Research indicates that practicing mindfulness can improve our overall health. This is especially important for older adults. Aging can complicate the daily hustle and bustle of life. Older people may struggle with issues such as increased responsibilities, health problems, financial difficulties and changing family dynamics. These challenges can tax emotional and physical health, leading to more serious conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Simply put, mindfulness is the state of being actively aware and attentive of the present. It means having an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, sensations and your environment that is free from judgment. Mindfulness focuses on breathing, body sensations and mental relaxation. Research shows that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain and improving the regulation of emotions. As a result, mindfulness can help improve the quality of your life and health.
Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. While mindfulness is something we all are naturally capable of doing, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis.
How to practice mindfulness
The concept of mindfulness is simple, but becoming a more mindful person requires commitment and practice. There are many different mindfulness practices and ways to learn these practices. Courses, classes, audio recordings, websites and books are some of the options. According to the Alabama Institute for Mindfulness, “Practicing mindfulness might mean meditating, sitting in the yard and paying attention “on purpose” to the sights and sounds of nature, or it might be pausing for three or four breaths many times during the day.”
Meditation is one of the most simple and common methods for learning to be mindful. Meditation has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness and enhancing overall health and well-being. Meditation is considered safe for most people. Meditation exercises can also be done alone or in a group, in-person or online, require no equipment and can be done in almost any location.
“There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them),” according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
To get started, you can try this exercise from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:
Seated Meditation Exercise
- Go to a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
- Decide how long you want to practice. Consider setting a timer, so you know when the time is up without being distracted by looking at a clock.
- Sit comfortably. If you are in a chair, put both feet on the floor. If you are sitting on a cushion, it is best to have your hips higher than your knees. Position yourself on the cushion so that your knees can rest on the floor. Or support your knees with a prop that keeps them lower than your hips.
- Let your spine stretch up into a neutral spine position, lengthening out like a string of pearls.
- Put your hands in a comfortable position.
- Set an intention for this meditation. It may be as simple as “May I cultivate mindful awareness in my life.” Another example is “May I seek and practice the benefits of silence and stillness.”
- Close your eyes and turn your attention inward, or gaze softly at the floor.
- Focus on your breathing. When you breathe in, is it fast, slow, noisy, quiet, easy, or difficult? When you breathe out, is it fast, slow, noisy, quiet, easy, or difficult?
- If your attention wanders, accept that it is normal. Then resume focusing on your breathing. Be kind to yourself. Minds wander; that is what they do. The key is to gently bring your awareness back to your breath when it wanders.
- Continue to focus on your breath.
- When the timer sounds, slowly open your eyes.
- Think about your experience. How did it feel to focus on breathing for this length of time? Concentrating on your breath in this way can be challenging at first. It becomes much easier with practice.
To reap the most benefits, you should aim to practice mindfulness every day for about six months. Think of it as a tool to help you reconnect with and nurture yourself. Over time, you might find that mindfulness will become effortless. For more information about making mindfulness a part of your life, click here.
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