It might seem strange to discuss the benefits of meditation for older adults on a blog about style. But it’s not, really. I firmly believe that you can’t look good if you don’t feel good.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. That’s because the practice really can help soothe anxious or stressed-out bodies and souls.
And in the era of COVID-19, we are all feeling some kind of way about our health, both physical and mental. We’re worried about catching the virus and ending up in the hospital. Or facing weeks of sickness at home. We’re concerned about our loved ones being stricken by the disease. On top of this, we’re frustrated about practically being prisoners in our own homes. Or maybe you’re one of the essential workers who have to summon the courage each weekday to go out into this new world.
Some of us are naturally coping with the times better than others, but all of us are sensing a loss of control over our daily lives. And that’s because we have lost control to the virus. We will get it back, eventually. For now though, for many of us, there are moments when we feel like screaming or cursing or running out the door and doing the things we once did with ease, like shopping for clothes and shoes or dining out.
I know that’s been true for me.
Fortunately, instead of yelling or bolting, I decided to try something new to help with my anxiety. I’ve been into yoga off and on for many years. I’ve taken several classes, and generally, at the end, the instructor will have the students sit or lie down in a relaxed pose while she or he speaks in a soft, soothing tone. Often there’s gentle music in the background, and I’ll soon find myself feeling so calm that I doze off. I quickly came to realize that this exercise at the end of my yoga classes is a form of meditation.
What is meditation exactly? The dictionary says to meditate is to “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” Put another way, I think of meditation as a way to relax or quiet the mind.
To quiet the mind. For most of us, that would be considered wishful thinking. Our minds are going constantly—with worry, planning, and even just plain old mindless chatter. Getting all of that to be still for even a short period of time, especially in this age of information overload, can be really difficult.
That’s where meditation can help. When done well, it removes the noise and slows your thoughts down by gently coaxing you to focus inward. This, in turn, can help you slow your breathing and even lower your heart rate. That’s why the practice of meditation can greatly benefit older adults, both physically and emotionally.
Other potential benefits of meditation for older adults include improving memory, digestion, and circulation, as well as reducing stress and loneliness. (See “The Many Benefits of Meditation for Older Adults” in U.S. News and World Report.)
There are several types of meditation. The kind that I experienced, with the teacher’s voice luring the students into a restful place of calm during yoga class, is called “guided meditation.” Another type is a silent meditation, where the participant does it alone using visualization, chants, and other means of focusing the mind. For obvious reasons, guided meditation with someone leading you along is one of the best for beginners.
When all of this Coronavirus stuff came up and we were told to shelter in place, I decided to further explore guided meditation as well as the benefits of meditation for older adults. I bought books and checked out websites, then I began to take up the practice in my home.
Here are a few tips from what I have learned and other things that I found helpful during my sessions. Just remember that I’m a novice at this, although much further along than I was even a few short weeks ago.
- You can meditate while standing, sitting in a chair or on the floor, or even reclining on a bed. All that matters is that the surrounding area is peaceful and quiet. I prefer to sit yoga-style on the floor using a cushioned meditation mat because I find it easier to get into the mood. A cushion with a pillow is even better for your body. The combination of mat and pillow lifts you up and takes some of the pressure off your knees and ankles. You’ll find mat and pillow suggestions below.
- Sometimes if I want a quick session, I’ll do it while sitting in my office chair. So if you have trouble getting up from the floor, by all means, meditate while sitting in a chair or lying down in your bed.
- Although you’re encouraged to meditate for 20 to 30 minutes or more, when you first start out you may have trouble focusing for that length of time, for either mental or physical reasons. No need to worry or give up. You can try mini-sessions for just a few minutes at a time. Then build up to 10, 15, and 20 minutes or more.
- A soothing scent, either with a candle or essential oils, can add the perfect touch. Two of my favorite scents for relaxing are the ever-popular lavender and rose scents. I’ve used them in both candles and oils.
- A podcast or a video of someone guiding you along with a soothing voice is very helpful when you’re starting out. The speaker’s voice should be one that helps you to relax and that leads your mind to a place of inner calm.
Below are a couple of online guided meditation sessions from Imagine Yoga and Wellness, which is run by my local yoga studio. Each day, they upload a new session that is about 20 minutes long, so you’re very likely to find one that works for you. Both are on Facebook.
- This one uses a candle to focus your attention.
Meditation Using a Candle
- This one uses the soothing sounds of nature and water:
Meditation With Water and Nature
You can also find many guided meditation sessions on YouTube. Following is a 16-minute session that will get you started, but I encourage you to take the time to explore others until you find one that works best for you.
Once life begins to open up again, you can check your local community or senior center for classes in your area. But until then—and who knows how long that will be—you can easily practice meditation on your own right at home.
When you’re ready to go a little deeper in your meditation sessions, try the book, Practical Meditation for Beginners: 10 Days to a Happier, Calmer You. Over 10 days, it will gently guide you, step-by-step, through several kinds of beginning meditation techniques.
Try to be patient with yourself, and don’t worry about being perfect when you start out. Think of what you’re doing as training your mind to slow down, and as with any kind of training it will take time to get good at it.
But you will get better with practice.
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