Some traditions of yoga recognize the “seasons” of people’s lives. These traditions advocate for allowing your practice to evolve according to your season. Here’s how it works:
- Spring is the season of childhood. In childhood, free play is the most appropriate practice.
- Summer is the season of young adulthood. In young adulthood, asana is the focus, along with introducing some basic pranayama and meditation practices.
- Fall is the season of middle age. In middle age, pranayama becomes the central practice, with asana and meditation to support it.
- Winter is the season of seniorhood. In your senior years, meditation becomes the central practice, while pranayama and asana serve to support meditation.
As far as I know, there are no set age ranges for these delineations. This is likely because we all age in different ways. But one thing is for sure: an established yoga practice, including asana, pranayama and meditation, will help you navigate the inevitable ups and downs of aging with much more grace.
4 Benefits of Meditation for Seniors
Since today is National Senior Health and Meditation Day, this article will focus on the benefits of meditation for those entering into, and/or standing firmly in, the winter season of their lives. In recent years, research has shown meditation practices to benefit seniors (and others too!) in many ways, from daily life easefulness to altering the structure of the brain.
Here are some of the benefits of meditation for seniors:
- Decreased Health Care Utilization: A five-year study of Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioners showed that meditation practitioners found that: “ … the Transcendental Meditation group had 55% less medical care utilization, both in-patient and out-patient, compared to controls matched for age, gender, and occupation. The Transcendental Meditation group had lower sickness rates in all categories of disease, including 87% less hospitalization for heart disease and 55% less for cancer. The difference between the Transcendental Meditation and non-Transcendental Meditation groups was greatest for individuals over 40 years of age.”
- Increased Longevity: A National Institutes of Health study explored how mindfulness practices mitigated stress by making difficult emotional states easier to accept and by cultivating a sense of control over our reactions to our thoughts. Both these qualities reduce stress. Because stress is a factor in cell degeneration, meditation can help to decelerate the aging process: “The results suggest that the relative balance of threat to challenge cognitions may be important in buffering against the long term wear and tear effects of stressors. To the extent that meditation mitigates stress-related cognitions and propagation of negative emotions and negative stress arousal, a longstanding practice of mindfulness or other forms of meditation may indeed decelerate cellular aging.”
- Meditation Can Help Prevent Memory Loss: A 2017 study found that a programs of meditation and music listening significantly benefitted seniors with preclinical memory loss: “As detailed in a paper recently published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at 3 months. These included domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia (e.g., attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function). The substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at 6 months (3 months post-intervention).”
- Walking Meditation Improves Mood: Balance becomes less steady as we age, unless we make a point to cultivate it. When seniors become afraid to move for fear of falling, depression can set in. Our bodies were designed to move, after all. Adding mindfulness to a simple walking practice makes the effects of walking even more potent. A study in Thailand put seniors into two groups, a simple walking group and a group that practiced mindful walking. The study found that: “Buddhist walking meditation was effective in reducing depression, improving functional fitness and vascular reactivity, and appears to confer greater overall improvements than the traditional walking program.”
Mindfulness classes have become much more readily available in recent years. Many hospitals, senior centers and yoga centers offer mindfulness trainings. If you live in a place where there’s no access to mindfulness training, you can still find resources online. I highly recommend Sounds True’s “Power of Awareness” 7-week training course.