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In the Tenth Decade of Life

Meditation for Elders

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.

You can read about those studies here and here and here and here and here.

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


I'm the same way about meditation, Ronni. I'll do it for awhile and then get out of the routine and it will be weeks before I start in again. But I know it works. I've done it in the doctor's office in between the nurse taking my blood pressure and the doctor coming in to do it. It always lowers my BP significantly.

The only way I could get through 21 years of teaching in an inner city school was with morning prayer and devotions. Now, in retirement, I am working with first graders in one of the poorest parts of the city, and again, prayer and devotions help me through the day.

Like you and Jean, my meditative experience has been on again/off again. And I, too, find the practice helpful.

In times when I feel really low for whatever reason, I often flail about with thoughts that do not help my spirit. Since the 1990's when an art center instructor led a group in meditation, I have turned to meditation to calm me.

Thank you for your research online. I will be checking out those spots--though I may have already perused them.

One other alternative help i have found free online
is a demo video--Daily Tai Chi. It is a short,
8 min. demo that when you do it, seems like nothing, and why should I bother, but it does limber you up. Good way to start the day.

And, yet with all the affirmation I give, I am on and off to both practices.

This is one of your best ever.........a zillion thanks. My son got me into something similar to this with a link & a tape on my IPOD all of which was gifted. The tape is short & has done so much to reduce my stress level & BP that my dr. is really pleased.

Wouldn't it be great if it could be taught in schools. It may be one of the answers to the madness. Also I did read where a house representative in congress has begun requiring his staff to begin their day with a group period of mindfulness. Small start, but it's a good thing. Dee :)

I have meditated for most of my adult life, but have had a steady daily practice for the last seven or eight years. I also belong to a monthly meditation group in which we share our experiences and recently have begun reading relevant books together. The group is really great for motivation.

Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin has been a great promoter of meditation through his research on meditation and the brain. He is director of the Center for the Investigation of Healthy Minds.

One of the things the center is doing is introducing meditation and mindfulness to elementary school children. For the last several years they've been teaching the children kindness and compassion and having some success with it.

I believe that beneficial physically, mentally, emotionally an spiritually.

Yup, it works.

You have inspired me to turn my "on again-off again" meditation practice back on. Why, oh why, is it so easy to let it slip away? Another thank you for the nudge.

I'm usually too nervous to meditate, but I do know that in some of our local California school districts, they're starting the day with a brief period of quiet stress-reduction and mindfulness, and the reduction in school fights has been startling.

I think I should look into meditation. I only tried it once and because I could not stop my mind from wandering off I did not benefit from it and so gave up.

I think I will soon be motivated to start again because a change in my life is going to create stress.

I find an added benefit of meditation, of mindfulness, as I get older is to help me better remember where I put something five minutes ago, say my coffee cup. By being mindful of what is going on in the moment, I am aware of setting the cup down here, so I remember, except when I forget to be mindful, which, sigh, is way too often

I have tried to meditate but I go to sleep instead.

I can force myself to walk every day, not eat junk food (most of the time) and practice basic good health habits, but I've never been able to get into meditation long enough to notice positive results. From TGB reader responses, it looks like I'm not alone, although most appear to be more dedicated than I was. I don't doubt that meditation works for many, which is a good thing. As readers have noted, there are no bad side effects.

It works. I've done it for years and I too lose the thread from time to time. It has been very helpful in managing my asthma. I have some meditations on CD that help me sleep as well. Thanks for reminding me.

My ninety something beloved mom mediates. She is one smart cookie.

One of her favourite expressions, when we worry is this:

"Don't bring the mountain to you."

I didn't get to achieve everything on my lonesome. My parents, friends, mentors, all played a role

There are many ways to meditate.

I meditate in my garden, on the 211 bus to downtown, at the ocean, in a packed elevator, in my car.

Anywhere. Anytime.

I picture all the people who encouraged me to achieve my goals at different times in my life.

And I slow my breathing down, think about what they did for me and thank them, one by one.

I let them know how I am doing, and how I am passing on their mentoring by volunteering, doing something good for someone else who has potential, but just doesn't realize it yet.

Meditation is an excellent way to slow your mind down, listen to your breathing, be alone, even in a crowded elevator.

Great post, Ronni.

This seems to relate to yesterday's post about the longevity of residents of the Greek island of Ikaria. Both involve stress reduction and maintaining healthier levels of blood pressure and other conditions that affect the aging process.

I agree though, that it can be difficult to be perfectly disciplined about the meditation. I could probably do a pretty good job of drinking wine, eating Mediterranean food, and enjoying the camaraderie and beauty of Ikaria much more reliably and with little effort.

What a timely post, Ronni. I had just seen this article on the Huffington Post site and emailed it to myself. It includes several ways to actually learn to meditate on one's own!

I started meditating last year. It was awful sitting still, I couldn't calm my mind, I didn't like the new agey nonsense.... and yet I had a warm, peaceful glow in the center of my being all night long.

I go to a Mindfulness Meditation "class" at the medical center, and at 60something I'm right in the middle of the demographic.

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