Meditation comes in a variety of forms, from transcendental — or focusing on a repeated word or sound — to practices use guided imagery, mindfulness, spirituality and concentrating on the body or breath.
Regardless of the specifics, experts say meditation calms the body and mind, and it can contribute to a host of health benefits for older adults. David Franzblau, resident life director at The Villa of San Mateo and former hospital chaplain, has been practicing meditation for more than 20 years. He offers weekly classes to residents and members of the community and notes the practice can be used by anyone – young or old.
“The reality is, there are a thousand and one ways to meditate. I focus on relaxation and not one specific type of meditation,” he said. “I like to give a period of practice, a few minutes of instruction and let people use their own method and find what works best for them.”
Benefits for Older Adults
When you meditate, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, your breathing slows, and you begin to feel less tension as you release stress. A growing body of research has documented these and other immediate benefits of starting a meditation practice, along with longer-term effects on aging. In as little as eight weeks of meditation, studies have found you may experience reduced blood pressure, lower levels of anxiety and stress, and more feelings of happiness.
He added, “Our minds are busy, our life is busy and this is just a chance to stop for 15 or 20 minutes and just be.”
Over a longer period, meditation may improve longevity and cognitive function. In addition, research has established associations between meditation and improvements in:
- Inflammation and coronary artery disease.
- Chronic pain and headaches.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Depression and insomnia.
- Cognitive decline and memory.
Getting Started With a Meditation Program
Senior centers, hospitals and other organizations offer meditation classes geared for older adults. Elder Care Alliance is committed to supporting individuals in their pursuit of holistic wellness, and residents of The Villa at San Mateo have several free opportunities a month to take a meditation class.
If you have physical challenges that may affect your ability to meditate, please check with your doctor before beginning. In many cases, classes can be modified to accommodate a variety of physical challenges. For example, if you have trouble getting up or down from the floor, you can sit in a chair. Research has shown sitting meditation retains benefits such as increasing a sense of well-being, along with reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
Whether you choose to join a class or meditate on your own, you take a positive step for your body, mind and spirit by beginning your own practice. Added Franzblau, “If nothing else, it can give you a little peace in the middle of a day. Someone told me it’s like finding a piece of rest in the middle of things.”