One of the unavoidable consequences of making it beyond age 60 or so is that varieties of diseases, conditions and age-induced injuries become more likely than when we were young.
It is well established – though definitely not a guarantee - that healthy food, regular exercise and enough sleep are our best tools to help keep the disease wolf from the door. But there are additional habits worth considering too.
One of them is meditation and some recent research suggests that daily practice may help alleviate rheumatoid arthritis, sleep difficulties, loneliness and might reduce age-related brain cell loss in our gray matter.
There needs to be more evidence than these small studies before I rank the results up there with, for example, the efficacy of naproxen to relieve post-dental surgery pain. But I have no doubt that at minimum, meditation reduces stress, which leads to better health, and promotes a strong sense of general well being.
I know this because I've been practicing meditation twice a day for most of my adult life. Except when I don't.
And there is my problem. It goes along fine for months, even years and then I get interrupted. It could be getting sick for week or having an appointment at my regular meditation time or a period of busy-ness and especially vacations for some reason.
And once out of routine for more than a couple of days the habit, for me, too easily slips away. I convince myself that I had imagined the advantages and rewards I had been enjoying.
It had been such for a long time until late last fall when I again resumed the practice and just now, in the past three weeks or so I'm feeling my old meditative self again.
Meditation is like that – it is slow to take effect, subtle and it sneaks up on you. You go for weeks with time set aside for it wondering if there really is any reason to be doing to it and then it comes to you one day that you have been feeling a gentle, positive, uplifting difference for some time without quite being consciously aware of the change.
Here is a good little video about the physical benefits of meditation. The findings are likely not as definitive yet as the presentation makes them seem because the studies are small, but they are not wrong.
There is a wide variety of meditation techniques, none better or worse that others – they all work if you stick with it. Most people I have known who take it up report greater relaxation, a sense of peace, better concentration and clarity of mind, a sense of connectedness to a life force and much more.
Nothing bad has ever come from meditation and much good does.
A form of meditation called mindfulness has become popular in the west over the past 20 or 30 years, usually described as a complete attention to the current moment. I can't tell you much beyond that because I stay with the traditional meditation that has worked for me over decades and, anyway, seems itself to produce a lot of living in the moment.
Certainly do not let my reluctance or ignorance of mindfulness practices put you off. All meditation is personal – whatever works for you is fine.
There are so many online sources about meditation, it is hardly possible to choose any for you. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, one among zillions, is a good starting place for beginners but far from being the only one.
If you google “learn to meditate” or “meditation for seniors” or similar phrases will get you more links than you can possibly ever follow. You will find explanations, histories, instruction, even guided meditations. Much of it is free and no less useful for being so.
In addition, most communities have meditation classes, often free, and growing numbers of senior centers are holding meditation classes.
To be clear, I am not promoting meditation nor do I mean to push it on anyone. For me, it is an intensely private experience I don't feel a need to discuss but because it seems to be of even greater benefit in my old age than when I was younger, perhaps it is something you too can use.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: The ROTC Dance