The Chinese character for mindfulness means “presence of heart.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding director of UMass Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness, explains that mindfulness is about “living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment,” rather than worrying about the past or planning for the future. In doing so, practitioners have experienced benefits that include stress reduction, a more focused mind, and a sense of relaxation and calmness. Additionally, mindfulness has been found to improve memory and slow down the progression of dementia. It’s no surprise that this practice is becoming more popular among senior citizens.
Practicing mindfulness does not need to take hours a day and can be done anywhere. Seniors can start by following these simple exercises:
Sit, stand, or lie comfortably, preferably with eyes closed, and bring awareness to your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice how your body feels as you breathe in and then out. Redirect your mind back to the breath if you find it wandering. Begin with several minutes and work up to five to seven minutes per day.
Mindful Body Awareness
While sitting or lying comfortably, bring attention to your body and all of your body parts, starting at your feet and working your way up. Notice any sensations, thoughts, or emotions you may have and release any tension found in the body.
Choose a quiet and secluded area or path and begin to walk slowly. Keep your mind focused on the experience of walking and how you feel as you take steps and maintain balance. Be present in the moment and enjoy walking without having a destination.
Exercise like tai chi, seated chair stretches, and yoga encourage the mind-body connection while relieving stress. Incorporate your breathing techniques and notice how your body feels while performing each exercise.
Choose a small piece of food, like a raisin or piece of chocolate, and begin by focusing on how it looks, feels, and smells. Once you’ve put it in your mouth, pay careful attention to the texture and how it tastes. Make a conscious effort to eat slowly, savor every bite, and be grateful for the food you’re eating.
Studies have shown that these exercises can cause significant changes in the brain after only eight weeks of consistent practice. Those changes include an increase in gray brain matter associated with memory; a thickening in the left hippocampus which assists in learning, cognition, and emotional regulation; and a decrease in the size of the amygdala, the “fight or flight” part of the brain, which correlates to a reduction in stress levels. We suggest giving mindfulness a try and encouraging your loved ones to do the same!