You do not need to twist yourself into a pretzel, climb to the highest mountain or hire your own personal guru to experience the positive effects of meditation. Mindfulness meditation helps you focus and relaxes your body, and according to a study published in NeuroImage Magazine, it can have the effect of "increased brain connectivity." In geriatrics, meditation can help correct dysfunctions, eliminate impairments, and prevent disease and deformity.
The word "meditation" is rooted in Latin: "meditari" means to think, and "mederi" means to heal. MRIs on patients who practice meditation regularly have shown differences in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain. These areas influence focus, conscious awareness of one's body and greater senses (vision, touch, smell, taste). Meditation may even help offset age-related cortical thinning, which will help naturally lower anxiety. Other physical benefits include lowered blood pressure, pain relief, less anxiety and better sleep patterns. Successful meditation after an illness or injury can help promote tissue regeneration and healing.
"People often think meditation is about getting rid of thoughts or feelings, which it's not," Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and author of "Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation and the Forthcoming Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World," tells AARP Magazine. "Or they think it's about having only beautiful thoughts or peaceful states, which it's also not. Meditation is about developing a different relationship with our thoughts."
The convenience of mindful meditation lies in its versatility; you do not have to be in a group or a special room. You don't need more time than you have to give. You don't need any special equipment, music or guidance. Of course, if you want to, you can combine it with fitness regimes like yoga or tai chi, or you can join other like-minded individuals to support your relaxation efforts. Here are some important things to remember when meditating: You don't need to meditate for hours; when and where you meditate is up to you; you should choose something specific to focus on; there's no right or wrong way to meditate; allow your mind to wander; mini meditations count, too, so even 10 minutes can make a difference.
There are some easy, mindful meditation methods that depend only on YOUR comfort and preferences. Focused meditation, often used in yoga, requires you to focus on a fixed object such as a painting or a statue, which will help to establish your mind-body connection. Mantra meditations involve the conscious repetition of certain sounds (like, "Ohm") that appeal to the mind to achieve a meditative state. In a group setting, this can help dispel feelings of isolation and loneliness. The setting where meditation takes place can be a wonderful opportunity to commune with nature, which is, by itself, a relaxing and fulfilling activity. Meditation can happen with guided and controlled movements, especially in exercise programs such as yoga, which will help to sharpen focus.
After the past year that we have had, with the pandemic and self-isolation, a contentious political debate and heated protests throughout our country, it is especially important to be able to quiet our minds and bodies when we need to. Whether in a group or alone, whether guided by an instructor or working by ourselves, taking the time to rejuvenate our systems will keep us healthier, more capable of doing our jobs, more prepared to make necessary accommodations for upset schedules and better able to help those around us.
If you are interested in beginning your own mindfulness meditation program, there are a few easy resources available on the web. The AARP online article "Stressed Out? Take a Breather With These Meditation Apps" features multiple downloadable apps for your cellphone or tablet. Several feature free introductory packages. The website Positive Psychology offers a free PDF of three mindful meditations. The Mayo Clinic offers useful tips in their article "3 Simple Strategies To Help You Focus and De-Stress." With an abundance of online resources out there, you should be well on your way to mindfulness.