What Is Mindfulness and How Can We Use It in Recovery?

What Is Mindfulness and How Can We Use It in Recovery?

Updated on 02/19/24

“Be more mindful.” How many times do you hear this or similar statements? Perhaps you see dozens of articles and ads about mindfulness while scrolling through social media. As our world becomes more stressful by the day, the concept and practice of mindfulness have become trendy. Mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities include holistic care, mindfulness and practices that promote mindfulness. Can this practice help you manage your recovery and enjoy a better quality of life?

What Is Mindfulness?

Oxford Languages defines mindfulness as:

  1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
  2. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique

In a 2012 continuing education article for the American Psychological Association, Daphne M. Davis, Ph.D., and Jeffrey A. Hayes, Ph.D., define mindfulness as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment, and it is a state and not a trait. They also differentiate mindfulness from activities such as yoga and meditation. These activities may promote mindfulness, but it is not synonymous with them.

The Origin of Mindfulness

Although mindfulness has become trendy over the years, it has been practiced for about 2600 years, tracing roots to Buddhism. The concept originates from the Pali words “sati,” which implies awareness and attention in the Indian Buddhist tradition, and “vipassana,” which means insight cultivated by meditation. Similar breath-awareness techniques and teachings are found in the Japanese zazen practice and Tibetan Buddhism.

It was not until the 1970s that America’s mindfulness movement began to grow due in part to three catalysts:

  • The founding of the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA
  • The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh
  • John Kabat-Zinn’s teachings downplayed religious aspects and reframed mindfulness as a mental skill acquired through meditation

From the 1990s to the present, interest in mindfulness has continued to grow. Boosted by social media, that interest shows no signs of waning.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Substance Use Treatment

Over the past decade, mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been studied to treat different addictive substances. Some studies have shown that MBIs can reduce cravings and substance misuse and established empirical evidence for the use of MBIs in the treatment of psychiatric and substance use disorders (SUD).

Initially, standardized MBIs focused on lessening emotional distress, which was effective. More recently, MBIs have been developed to address addiction specifically:

  • Mindfulness-Based Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)
  • Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE)

MBIs are usually delivered in a group therapy environment over approximately eight weeks in SUD treatment. The clinician guides participants in different mindfulness practices followed by a debriefing session and new psychoeducational materials. In addition, MBIs can include take-home assignments of formal and informal mindfulness exercises and require monitoring of symptoms like cravings.

Simple Ways to Create a Daily Mindfulness Practice

Everything in our world moves and changes so quickly that it can be overwhelming and exhausting trying to keep up. Sometimes this stress can trigger cravings and lead to relapse. Even if you do not have a clinician to guide you in formal MBIs, there are some simple ways to develop your daily mindfulness practice. This can help you slow down and examine your body’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations nonjudgmental. Mindfulness practices are easily added to your daily routine and can be practiced year-round.

Some informal ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life include:

  • Living in the moment. Try to approach everything you do with openness and acceptance while focusing on the present moment. Enjoy the simple pleasures in your life.
  • Engaging all of your senses. Slow down and take time to experience the world with all of your senses. For example, listen closely to the sounds around you or savor the meal you are eating.

More formal ways to practice mindfulness are:

  • Meditation: This can be walking or sitting meditation. When practicing sitting meditation, sit upright comfortably with your feet on the floor, back straight and your hands in your lap. Breathe through your nose and focus on the air flowing in and out of your body. If thoughts pass through your mind, acknowledge them, let them pass, and continue your meditation. For a walking meditation, find a space about 10 or 20 feet long and begin walking. With this meditation, you focus solely on the experience of walking. Become aware of the subtle movements that maintain balance and be mindful of your feet as they touch the floor. When you get to the end of your path, turn around and start again.
  • Body scan: Lie on your back with arms and legs extended with your palms facing upwards. Starting at your head or your feet, you can begin to focus on each body part. Be aware of the emotions and sensations you feel and your thoughts associated with each body part as you scan your body. Remember, this is a nonjudgmental practice. Your thoughts, sensations and emotions are neither good nor bad. Just take note of them and accept them.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be beneficial to recovery and in general as it:

  • Interrupts the automatic reaction to reach for substances in response to cravings
  • Lowers stress and anxiety
  • Improves mood
  • Improves focus

Choosing to stop using substances is a way to live a healthier, fuller life. When you add mindfulness practice to your recovery, you can make it an even more positive, focused and intentional process.

If you are searching for a substance use treatment facility that integrates holistic modalities—such as mindfulness, yoga and conscious recovery—Casa Palmera can help you start your recovery journey. If you or a loved one are considering substance use disorder treatment, call Casa Palmera (855) 508-0473 to learn more about how we can help you start your mindful, holistic recovery.  


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.