Meditation is gaining ground as an accepted health practice for older adults.
Professor Jeff Menzise, a clinical psychology professor and a mindfulness meditation expert at Morgan State University, emphasizes that relaxation is a positive effect for all forms of meditation.
"A lot of elders have stress because of life concerns and anxieties about failing to meet life goals," said Menzise. "Family situations can be aggravating."
Dependency issues and fears of aging can distract older people. Menzise said – "Meditation puts their minds at ease, helps them gain a stronger outlook on life, and acquire an optimistic perspective."
"The positive effects of meditation result from detaching the mind from troubling thoughts though breathing techniques, movement or posture," said Menzise.
Meditation can alleviate stress-related diseases where long-term body tension is retained, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Menzise spoke of the overproduction of the stress hormone – cortisol. "Older people often live in a state of constant stress. Their bodies never get a chance to return to a relaxed state where they repair stress damage."
A Breakthrough Study in Meditation for the Aging
In June, 2012, the benefits of mindfulness meditation received a boost when a Carnegie Mellon University study showed a decline in loneliness in older adults who meditated.
Decreased inflammation – a contributor to the growth of numerous diseases – was a major outcome of meditation training for the aging, according to the CMU study.
A Personal Story – Yoga and Meditation in Action
Jerrie Gathe, a Dahn Yoga Foundation volunteer, specializes in teaching yoga and meditation to seniors. The mind-body practice, founded in South Korea over three decades ago, combines stretching, deep breathing exercises and meditation.
Gathe worked most of her life as a registered nurse until health issues forced her into retirement. She found Dahn Yoga to be revitalizing and became a dedicated teacher.
"The form of yoga I teach includes stretching, moving meditation, and a focus on deep breathing," said Gathe.
She became an active volunteer in retirement communities where she observed older adults who encounter a loss of independence.
The techniques she employs help older adults regain control of their bodies and emotions.
"The stretching and moving meditation helps with strengthening the body," Gathe said. "It stimulates circulation and leads to clearer thinking in my older students. The deep meditation component reduces worry and anxiety."
Other Forms of Meditative Practices for Older People
• Zazen – a Buddhist meditation that focuses on posture
• Transcendental Meditation (TM) which invokes a calming mantra
• Qi Gong and popular offshoot, Tai Chi, combines gentle movements and breathing
• Guided Visualization
North American seniors can complement recent breakthroughs in meditation and movement with their traditional religious practices.