“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hahn
While meditation has become more common in younger generations, the idea of it can feel foreign, or even strange, to many older adults. However, by overcoming that initial reaction, grandparents and seniors can learn to enjoy having a regular meditation practice - and all of the benefits that come with it.
As you meditate, the brain actually changes, shifting activity from the right frontal cortex to the left. As it does, your brain receives signals to calm itself; while the right frontal cortex houses stress, the left frontal cortex is known for being calm and steady.
Meditation, although a formal practice, can be enjoyed in a variety of ways - from simple breath-awareness practices to sessions that use mantras, or repeated words and phrases. Whichever method of meditation you choose to try, you’ll begin to notice several immediate benefits. And, if you stay consistent with your practice, you’ll also get to enjoy many of the long-term benefits of meditation.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health. When you meditate, your breathing slows down, helping to align it with the rhythms produced by your heart. This means that meditation not only has the possibility of helping you breathe more easily, but it can also decrease your blood pressure. Some data shows that, because of its ability to decrease inflammation in the body, meditation can even help people with coronary artery disease. And, because it improves circulation, a meditation practice can also be helpful for keeping the digestive system healthy and functioning, something that becomes problematic for many seniors as they age.
- Reduced Pain. For many aging adults, chronic pain becomes part of daily life. And, while many resort to either coping with the pain or taking prescriptions, meditation offers a natural way to reduce chronic pain and headaches.
- Better Sleep. While seniors might struggle to get as much sleep as they used to when they were younger, that doesn’t mean that they need less of it. Getting a healthy 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night is just as important for older adults - maybe even more so. Meditation can help improve sleep by relieving stress and helping the brain shift from the right frontal cortex to the left. By triggering the “relaxation response”, studies have proven that meditation, especially when practiced for at least 20 minutes each day, improves how you sleep - even for individuals who deal with insomnia.
- Improved Memory. According to Jean Lengenfelder, a neuropsychologist and assistant director of traumatic brain injury research at the Kessler Foundation, “meditation is associated with enhanced short- and long-term memory”. Furthermore, a regular meditation practice can actually prevent cognitive decline by preserving cognitive function. Numerous studies have come to the conclusion that meditation is positively linked to functions such as attention, memory, processing speed, and general cognition.
- Decreased Stress and Emotional Distress. According to Dr. Stephanie Cheng, a palliative care physician in the division of geriatrics at the University of California—San Francisco, meditation, even short sessions, can help seniors “feel a greater sense of well-being”. And, Lengenfelder also adds that "meditation has been shown to decrease stress and have a calming effect on older adults…They have improved focus, and their mind is sharp”. Not to mention, some studies suggest that meditation is an effective way to combat the loneliness many older adults feel.
As you age, your physical body changes. But, what goes more unnoticed, your emotions and mind also undergo major shifts. For this reason, meditation can be exceptionally beneficial to older adults, specifically because it creates a source of steadiness even in the midst of ongoing ups and downs.
Accessible and effective, starting a meditation practice, no matter your age, just might be the best decision you’ll make for your ongoing health - body, mind and spirit. And, while there are plenty of apps and online videos that promise to help, there is no substitution for a trained meditation teacher guiding your practice, especially when you are first starting out.
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This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical issue or disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this article and will not be held responsible for the content of this article. The information in this article is not intended to replace a personal relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your personal health care provider for specific medical advice.