By Trena Winans, Education & Community Outreach Director
Perhaps you have heard recommendations to try meditation, or know people who swear by it. Far from being some new-age fad, meditation is increasingly being proven to have major emotional and physical benefits for older adults.
There are different types of meditation and no one method is best for everyone. One type is referred to as “metta” or compassion meditation. Practitioners call to mind first themselves, them someone they love, then someone neutral, then someone that is troublesome for them. For each in turn, they then wish them wellness and happiness. According to a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, this type of practice was shown to be particularly effective inreducing depression.
Perhaps the most common type is mindfulness meditation, a practice intended to enhance awareness of both your internal state and the environment around you. Studies using this form of meditation found that practitioners were able to be less reactive to stressors and felt less lonely. Physical changes have been shown as well. In a 2013 study by Carnegie Mellon University, the blood work of participants in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program showed lower levels of the indicators for inflammatory disease risk than was present before they began their practice. In another study, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Germany, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School took MRIs of the brains of participants before and after a 2-week meditation program. Even in this short time, they were able to find increased concentration of gray matter in the left hippocampus and 4 other regions of the brain in the meditation group. This part of the brain is key to learning, memory, and emotional control.
Moving meditation can be achieved when walking or in certain exercise programs such as Tai Chi. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is some evidence that the positive effects of tai chi include lower cholesterol and blood pressure, an immune system boost, increased strength flexibility and balance, better sleep, less joint pain, anxiety and stress, and a reduced risk of falls.
There are great free and inexpensive resources that can help you get started if you are interested in establishing a mediation habit. YouTube has numerous videos, there are free apps such as Buddhify, and Headspace, or there are audio programs you can purchase. Tai Chi is offered weekly at Happy Diners on Wednesday mornings. Whatever you choose, I would encourage you to give it a good try and see how you feel. Happy meditating!