravings in those with substance use disorders
  • Mitigates pain in adults using opioids for acute or chronic pain
  • Lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels, and other physiologic signifiers of stress

Holistic medicine is an attitudinal approach to healthcare that looks at how the various elements of a person’s life may be contributing to their condition. Treatments for behavioral and emotional disorders consider this, in part, by the integration of various therapeutic techniques like meditation. Meditation facilitates emotional awareness and is helpful for those dealing with cravings and triggers. Facilities like West Coast Recovery Centers also understand the importance of being client-centered and allowing individuals to play an active role in their own recovery. We are a treatment center for adults with addiction and mental health conditions. Located in the coastal city of Oceanside, CA, we provide a scenic environment for clients to reorient themselves on a new path. Our team administers non-traditional therapies like meditation to address areas that traditional modalities overlook. Call (760) 492-6509 to learn more about how meditation can help. 

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