Meditation Benefits for the Elderly
Meditation has been practiced in nearly every culture and religion throughout history. Meditation’s benefits have been rigorously studied by researchers, bringing benefits to veterans suffering PTSD, women healing from breast cancer, and children dealing with anxiety.
How well does meditation help the elderly?
According to studies summarized in the November-December 2005 issue of Geriatric Nursing, meditation brings elderly practitioners an immense wealth of benefits. Even more importantly, the benefits of meditation can even be brought to those who are facing challenges with dementia. That sub-group was specifically addressed in the Volume 2 of 2019 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. With meditation, the most vulnerable seniors enjoy a non-medicinal pathway toward releasing anxiety and stress.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is exercise for the brain. Just like doing arm curls helps your arms become stronger, doing meditation helps your brain focus better, build its ability to concentrate, and handle challenges more smoothly.
The beauty of meditation is that it can be done by any person in nearly any situation. A person doesn’t need any special equipment or long, complicated training. Meditation is an activity that nearly any person can learn and benefit from.
What Are The Benefits of Meditation?
Our brain controls every aspect of our body, from the way we sleep to how well we digest food, from how we process emotions to the energy we bring to our daily tasks.
Because of that, improvements in our brain’s health have a cascade effect on our entire body’s systems, including:
- Improving the immune system
- Building concentration
- Reducing insomnia
- Easing stress
- Improving digestion
- Increasing memory and recall
- Gentling anxiety
- Reducing symptoms of depression
- Easing pain
- Lowering blood pressure
How Does Meditation Work?
Just as arm curls work against a weight to build up the muscle strength, meditation works against the ‘resistance’ of flitting thoughts. Our human minds are naturally full of thoughts which come and go. Worries about the past. Concerns for the future. We spend much of our time rehashing things which can no longer be changed or fretting about a tomorrow which is unknowable. Meditation helps us redirect our attention the only moment we actually exist in – the now. The one space in which we can make an influence.
That routine of gently and compassionately drawing our attention back to the present builds the strength of our mind. It builds our ability to focus, concentrate, and persevere. It builds our ability to view our world with quiet compassion. We learn to see memories of the past with a gentler spirit. We learn to handle stress, anxiety, and depression as emotions which move through our mind rather than as permanent aspects of ourselves. We might feel sad about a situation, but that emotion does not define us. It is something we can observe and understand.
What Types of Meditation Are There?
Meditation comes in a wide variety of styles. This is wonderful for the practitioner, because it means each person can choose a style of meditation which suits them best for a particular day. It might be that on one day a slow walking meditation is absolutely perfect for shaking loose troubling emotions. Perhaps on another day it’s an object-focused meditation which works best. Here are some of the more popular styles of meditation.
Breath Meditation – This is a core form of meditation because it can be used by any person, at any time, in nearly any situation. We all have our breath with us. Where we can go weeks without food and days without water, we can barely go ten minutes without oxygen without our body failing. Our breath is just that important to us. With a breath meditation, the focus is on each breath going in and out of our body. By breathing slowly and deeply, we activate the body’s natural calming systems to reduce stress.
Object-Focus Meditation – In this form of meditation, an object of some sort draws the attention. It could be a beautiful rose, a religious statue, a restful landscape, or anything else. This meditation style can be useful when a practitioner needs something a bit more involved to keep their attention.
Mantra-Focus Meditation – A mantra is a word or phrase which the practitioner repeats. It could have special meaning to the practitioner or it could simply be a sequence of sounds. As long as it holds the practitioner’s attention, it is doing its job. When other thoughts come into the mind, the person brings their thoughts gently and compassionately back to their mantra.
Walking Meditation – This type of meditation involves movement. It doesn’t have to be walking on two feet – it can involve crutches, a walker, a wheelchair, or so on. They key aspect here is that it’s the movement that retains the focus. The contact of heel, arch, and toe with the Earth. The feel of a hand on the wheelchair rail. For some people, staying in motion helps maintain the focus.
A Sample Breath-Based Meditation
Wear comfortable clothes, suitable for the place you are planning to meditate. You can meditate outside in a park, in an enclosed garden, in a religious location, in a bedroom – anywhere. When you’re starting out it’s best to practice somewhere quiet and distraction-free, but over time you’ll find you can meditate just about anywhere.
Traditionally people meditate sitting down on a cushion, cross-legged, but arrange your body however you are comfortable. You can sit on a floor, on a chair, on a couch, or you can even lie down. The important part is that your body is relaxed and as pain-free as possible.
Soften your gaze, so that you are gently focused on a point before you.
Breathe in slowly. Let the breath fill your upper chest, your mid chest, and your lower abdomen, filling that abdomen out. The oxygen and nutrients are filling you with health. Pause. Breathe out, out, out, releasing the carbon dioxide and toxins. You are cleansing your body. Pause.
Breathe in more deeply, more slowly, feeling all those tiny alveoli in your lungs fill up with the nourishing oxygen. That oxygen heals your skin, nourishes your heart, and bathes your body in health. Pause. Breathe out, out, releasing the carbon dioxide you no longer need. Your body is lighter and freer. Pause.
Continue breathing in deeply, slowly, and feel the sensation of the air moving past the tip of your nostril. You can feel that health coming to you. You can feel the life-nourishing air moving in to you. You can feel the cleansing of the waste air as it leaves your body. This one moment is the one space where you exist. The past no longer can be touched or changed. It is gone. The future is unknowable. It does not exist yet. The moment in which we can think, feel, and breathe is this one moment before us.
Thoughts will flit in. That’s what thoughts do. Maybe it’s concerns about events in the past. But the past is gone and unchangeable. It’s behind us. All we can do is strive to handle things the best we can in our present. That is the one space we have the ability to change.
Breathe. Return your attention to your breath with compassionate gentleness.
Thoughts will flit in again. Maybe it’s worried about something which might happen in the future. But the future is unknowable and mysterious. Nobody knows what the future truly holds. We cannot impact the future. All we can impact is this one moment before us. We can take action in the now. That is what we can influence.
Breathe. Draw your attention back to your breath with a warm smile.
This is what meditation is. It’s the repeated, gentle re-drawing of our attention to the now. To this mindful moment in which we exist. It’s fine that our thoughts flit. It’s what thoughts naturally do. The more we train our brain to continually re-connect with the present in a compassionate, understanding manner, the more we build our brain’s ability to cope with anything life presents it with.
Meditation brings a wealth of benefits, from building concentration to improving memory, from reducing stress to building a sense of calm. These benefits have specifically been shown to be helpful for senior citizens, both those with full faculties and those who are suffering from dementia. Meditation is free of side effects, has no medication conflicts, and greatly improves the quality of life. It should be a regular part of every elderly person’s routine.
Try a group meditation class at Oasis today!
Oasis and our members recognize the benefits meditation offers! We are happy to offer our members and first time guests regular meditation classes. Are you interested in joining? Give us a call today, we cant wait to meet you!