Meditation is a centuries-old tradition used to promote peace and treat stress and anxiety. In recent years, scientific research has reinforced meditation as a healthy practice for both mental and physical health.
“Stress puts your body in fight or flight mode, and this interferes with the daily functions your body needs to complete to keep you healthy,” says Judy Given, Senior Director of Campus Development at Abe’s Garden Community. “Regular meditation can calm your nervous system and allow your body to function at optimal capacity.”
Keep reading to learn about the numerous benefits of a meditation practice and how you could make this a regular part of your life.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice that involves training yourself to focus and relax, thus calming the mind and body. It often requires you to lie down or sit still, but some forms of meditation are based in movement. Regardless of your position, you’ll quiet your mind, slow your breathing, and focus.
Common elements of meditation include:
- Focused attention: Meditation programs often encourage you to focus on a certain image, your breath, or sensations in your body.
- Comfortable position: When you’re sitting or lying down during meditation, you’ll want to find a comfortable and supportive position.
- Relaxed breathing: Meditation guides will often begin with the breath. They will call your attention to its rhythm and help you to slow it down.
- Quiet environment: The fewer distractions there are, the easier it will be to meditate. A quiet setting will support relaxation and mindfulness.
- Open attitude: When thoughts inevitably drift into your mind, meditation practice encourages you to let them come and go without dwelling on them.
Types of Meditation
If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice, you might experiment with several types to see which one is most rewarding for you.
Here are several types of meditation:
- Focused Meditation is when you bring your attention to your five senses. Often, practitioners will listen to a gong or stare at a candle flame to stay concentrated. The goal of this meditation is to stay focused on your senses without allowing your mind to wander.
- Movement Meditation involves gentle motions like those in yoga, swimming or walking. The rhythm of these activities facilitates meditation.
- Transcendental Meditation is a simple method of clearing your mind that consists of repeating a word, sound or mantra silently in your head.
- Guided Imagery involves focusing on a mental image like a beach, mountaintop or rainforest.
- Body Scans are guided practices that lead practitioners to investigate sensations in each part of their body.
- Centering Prayers are religious practices that concentrate on a sacred word to connect to a higher power.
7 Health Benefits of Meditation
The more we learn about stress, the more we understand its detrimental effects on all parts of the body. Studies show that meditation’s unique way of decreasing stress contributes to a healthier life.
Research shows that meditation can:
- Control chronic pain.
There are two aspects of pain – physical and emotional. The emotions related to physical pain actually amplify the experience. Mindfulness meditation helps those with chronic pain to identify their reactions to discomfort and “turn down the volume” on their pain. In fact, in clinical trials, meditation has reduced chronic pain by 57%.
- Improve sleep.
Lack of sleep can lead to many negative health outcomes, and, unfortunately, sleep disturbances are most common among older adults. So methods that promote healthy sleep patterns are especially important for seniors. A JAMA study has shown that seniors who meditate regularly experience less insomnia and fatigue.
- Boost the immune system.
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences suggests that people who meditate regularly have improved immune responses in conditions associated with inflammation like ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Meditation seems to suppress harmful processes in the body and increase cortisol levels. Both boost the immune system.
- Lower blood pressure.
Especially in cases of mild hypertension, there are studies that indicate meditation – along with other healthy lifestyle habits – promotes cardiovascular health. There’s evidence to suggest it can lower blood pressure.
- Slow the aging process.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction like meditation improves many processes inside your body, and it also affects the exterior effects of aging. In fact, a 2013 study out of UCLA suggests meditation disables the gene responsible for the aging of skin (NF-kB), thus making skin thicker and firmer.
- Stabilize memory.
A daily, 30-minute meditation practice stimulates the memory centers in the brain and increases gray matter in the hippocampus. This can go a long way toward sharpening the mind and increasing self-awareness. There are even studies that suggest meditation could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
- Improve mental health.
Mindfulness training can improve self-reflection, self-care and interpersonal relationships. It has also been shown to boost an individual’s mood, prevent depression, and reduce anxiety. Meditation is an effective treatment for those with anxiety disorders, but it can benefit anyone who would like to reduce stress in their life.
3 Tips for Everyday Meditation Training
- Avoid self-judgment. It might increase your stress if you worry about whether you’re doing it “right.” It’s normal for your mind to wander or to feel like it’s easier some days than others. Expect ups and downs, and be open to trying new types of meditation to find what works best to relieve your stress.
- Explore various modes of learning. Meditation guidance is available through apps like Calm and Headspace, YouTube videos, or in-person meditation classes. Senior living communities like Abe’s Garden Community offer guided meditation classes to support residents’ overall health.
- Set aside specific times every day for meditation. If you have a full schedule, try to identify times in your day that are already quiet and conducive to meditation. Perhaps you have a bus commute where you could do some deep breathing. Maybe you could end a daily walk with some contemplative reflection. Or perhaps it’s best to do it right in the morning or as you’re falling asleep. It’s always the right time to meditate if it works for you.
Wellness Programming at Abe’s Garden Community
At Abe’s Garden Community, we are focused on brain health, holistic wellness and purposeful living. Our wellness programming includes guided meditation, a walking club and exercise classes. Our fitness and wellness center provides physical therapy, occupational therapy, massages, and a fitness maintenance program. Contact our Senior Director of Campus Development, Judy Shmerling Given, to learn more about how our wellness programs could help you thrive.