Have you ever considered meditation as a way to improve aspects of your health?
There are many reasons why older adults in Bellingham, Lynden or throughout Whatcom County might want to start practicing meditation. Meditation can enhance memory, slow cognitive decline, improve digestion, boost circulation, reduce stress, lower disease risk and even decrease loneliness.
At its core, meditation is a way to calm the mind and body. There are various styles of meditation, but most involve either concentration, mindfulness or both. Concentration meditation is that classic example in which we focus our minds on a single, specific thing — a sound (perhaps the ringing of a bell), an image (perhaps a flickering candle flame), an action (perhaps the repetition of a specific word) or some other focal point.
Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is the practice of being mindful of thoughts as they occur. Essentially, it is attentive awareness of the moment. To practice this form of meditation, we simply sit, relax and pay attention to the thoughts we have, trying not to react to them but just to observe. For a brief explanation of mindfulness meditation and how it can integrate with everyday life, watch this short video from the Western Washington University Counseling Center in Bellingham.
Let’s take a look in more detail at some of the ways that mindfulness meditation can improve the lives of older adults here in Whatcom County:
- Less stress and worry: According to Bob Linscott from the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, meditation can help older adults tamp down worries associated with growing older. “Meditation is like a pause button that breaks the cycle of worry,” he said in an article in NextAvenue. “It can help older adults better accept their changing bodies or chronic pain. It puts them more in control of their lives.”
- Cognitive improvements: According to research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, “meditation may be able to offset normal age‐related cognitive decline or even enhance cognitive function in older adults.” The research noted preliminary improvements in attention, memory, executive function, processing speed and general cognition as a result of meditation practices.
- Digestion enhancements: The calm, deep breathing associated with meditation boosts circulation and increases the oxygen content of the blood, both of which are important factors for digestion. What’s more, meditation can have the long-term effect of improving our mindsets, limiting the likelihood that we will overeat.
- Decreased loneliness: A study from Carnegie Mellon University that tested older adults over an eight-week period showed that participants reported lower levels of loneliness after just 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation each day, in addition to a daylong retreat and weekly two-hour meetings. “We know that loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems and mortality in older adults,” said one of the researchers involved in the study. “This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults.”
If you’re interested in getting started with mindfulness meditation in Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale or elsewhere in Whatcom County, there are several professional services in the area that offer courses and training in meditation, including Mindfulness Northwest, Bellingham Insight and Red Cedar Zen Community.