Meditation for Seniors
Our modern lives are full of all sorts of stressors and challenges. While many of them gradually fall away as we enter our senior years, growing older also introduces a whole new set of physical and mental challenges as our bodies and minds discover further limitations they never had before. It's easy to become overwhelmed by these changes, like losing touch with the world or even with one's sense of identity.
Over the centuries, cultures and religions from different parts of the world have developed contemplative practices intended to improve individuals' connection with themselves and the world around them. Out of all these practices, one that has proven to be the most applicable to facing the challenges of modern life is the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not new. In fact, it has been developed ages ago by Hindu and Buddhist practitioners. The practice of mindfulness heavily emphasizes living in the moment while reducing negative thoughts and lessening their power to take over. These principles are powerful tools for improving one's outlook in life, allowing people to enjoy every moment to their fullest extent.
What is mindfulness, and how can it help?
At the core of mindfulness is the concept and practice of silent meditation. Mindfulness practitioners do this by focusing on breathing and body sensations without distractions. As some people believe, the aim is not to have no thoughts, but to be 'mindful' (hence the term mindfulness) in one's thoughts.
While based on a handful of religious traditions, mindfulness is also harmonious with modern scientific knowledge. It makes no appeals to supernatural entities and makes no claims beyond what you can achieve to clear your mind and become aware of your own senses. That means it won't clash with any belief system you might hold and can be integrated into anyone's daily habits.
How to practice mindfulness?
Here are simple ways to practice mindfulness:
1. Check in with your body
Our bodies have certain functions that allow some organs to work involuntarily without us telling them to. For instance, we breathe without telling our lungs to get oxygen in and let carbon dioxide out. Our heart beats continuously and pumps blood in and out of it to keep every cell in our body oxygenated. These bodily functions keep going unless something happens that could make it stop. And usually, when something goes wrong, we become aware when symptoms show up. In some cases however, these symptoms don’t show until it is too late. Which is why it is important for you to be mindful of your body.
Take a moment to check in with your body. Do you feel okay? What do you notice?
Keeping your body in check can help realign your attention to the present and allow you to learn the information you need to better care of your body.
2. Practice gratitude
When we practice gratitude and be thankful, we divert our attention away from what’s negative and focus our attention to what is good and what is positive in our lives. This way, we can bring out the good stuff in the forefront of our mind instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Remember when they say live in the present moment? Yes, it is another form of mindfulness. By focusing on the positive aspect of life, we can become more available to create a more positive future.
3. Try mind mapping
But first, what is mind mapping?
By definition, mind mapping is a tool to be more aware of your emotions and thoughts. It can help you take an idea and narrow it down to specific ones.
Here's how you do it.
- Get a pen and a piece of clean paper
- Draw a large circle in the center of the paper but make sure that you have space around the circle.
- Write down a main theme that you want to focus on inside the circle you just drew. For example, you can write down family or health.
- Moving out from the middle, write related topics from your main theme; encircle them and draw a line to connect them to the middle circle. (For instance, if you wrote health as your main theme, you can write exercise, or eat more nutritious food in the small circles).
- Write as many related topics as you can. It may include questions, topics, worries, plans, or questions related to your main theme.
4. Practice mindful eating
Who says being mindful only involves thinking, deep breathing, and relaxing? Because, one can also be mindful when eating.
Most of the time most of us do not pay attention to the food that we eat because we are in a rush or we usually pack our lunch, then eat at our work desk. But, research says that we can also practice mindfulness when eating.
Does it sound a bit confusing? Think of it as this, while you eat, rather than on autopilot, observe how you chew, and pay attention to the moment-by-moment experience of eating. Mindful eating is keeping the present moment awareness of what food you put into your body (including beverages you drink). This involves observing how you feel as you consume food and be aware of the signals that your body sends with regards to how the food tastes and your feelings of satisfaction and fullness.
5. Deep breathing exercises
Deep breathing exercises makes you become mindful of your breathing so when you take in air slowly (oxygen) through your nose, oxygen completely fills your lungs.
To perform deep breathing, otherwise known as called diaphragmatic breathing, try the steps below:
- Find a comfortable place to sit in.
- Take a normal breath (inhalation-exhalation) as you normally would.
- After exhaling, take a deep breath and inhale slowly through your nose.
- Feel the air as it enters your nose to your lower belly.
- Allow your abdomen to expand fully.
- After that, exhale through your mouth (or through your nose if it feels better).
Try deep breathing a couple more times. Or if you prefer, you can alternate between deep breathing and normal breathing. Just be sure to be mindful to how you feel as you inhale and exhale. Deep breathing will help you feel relaxed and calm.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Seniors
There are many ways that mindfulness and meditation can benefit seniors. From improving memory to improving digestion, here are some:
Improves memory and cognition
Mindfulness activities like those we discussed have been found to slow down the progression of certain memory-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Although further research are necessary, researchers say that mindfulness can help avoid dysfunction between the brain's synapses, which are the small pockets of space between two cells in our brain. Issues such as dysfunction in these spaces is characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Moreover, study indicates that mindfulness can also help reduce signs and symptoms of depression caused by memory loss.
We all experience some sort of stressors in life. And perhaps you have heard before that the most significant advantage of practicing meditation or mindfulness is stress relief. If left untreated, stress can manifest physically and affect heart rate, hypertension, and headaches.
The brain may be few inches away from our brain and yet they are connected. This means that mindfulness can also have an effect on how our gastrointestinal system's processes. Here's how and here's why mindfulness is beneficial to the digestion:
First, let's tackle circulation. Circulation is the movement of our blood through the vessels of our bodies by the pumping action of the heart. This process is essential in digestive function. Through circulation, oxygen can travel to our intestine and stomach; and allow them to perform properly and more effectively.
When you meditate and practice mindfulness, you focus on deep breathing. Deep breathing can increase blood oxygenation; thereby providing the oxygen needed to fuel the cellular processes of the digestive system.
Get to know more
Want to learn more about mindfulness and how it changes our emotions? Watch the video below: