Practicing mindfulness is hardly a new phenomenon; in fact, the history of meditation and mindfulness practices can be traced back thousands of years. However, it’s only been in the last half a century that the scientific community has begun studying the positive effects mindfulness and meditation yield on individuals’ mental and physical health. The Mayo Clinic now promotes meditation as a powerful way to reduce stress, and the National Institutes of Health cite research that meditation may ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even help people struggling with insomnia.
Many studies suggest meditators gain better focus, a greater sense of calm, and even improved memory and creativity. Older adults, in particular, often find mindfulness and meditation help them to navigate through times of transition and adjust to changes to their bodies and lifestyles as they age. Here are six exercises to use today to practice mindfulness and experience its many benefits.
1. MINDFUL BREATHING
One way to start practicing mindfulness is through a common practice called mindful breathing. Begin by simply finding a comfortable position; it could be seated, lying down, or even standing. Close your eyes, and start to pay attention to your inhalations and exhalations. As you breathe in and out, notice how your body feels. It’s common to have thoughts arise as you do this. When you notice your mind has wandered, just gently turn your attention back to your breath. Do this for as long as feels comfortable. Try starting with five minutes and then increase how long you practice over the coming weeks.
2. GUIDED MEDITATION
During guided meditation, another person leads you through a meditation exercise. There are many online resources available to help individuals practice guided meditations. Apps like Headspace, Waking Up, and Manjit can be downloaded directly onto your phone, making it easy to press play and have an expert guide you through meditation. There are also videos on YouTube. You can even attend live classes and meditation groups in many communities. One benefit of guided meditation is that it helps you experiment with techniques and learn what kinds of meditation work best for you.
3. SAVOR THE MUSIC
Music can be a powerful tool for relaxation and meditation. Try choosing a song you find beautiful and restful. For example, perhaps you love the composer Debussy and decide to play Clair De Lune. Once the song is playing, give your entire focus to the music. You may keep your eyes open or closed, but don’t multitask or focus on anything going on around you. Just find a comfortable spot and spend a few minutes listening to your chosen song. One simple song can completely change your mindset.
4. TAKE A CLOSER LOOK
Similar to the music meditation mentioned above, a visual meditation focuses your sense of sight on one particular item or image with the intent of calming your mind. For example, find a photo or a painting of beautiful flowers and set it in front of you. For the next several moments, look into the image and closely observe the elements that contribute to its beauty. You might also try this exercise with the photo of someone you love or by sitting in a park and looking at a tree or something else that catches your eye.
5. SCHEDULE MINDFUL MOMENTS
Experienced meditators and mindfulness practitioners often explain that eventually, your mindful state can truly be practiced all day, every day. Simply reminding yourself to pay attention to your thoughts and checking in with yourself on your current state of mind will turn every moment of your day into an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Try adding one or two regular mindful moments into your daily routine. For example, if you have a cup of coffee in the morning, make a goal to pay closer attention to the entire experience of drinking your coffee: the smell, the heat of the mug in your hand, the first taste, how it warms your body as you take each sip. Paying attention to the many various, pleasurable sensations this offers you will not just change how you enjoy your coffee, but it will teach you to become less lost in thought, and instead more focused on your present moment throughout the day.
6. YOGA AND STRETCHING
Yoga and meditation have a long, intertwined history. When practicing yoga, you notice the sensations of your body, whether it’s aches and pains or simply enjoying a nice, relaxing stretch. Focusing on your body this way is simultaneously a mindfulness practice. Some older adults initially feel intimidated by yoga or think they’re not flexible enough, but there are many kinds of yoga, including chair yoga, which is designed for individuals living with limited mobility.
START AND START AGAIN
When you begin to practice mindfulness, you may feel unsure that you’re practicing correctly or whether you’re truly making progress, but the important thing is to keep practicing. If you become lost in thought, simply return to the present moment, to the breath, the music, your warm beverage, or however you’ve decided to practice.
Be gentle with yourself as you develop this new skill and train yourself to hone in on the many small miracles around you throughout your days. Happy meditating.