Benefits of mindfulness – and how to practice it
Spend five minutes practicing mindfulness today, and you can help improve your life.
Even older adults who claimed they didn’t have the time, patience or attention span for it have found big benefits from a tiny act of mindfulness – which is the practice of focusing on and being fully aware of the present moment and nothing else.
With that, you also calmly accept your feelings, thoughts and sensations without judgement. It’s a quiet, still practice with lasting positive mental and physical effects.
Research proves the benefits
Mindfulness helps older adults maintain a healthier emotional well-being. according to a study in the American Psychological Association’s Journal. When older adults practice mindfulness, they become more aware of and thankful for the present moment. Plus, they gain a more positive outlook on life and well-being.
What’s more, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard David Institute’ of Health Economics found mindfulness activities, in conjunction with prescribed medical advice, help curb some negative sides of aging such as:
- feelings of isolation
- chronic pain
- stress, and
- weakened immunity.
Mindfulness takes some practice. After all, shutting out all the distractions and busyness in our world today can be difficult. But experts and people who practice mindfulness say it’s worth it.
“It’s almost as if you’re taking your mind out of drive and resting it in neutral,” says Joy Raines, author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind and the Mindful 180 podcast. “People often think (it) is a practice of stopping of what you’re thinking. It’s actually a practice of coming into awareness and shifting your attention.”
Here are three techniques for mindfulness and similar practices:
Be present in mindfulness
The best part of practicing mindfulness is it’s possible to do almost anywhere at any time. Raines says you simply want to pause and check in with your body.
- Notice your breathing, even for just a few breaths, as you inhale and exhale slowly
- Feel the soles of your feet as they touch the ground as you stand still, sit or walk
- Notice the sounds of nature – or even silence – around you
- Notice other senses – the smells or sights (if you keep your eyes open) that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness, and
- Tune into your body’s physical sensations, perhaps water hitting your skin in the shower or how your body rests in your chair.
Even better, you can join in dozens of Raines’ five-minute podcast episodes here for guidance through mindfulness activities. And yes, you read that right – they’re just five minutes. That’s all you need to become more mindful.
Step beyond mindfulness to brief meditation
Older adults can take mindfulness – and it’s positive effects – a step further with daily (or every few days) meditation. Five key steps:
- Sit up straight. You might choose a firm chair or a floor cushion in a quiet room. Ideally, keep your spine, neck and head aligned. Close your eyes and slowly release physical tension starting from your toes and moving up to your head, staying mindful of your body and how it feels.
- Pick an anchor – something neutral that doesn’t stimulate your mind. It might be your breath, a word silently repeated such as calm or peace, the beach, a mountain or a creek.
- Use your anchor. Every time your mind wanders – and you can expect that to happen, especially when you start – refocus on that anchor.
- Accept the wandering. Meditation isn’t meant to cause you to suppress thoughts and feelings, Raines says. For instance, think of the things that draw you away from meditation as clouds passing or boats floating by. Let them pass without passing judgement on you or the thought. Refocus on the anchor.
- Gently refocus for the duration of your meditation. You’ll work up to more time.
Try to choose a consistent time and place to meditate for just two or three minutes a day. You might work up to 20 minutes as you build a routine.
Try mindfulness with positive psychology
You can take mindfulness in another, similar direction with some positive psychology practices.
University of Pennsylvania researchers said “positive psychology interventions may include things like writing down good things that happen over the course of a day or intentionally committing acts of kindness. Combined, positive psychology and mindfulness can help older adults learn to adapt to age-related changes and cultivate positive experiences. By focusing on what is happening in the moment and highlighting the good things that happen in life, these interventions can help elders cope with the challenges that aging presents.”
In addition to the two best practices the researchers mentioned – journaling good things and being kind – here are two other ways to practice mindfulness with positive psychology:
- Make a gratitude visit or call. Think of someone who’s made a significant impact in your life and write a letter thanking him or her for it. Then call or visit to read the letter aloud.
- Write about your best possible future self. Researchers found people took great strides in boosting their outlooks with this exercise. Consider significant areas of your life – social, family, physical, financial, etc. Then imagine each as if everything goes as well as it possibly could:
- What would you be doing?
- How would your days look?
- How would you feel?
Older adults can give themselves the the gift of self-care with just a few minutes a day – or more time, if you’d like – of mindfulness, meditation or positive psychology.
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