Meditation and yoga have been growing steadily in popularity since they were introduced to these shores over 50 years ago. In fact, there are close to 40 million practitioners nationwide today. Moreover, that group continues to grow in diversity, with people from different social backgrounds and ages discovering the health benefits of these two ancient Indian practices. The elderly are no exception. The mindfulness and rhythmic breathing inherent to both provide a myriad of mental and physical health benefits that offer a higher quality of life and relief from the difficulties of growing old.
The same is true of people recovering from alcohol and substance abuse, who find that meditation and yoga unite the physical self with the spirit, providing inner strength in their struggle to discover a new life. Developing and maintaining a relationship with the physical and spiritual self is very important for those overcoming addiction.
Here’s a breakdown of the benefits yoga and meditation can have.
Stress relief is the primary health benefit of mindfulness inherent to both practices and from which all the others flow. Throughout the day, you are bombarded with worries: about your life, your family, your work, and so on. These can invoke a “fight or flight” response as if they were an actual threat to your being rather than just the nagging nuisances they are. By concentrating on your breathing, meditation and yoga allow you to escape from these worries, as well as the resulting stress response, and find peace in the present.
The stress relief lowers your heart rate and boosts the efficiency of your circulatory system, thus cutting the risk for a variety of age-related health problems ranging from atherosclerosis to high blood pressure. Time Magazine cites research from the American Heart Association which indicates that meditation and yoga lead to a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, lowering the risk of heart attacks.
One of the most frustrating parts of aging is struggling to remember names, dates, and even faces, but your ability to reach into your mind and recall these things is set to improve. According to research from MedicineNet.com, a group 25 elderly subjects assigned to practice meditation or yoga over the course of 12 weeks showed marked improvement in memory tests in addition to a reduction in the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Focusing on the here and now allows you to get in tune with your body and what you’re feeling at that exact moment, including aches and pains both large and small. However, instead of being consumed by them, you learn to control them. As a writer at the wellness website HealthCentral says, “Think of the pain as a dark shadow and, when meditating, you are focusing the light of your consciousness on it by describing it in deep detail, which exposes the shadow and makes it disappear.”
Boost in Mobility
If you have a way of controlling that pain, it follows that you’ll have an easier time getting around from place on your own two feet, which can be quite a chore for seniors, especially on days when the weather won’t cooperate. Yoga takes things a step further by improving flexibility and coordination through a series of poses that involve your main muscle groups and joints. Not only does that improve your mobility, but it also helps prevent injury by improving your balance.
Better Social Life
It seems almost illogical that practices focused on withdrawing your mind from the world would help you meet other people, but meditation and yoga do precisely that by increasing social intelligence and reducing social stress. It’s simple: The more you understand yourself, the more you understand others, increasing your compassion and communication skills.
It’s not hard to get started in yoga or meditation as an increasing number of studios open their doors to newcomers, and they can easily be found online. It’s worth asking whether the instructors have experience working with the elderly before committing to a lesson. Once you get the go-ahead, let the good vibes roll. Namaste.
Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.