As we age it is important that we find ways to help manage stress and calm anxiety. Keeping mentally, spiritually, and physically healthy is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle as we get older.
Meditation is one of the most popular activities that we can incorporate into our lifestyle that has minimal impact on the physical body and can offer great benefits for overall wellbeing.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice that has existed for thousands of years, focusing on the nexus of brain, mind, body, and behavior. Meditation was originally used to deepen one’s understanding of the sacred and mystical. For centuries meditation has been used to increase calmness and physical relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, and enhance one’s overall health and well-being.
There are many forms and styles of meditation with varying goals. For example, while Christian meditation focuses on attachment to God and filling the mind with prayer or Scripture, Eastern meditation focuses on emptying the mind and detachment.
“In Christianity, meditation is part of the contemplative practices and devotions,” Deborah Greatrix-Tyler, Chaplain for Elderwood Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living Communities. “My advice is always to allow the first 20 minutes for the mind to settle down and not to become discouraged by distractions. After the first 20 minutes, one can more fully embrace the contemplative and meditative practices.”
Types of meditation
Guided meditation – This form of meditation focuses on forming mental images of peaceful, positive and relaxing places or situations. A person practicing this form of meditation will try to utilize as many senses as possible such as sights sounds, smells, and textures. This can be practiced alone or with a teacher or guide.
Mantra meditation – This form of meditation involves silently repeating a word or set of words. Mantras can be developed personally, or one can use a traditional mantra, such as the Jesus prayer from Eastern Orthodox Church, the holy name of God from Judaism, or the om mantra from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Eastern religions.
Mindfulness meditation – This form of meditation practices being mindful and tapping into an increased awareness and acceptance of the present moment. From the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness meditation is the most popular form of meditation in the West and helps to broaden conscious awareness by using a variety of breathing techniques. This form of meditation allows one to observe one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment.
Qi Gong- Part of Chinese medicine, this practice is an amalgamation of meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises with a goal of restoring and maintaining balance.
Tai Chi– A form of gentle Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi is a self-paced series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner while engaging in deep breathing.
Transcendental meditation – The most popular form of meditation worldwide, this form of meditation is the silent repetition of a mantra in a specific manner. Practitioners of this form of meditation state that this may help one settle into a state of deep relaxation and restfulness, achieving inner peace, without effort or concentration.
Yoga – This form of meditation utilizes a series of postures with controlled breathing exercises. Yoga is said to promote a flexible body and a calm mind.
Meditation in Christianity – Many saints followed and taught various approaches to Christian meditation, among which include The Way of Perfection from St. Theresa of Avila, the meditations of Saint Francis de Sales, rosary meditation, prayer meditation and more. There are other forms of meditation that vary amongst different denominations. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, meditative prayer includes Hesychasm prayer and the Jesus prayer.
Ways seniors can incorporate meditation
Those with difficulty moving may prefer to choose mental or spiritual exercises instead of physical forms of meditation such as yoga. In terms of physical practices such as Tai Chi or yoga, there are several options to access videos such as YouTube, accessing your preferred streaming services, or renting DVDs from your local library.
Some may prefer to meditate alone while others may prefer to find a teacher or guide for forms of mediation such as Guided Imagery, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga.
There are also many apps that seniors can download to help with guided meditation exercises. Headspace is a popular app used for guided meditation. Through this app, you can choose a specific goal for your meditation. There are options for topics like stress relief, guided sleep meditation, or overall healthy living.
It’s important to know that meditation takes practice. You can expect distractions, no matter how long one has been practicing meditation. It is common for your mind to wander. Do not stress or feel like you are failing if your mind wanders. Just slowly return to your meditation.
Before starting meditation
If considering meditation as a form of medical treatment, be sure to consult with your doctor first. Meditation can be complementary to certain treatments but should not be a replacement for treatment prescribed for specific conditions. As a lifestyle practice, meditation is a wonderful way for seniors, and people of all ages, to achieve a variety of benefits right in the comfort of their own home.