Mindfulness draws from many aspects of Buddhism. It is not a belief system but a “be here now” approach to life that is enriched through practicing meditation. Mindfulness meditation is used by people from every walk of life and they claim to feel happier, less anxious and more spontaneous. The goal of mindfulness is to make life itself a meditation and to become mindful and in control even in difficult or tedious times.
Elderly practitioners of mindfulness meditation experience improved longevity. One study followed a large number of seniors and found a significant decrease in mortality rates among those who meditate. A National Institutes of Health study suggested that meditation may improve longevity by preventing cellular aging. Research indicates that up to 50% of all people over 85 have some form of dementia. Meditation and breathing exercises may protect the brain against anxiety, stress and depression which can worsen Alzheimer’s symptoms. At the same time, meditation stimulates the memory centers within the brain. New evidence shows that mindfulness helps maintain both long-and short-term memory functions which are invaluable allies as we grow older.
Regular meditation causes the physical structure of the brain to change which can sharpen mental alertness and ward off decline. The region of the brain associated with negative emotions such as stress, worry and anxiety can shrink, while the areas responsible for self-awareness, personality development and planning increase. Of great benefit to seniors, those who meditate experience improved focus, creativity and cognitive function.
Physiological changes in seniors may influence mood stability and make it hard to control our emotional reactions. Other factors at play may involve an adjustment to the loss of independence, the passing of people and beloved pets, and increased feelings of isolation. Meditation, with its focus on non-judgmental presence, teaches us to observe our emotions without being compelled to react to them. Meditation enhances positive feelings of well-being and empathy for others. It promotes connectedness and may in fact inhibit gene inflammation that has been linked to feelings of loneliness.
Diet and age can affect our digestive functions. Luckily, it appears that meditation can improve digestion. The deep breathing that takes place naturally during meditation improves circulation and increases oxygen levels in the blood. For the elderly, regular meditation may alleviate digestive issues not caused by other ailments. A study conducted in Thailand found that seniors who engage in walking meditation can reduce depression, boost functional fitness and vascular reactivity, thus improving their overall sense of well-being.
Mindfulness for seniors has a calming effect that can’t be achieved with prescription drugs. Meditation helps the elderly relax, organize thoughts more efficiently, and maintain a clear perspective. Taking 20 minutes each day to sit still and meditate can give your life more meaning. Results may include better focus, enhanced calmness, less anxiety and improved sleep. You are bound to be happier, well grounded and more mentally alert.
Here are seven beginner’s tips to get you started on the road to a more peaceful life with meditation practice. Meditate at the same time every day as this will make it part of your usual routine. The best way to begin your practice is to meditate for just two minutes a day and work up to longer sessions. Put on comfortable clothing and recline on a sofa or sit in a chair where you won’t be disturbed. Start by counting your breaths. Inhale deeply, then exhale slowly. Each exhale completes one cycle. Count to 10, then begin again. As you begin to meditate, your mind may wander. This is natural. Bring yourself back to the present moment by again focusing on your breaths and counting each cycle. It may help to close your eyes. If you feel your wandering mind is slipping into negative feelings begin focusing on your breathing once more. Some people like to begin and end their meditation practice with a mantra, such as “I am thankful for today,” “I am a good, deserving person” or “I am grateful for my gifts and talents.” These positive sentiments prepare your mind for meditation and help you to feel peaceful for the rest of the day. To benefit from the full effects of meditation you should practice every day. You will be able to hold your focus longer and will feel better able to control your emotions and level of stress. Positive thoughts make for a healthy mind.