By Dave Link, Eastside News
As people age, their bodies and abilities naturally decline. Through exercise and other wellness practices these declines can be slowed down. But it’s easy to forget about the human brain when discussing wellness in older adults. While the brain controls all body functions, it also connects us to thoughts, behaviors and emotions. It also can feel the effects of aging.
A twice weekly mindfulness meditation session at the Goodman Community Center helps older adults take care of their minds. The one-hour sessions introduce attendees to some simple methods of mindfulness meditation in a safe, nonjudgmental setting.
“The group supports each other when we meet,” instructor Laiman Mai said. “I keep it simple so they can do it at home.”
There are many practices of meditation, but mindfulness meditation is perfect for older adults because there are no paths to walk or candles to light.
“Mindful meditation is about paying attention to our mind and body,” Mai said. “It trains the mind to go in a different direction. It’s extremely practical.”
What it can do is inspire people to let go of some of their burdens and start loving themselves and others.
There are three parts to Goodman’s sessions, where the group forms a circle to follow Mai’s prompts:
Attendees focus their minds as Mai instructs them to “feel your breath,” “feel your leg” and “feel all sensations.” Their breathing becomes calm as they relax and concentrate on the prompts.
Love and Kindness
In this second part, the group recites affirmations like “May I be safe,” “May I be happy” and “May all beings be free from suffering.”
The final part of the session is where members of the group can share what they are grateful for.
“I can feel the betterness in my body,” one regular attendee said after a session. “The breathing helps me calm down and I enjoy what I learn from the reflective learning.”
What mindfulness meditation, in particular, does to the brain is create a habit of presence, attention and focus, recent scientific studies have documented.
Meditation in general has been shown to strengthen parts of the brain connected to happiness and shrink parts of the brain connected to stress and repetitive unpleasant emotions. It has also been found to increase feelings of kindness and empathy.
Studies have shown that meditation affects the brain by effectively rewiring it so that old, unhelpful patterns can be replaced by new, helpful ones.
Goodman offers drop-in mindfulness meditation every Tuesday 11 a.m. to noon for older adults and every Thursday 6-7 p.m. for all ages. Thursday sessions are free with fitness center class membership, or $5 ($4 for ages 60 and older) for nonmembers.
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