Meditation for Seniors
Meditation was earliest depicted on paintings on cave walls that were done between 3500 and 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley located in the Middle East. All throughout history, most major world religions have included some form of meditation in their spiritual practices. Today, various forms of meditation have become a common component of recommendations in western wellness programs.
Many of us associate meditation with mindfulness meditation, which is a secularized method that stems from the contemplative meditation practices of ancient Buddhism. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., is often the one credited with popularizing mindfulness meditation. While working at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, he developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. The way that he defines mindfulness meditation is as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”
There are many meditation methods that help practitioners work with their minds, either with or without specific spiritual or therapeutic goals. Body centered meditation involves mentally scanning your body to see what parts you may be holding onto tension with, and then letting go of any knots, whether they’re physical or emotional.
Contemplation is a practice that uses a question, concept, or problem, as the point of concentration to help you cultivate your capacity to stay focused in the midst of distraction.
Emotion centered meditation is designed to help you work with feelings and emotions, to cultivate kindness and compassion towards others as the path to a happier and more fulfilling life. It helps you to see the disturbing thoughts that lead to anger or depression, and investigate their source, rather than try to rid yourself of them.
Mantra meditation involves repeating words or sounds silently, or out loud, to help calm your discursive thoughts.
Meditation with movement involves working your mind and body together to focus and calm your mind. Methods often used are yoga and tai chi, but the movement can be something as simple as walking, making sure to take stock of the contact with the ground, and what you see, hear, feel and smell through the senses.
The idea behind all of these techniques is to bring attention to the body and mind as it is moment to moment. The theory is that meditation then helps you cope with pain, both physical and emotional, by cultivating a sense of calm and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. The question, however, is whether or not this claim is backed up by science.
Research into meditation began in the 1950s with psychological studies, and was followed by clinical research in the 1970s. Strides in understanding the physiological effects of meditation have been made in recent years.
Preliminary studies have indicated that meditation may impact the plasticity of the brain, which involves the process of structural changes the brain makes in order to maintain or optimize function. Science has thankfully disproved the notion that plasticity is lost with age, and we know now that the brain can adapt throughout your entire lifespan. That meditation may support brain plasticity has implications for many of the challenges we face with age, such as maintaining our cognitive health, mitigating pain, coping with depression and grief, and reducing anxiety.