How Mindfulness Meditation Benefits Seniors
Most of us are easily distracted by our thoughts, and are caught up in what’s going on in our head instead of what’s right in front of us. We worry about the future or ruminate on the past. And in our busy lives, we often feel the need to rush through tasks to get to the next thing on our list. We miss out because we’re on autopilot. But we don’t have to be.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an awareness of the inner workings of our thoughts, the effect of our emotions and our physical being. We’re in the moment. We can fully enjoy the pleasures of life and the people around us. But being mindful takes work. Practicing mindfulness meditation benefits us by training our awareness. We learn to purposefully pay attention to the present, letting go of mental distractions and chatter.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Very simply, it’s a regular practice that trains you to become fully aware of the current moment and integrate that awareness into your everyday life.
How does mindfulness meditation work?
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. However, scientists are just beginning to understand how it affects the connection between our mind and our body. There’s growing evidence to suggest that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re remodeling its wiring and makeup. This characteristic of the brain is known as neuroplasticity.
The rigor of mindfulness meditation increases neuroplasticity by keeping your brain’s efficiency, capacity and flexibility in good working order. It lights up large networks within the brain, helping minimize brain aging and protect against age-related cognitive decline. Mindfulness meditation is also said to actually increase the brain’s gray matter; regions that control speech and muscle control, seeing and hearing, memory, decision-making and self-control.
How does mindfulness meditation benefit you?
Training yourself in moment-to-moment awareness allows you to build the skill of mindfulness and apply it to everyday life. You become less reactive to your thoughts and feelings, and more in control. This improves your physical and mental health, and brings about positive changes to self-esteem, attitudes and behaviors. As it creates functional and structural changes in your brain, mindfulness meditation changes the relationship between your thoughts and how you respond to them.
Older adults often have trouble with sleep disturbances. It’s hard to feel energized after tossing and turning all night. Mindfulness meditation can be part of a solution for insomnia. You’re less likely to get caught up in the worries and anxious thoughts preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Along with diet and exercise, mindfulness meditation is a good addition to your weight maintenance toolbox. You’ll build an awareness of the emotional triggers causing you to overeat. You’ll accept and appreciate your body and be more positively motivated toward it, rather than focusing on dissatisfaction and body shame.
As you meditate on the present or the task at hand, you lower the level of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone responsible for wide-ranging and adverse effects on your immune and endocrine systems. It’s believed that even a single weekly session of mindfulness meditation has an impact on cortisol.
Meditation for long periods of time can also be beneficial for your brain by improving visual perception, attention span and working memory. A comprehensive study by scientists at University of California-Davis found that it increases the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that protects the health of your body cells.
Get Started with Mindfulness Meditation
Start with 1 or 2 minutes a day. Gradually increase the time to at least 20 minutes over a few weeks. For more ideas on meditation techniques, try a free app like Calm or Insight Timer. Websites such as Headspace or Ten Percent Happier offer helpful free resources for beginning meditators.
1. Find a quiet place to sit while you meditate.
2. Close your eyes if that feels more comfortable to you.
3. Focus your concentration on your breath moving in and out.
4. Observe your flow of inner thoughts and emotions.
5. Allow these thoughts to come and go without judgment.
6. Become aware when your mind wanders into planning, criticism or daydreaming.
7. Note the thought or feeling, e.g., “I’m worrying,” or “I’m sad about what happened.”
8. Observe yourself without judgment.
9. Redirect yourself back to your breath.
10. Try and try again.
Above all, be kind and forgiving toward yourself as you practice mindfulness. The process isn’t easy and may not seem relaxing or rewarding at first, but stick with it … over time, it will be the key to greater equanimity. Even a couple of minutes a day makes a difference. As you achieve self-acceptance in small, and eventually larger, doses with each mindfulness meditation session, you’ll be able to bring that same sense of balance and calm to the rest of your day.
At Regency Oaks, we offer an approach to independent living that enables you to truly enjoy the present moment. From daily fitness and wellness programs to chef-prepared meals to a therapy room and hot tub, everything is in place to help you stay happy and healthy in mind, body and spirit. Learn more about our remarkable lifestyle.