This Stoptober, use meditation to fight any cravings you experience. An ancient practice that’s helped humans for over 5,000 years, meditation comes in many different forms.
All meditation practices are good for focus and concentration. But there’s some specific techniques that are good for fighting cravings.
If you want to help strengthen your willpower and calm your mind, read on for expert advice about the best types of meditation to tackle your Stoptober cravings.
1. RAIN meditation
Ollie Bray, Meditation Teacher with international mindfulness organisation Breathworks, recommends using the RAIN meditation technique when you experience difficult cravings.
First developed over 20 years ago by Vipassana Instructor Michele McDonald, RAIN is an acronym that stands for:
Let’s break these down further and explain how to practise the RAIN meditation technique this Stoptober.
Start by recognising the feelings of a craving. This may be feeling tense, irritable, or sensing a tightness in the throat or belly. Recognising you’re experiencing a habit craving is the first step to feeling calmer.
Don’t push the feelings away or try to change them, as this is counter-productive. Ollie says: ‘Just accept the cravings as they are, even if they’re unpleasant.’
Investigate with kindness – check out the sensations in your body. Don’t get carried away with the story they tell e.g. that you have to have a cigarette or your head will explode.
Non-identification means noticing that these sensations aren’t an integral part of you and choosing not to identify with them.
Your Stoptober cravings are just an impermanent set of changing sensations, and they won’t be around for long.
The letter ‘N’ in the RAIN acronym is sometimes referred to as ‘natural awareness’. This means being aware that the sensations will pass.
The more you practice non-identification, the more this awareness becomes second nature or ‘natural’.
Whenever you experience an addiction craving, remember RAIN. Use it as an easy tool to help calm you throughout the day.
Work through the acronym step by step and be kind to yourself if you forget a step.
Just try again next time – RAIN isn’t about perfection, it’s about acceptance and kindness. And you’ll feel calmer each time you try it.
2. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a practice where you focus on what you’re sensing in the present moment.
This could be by being aware of your body or breath, or by accepting your thoughts as they are and letting go of any judgement.
Dr. Judson Brewer – an addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist – found that mindfulness training was a more effective method than the previous Gold Standard Treatment Programme for overcoming nicotine addiction.
Through his research, he’s found that practising mindfulness is the most effective treatment for overcoming addictions like smoking.
Meditation expert Ollie Bray advocates Dr. Brewer’s research. He says mindfulness helps a great deal when it comes to fighting cravings, and eventually, giving up a habit for good.
Pay close attention to the addiction
Ollie says that, to practice mindfulness, you need to pay close attention to your moment-to-moment experience when acting out the addiction.
So start practising mindfulness by paying attention to the addiction, for example, smoking. When you smoke, start to notice everything about the habit.
Notice how the reward you’re getting isn’t as good as you think it’s going to be.
For example, be mindful of the fact you have to leave your friends to stand outside in the rain. Or, notice how your cigarette tastes awful and that bad taste isn’t satisfying you anymore.
When you act mindfully in this way a few times, your craving naturally decreases. This is because you realise it isn’t actually delivering the reward it seemed to promise.
3. Breathing meditation
Breathing is a simple yet powerful meditative tool.
There are many ways to practice breathing meditation. But the most common technique is to find a comfortable sitting position and focus on your breathing deeply into your belly (rather than your chest).
Practising breathing meditation for Stoptober
Here’s the easiest way to practice breathing meditation:
- Inhale through your nose
- Feel the breath travelling downwards into your belly area, spreading its energy throughout your body
- Slowly exhale through your nose or mouth
- Repeat the cycle, relaxing as much as possible as you do so
Repeat this technique over a few minutes, slowing your breath and focusing on it for each inhale and exhale cycle.
If your mind wanders, just acknowledge the thoughts. Concentrate on coming back to the breath.
Catherine Banks, Meditation Teacher and Trainer at the British School of Meditation explains why mindful breathing is so important:
‘Research shows that practicing simple meditation techniques over a period of time – like focusing on the breath – alters the neural pathways in the brain.
‘And, more specific to addictive behaviours, is that regular meditation alters the working of the pre-frontal cortex.’
The pre-frontal cortex is the brain’s emotion and self-regulatory centre. This is the part of our brain which helps us not to act on impulse.
Long-term change of this function strengthens your brain. And this gradually makes it easier to resist cravings.
How does breathing meditation help?
Catherine explains that breathing meditation helps reduce activity in the amygdala – your brain’s fear and stress response.
Because mindful breathing slows amygdala activity down, it helps slow the stress response. And this helps calm your mind.
It can be hard to get started with mindful breathing, especially if you have lots of thoughts racing around your mind. There’s no pressure to sit for ages focusing on your breath, though.
Instead, set a timer for one or two minutes and test out the technique. Then, once you’re happy with breathing mindfully for a couple of minutes, increase the timer to as long as you feel comfortable with.
How long should you practise mindful breathing?
Aim for five to ten minutes of breathing meditation daily, but if you’re happier with one or two minutes – stay there.
Every effort you make helps towards fighting your Stoptober cravings and achieving your long-term goals.
4. Loving kindness meditation
Loving kindness is a meditation practice which focuses on being kind to yourself and others. It’s a great tool to use during Stoptober and all year round.
This technique can be helpful if you struggle with focusing inwardly for a whole practice. This is because loving kindness incorporates outward projections towards others as well as yourself.
Loving kindness is a great alternative to inward-based meditations like mindful breathing. Or, it can be used in conjunction with another meditative practice.
How to start a loving kindness practice
Begin by deciding on three to four positive and reassuring phrases such as:
- May I be happy
- May I be healthy
- May I be safe and free from harm
- May I live life to its fullest extent
Slowly repeat these mantras either aloud or inwardly, relishing the love and compassion you’re showing yourself.
Next, shift your focus to a loved one – a partner, child or other close family member. Calmly extend these positive phrases towards them.
As you echo your words, feel love for your chosen person and bask in empathy and compassion for a few moments.
Then, extend your loving kindness to another important person in your life – a close friend or neighbour. Then, maybe an acquaintance. You may even want to extend your love to every being on the planet.
Why is loving kindness meditation helpful?
Catherine Banks recommends loving kindness as an important meditation tool for Stoptober. And for helping us be kind to ourselves in the long-term:
‘Sending good thoughts and wishes to ourselves and other people enhances the Oxytocin production in our brain – this is a ‘feel good’ hormone and is effective in reducing the stress response.‘
You could stick to two or three people, or if you have the time, branch out to include many more.
Although when you first start to develop a loving kindness practice, it helps to send good thoughts to just yourself (or one other person).
As you build up your practice to incorporate others, you may try directing loving kindness towards difficult people in your life.
This helps create long-term feelings of forgiveness and an increased sense of inner peace.
If you enjoy the practice and find that loving kindness helps calm you, you can develop your knowledge at online workshops or weekend retreats (such as this one).
Why consistent practice is key
With all of these meditation techniques, the most important thing to remember is that long term benefits – like calmness and mental strength – come from consistent practice.
Meditating for a few minutes every day will be more beneficial than practising for an hour a week. And you’ll be more likely to resist your cravings this way, too.
Meditation is an incredible tool to fight Stoptober cravings and create a deep sense of inner calm. It helps you develop a different relationship with your thoughts.
Through regular meditative practice, you’ll learn to understand yourself more. You’ll recognise when triggers arise in your body and you’ll know how to respond to them with tools like mindful breathing or RAIN practice.
Once you become aware of how you’re acting, you’ve achieved the first step to true change.
Ollie Bray is a Meditation Teacher with international charity Breathworks, one of the founding members of The British Association of Mindfulness-Based Approaches (BAMBA). Find out more about their work here.
Catherine Banks is an Accredited Meditation Teacher and Trainer (British School of Meditation). Find out more about her work here.