When I was in early recovery, it was suggested to me by a few different parties that I should try to meditate.
So I tried seated meditation, the traditional kind of meditation where you sit cross legged and close your eyes and let your mind go blank for a while. I did that for a few weeks and really gave it an honest effort. While I saw some benefits to this seated meditation practice, I did not really feel as if it were life changing for me. The benefits were not tangible or impressive enough for me to keep devoting time to it every single day.
A while later I took another suggestion from my therapist to start exercising. At the time my father was an avid runner who was running six miles every single day. I had never really jogged in my life before and quite honestly I had a few limitations that sort of prevented this–for one thing I had fairly severe asthma growing up, and still have it as an adult.
However, I felt like I needed to do something in my recovery. Something was missing. I was also still clinging to a cigarette addiction in my recovery, even though I had been clean and sober for over a year now, I was still a regular smoker. So I wanted to fix that and I also wanted to somehow get whipped into shape.
I cannot really explain how this transition happened, other than I made a decision and somehow summoned the willingness to go out and start jogging with my father. I started with 2 miles and slowly worked my way up to 6 miles, which felt like a miracle that I could even do it.
He did not run very fast and therefore neither did I. But we jogged 10 minute miles, and we ran on steep hills, and we ran 6 miles every single day.
Now in terms of the impact that this new habit had on my recovery, I would say that it had a massive impact that I seriously miscalculated at first. I had no idea just how beneficial it would be for me.
Now I realize that different things work for different people in recovery. Some people really thrive with seated meditation and it is their ultimate solution for nearly every problem in their life.
Exercise became like that for me. So different strokes for different folks–you may just have to experiment and keep taking suggestions from your recovery mentors until you find the thing that really works for you.
I would argue, however, that engaging in intense physical exercise and getting into good physical shape is going to have at least some positive impact on just about anyone who can pull it off.
The problem is, none of us really want to do it.
Which sounds easier: Jogging 6 miles each day, or a 20 minute seated meditation session? Obviously people are going to gravitate towards the “easier, softer way.” But think about recovery itself for a moment, and realize that none of us got clean and sober by taking the easier and softer way. We tried the easier and softer way, which was to just moderate our drinking or drug use, and it didn't work for us. So perhaps that is a clue that we are going to need to look at recovery solutions such as “getting into great physical shape with daily workouts and massive amounts of discipline” and just accept that we might have to do the hard work.
Stop and consider for a moment that you are out trying to jog for the first time ever, and you are standing there bent over, huffing and puffing with exhaustion. And someone comes along who is light on their feet and grinning from ear to ear and they offer to jog with you for a bit. This other person is obviously in great shape, while you are struggling just to catch your breath. Why is it like this?
Obviously, the other person is already in good shape. Running for them is easy, playful, even joyful. That is what it means to be in shape. To be so used to exercising that you actually look forward to it.
So what I am telling you is this: Being in great shape is where the full benefits are at for your recovery. You will feel better, have more energy, be emotionally more stable, have dopamine coursing through your body every day, and so on. If you are in great physical shape then this will have a massive impact on the quality of your sobriety. Period.
The problem is getting into great shape. It takes a whole lot of work.
But just like all the effort that goes into turning your life around in early recovery, going to those AA meetings every single day and working with a sponsor is going to pay off eventually.
It doesn't happen overnight. And that is how the exercise habit works too. You don't go out for your first jog and suddenly feel transformed and wonderful overnight. It is going to take some time. You are going to have to pay your dues. Just as you had to pay your dues when you first quit drinking, and maybe you went to rehab and eventually to meetings so that you could rebuild your life, your self esteem, and your spirituality from the ground up. It took a lot of effort and it took a lot of time.
I was clean and sober for about 2 full years without having exercised yet. I was living a decent life in recovery and I was also making progress with the steps, going to therapy, and working with a sponsor. But until I made this leap into the world of physical fitness, something was definitely missing for me.
So all of the benefits that I felt that I got from seated meditation were fully replicated and even enhanced through physical exercise for me. Meaning that, given the choice, I would take jogging over seated meditation every time, because I feel like the benefits of jogging are deeper and more thorough than that of seated meditation. For me, both are good, but jogging is better when it comes to creating mental clarity and emotional balance.
When you go for a jog on your usual route, you often go through your mental to do list, your future grocery visit, and so on. But that quickly plays out, and then your mind just falls into a trance like state, and you are effectively meditating for the rest of the run. It's wonderful, and the benefits of this are huge. These are the same mental and emotional benefits that people are aiming for in seated meditation.
Check with your doctor first, but if you are cleared to get into physical shape, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It tend to think of it as one of the stronger pillars of my own recovery.
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