Mind over matter: The benefits of meditation that will surprise you

Sep 21, 2021
Learn why meditation is so good for you. Source: Getty

The benefits of meditation for people of all ages are well documented, but here’s one of which you might not be aware: it can lessen wrinkles.

Stress ages our bodies and one of the main benefits of meditation is it can reduce stress, according to Meditation Australia President Asher Packman.

“Studies show that regular meditation can help reduce the skin’s ageing process,” he says.

Ed Tyrie, 78, who lives in regional Victoria, has been meditating for 40 years and guiding and teaching meditation for the past 12.

“From my experience, both personally and from teaching meditation to older people, meditation helps manage the stress of growing older,” he says.

What is meditation?

Packman says meditation is a kind of mind-body relaxation therapy. “We concentrate the mind on one particular thing, such as the breath, sound, gentle body movements, feelings or a mantra (chant),” he says. “This helps train our minds to stay at ease during times of stress or anxiety.”

The benefits of meditation

Meditation has a long history of use for enhancing overall health and wellbeing. For older Australians, Packman says there are some benefits that may be of particular interest:

  • Slows down the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases
  • Enhances digestion
  • Increases spatial awareness
  • Improves memory and focus
  • Reduces inflammation

“There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting or laying down); a focus of attention (the sensation of the breath, an object, a specially-chosen word or set of words); and an open attitude,” Packman says.

Can meditation improve your mental health?

Packman believes there’s a direct correlation between meditation and robust mental health.

“Mental health issues are typically a negative cycle combining physical symptoms with behaviour,” he says. “Feeling depressed, down, anxious, out of energy, or upset results in changes in behaviour.

“Over time, these behavioural patterns can contribute to worsening the mental health disorder. This is a vicious cycle and meditation can help to bring positive change.”

He warns while meditation should not be considered a replacement for behavioural therapy or medication, it can greatly contribute to positive outcomes in mental health treatment.

Meditation and social isolation

Many Australians have been separated from family and friends during the Covid-19 pandemic, and this social isolation can also have an impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Packman says meditation can provide a stable platform for managing the anxiety around these issues, as well as offering communities where people can gather and meditate online.

“There is evidence to suggest group meditation amplifies the overall benefits, even online,” he says.

How to start meditating

Jo Hofner, 74, gave up her long career three years ago to move closer to her family in regional New South Wales.

“My concern was the complete change in lifestyle,” she says.

She decided to enrol in a meditation course.

“It has provided me with great mental strength and physical wellbeing, attributes that older people need for a good life. I look forward to every day,” she says.

Many people join a local group and follow guided meditations from a teacher.

Classes are often offered for free by local councils, or at a reduced cost for seniors, with some offered online via video hook ups.

Can you maintain a meditation practice in lockdown?

With current lockdown restrictions, Hofner recently joined a Zoom meditation group.

“The energy within the group, sometimes 25 people, is hard to describe, you just want the session to go on forever,” she says.

Ed Tyrie says for him, teaching via Zoom has proved to be remarkably satisfactory.

“It came about because of Covid-19. My regular weekly group session has grown in numbers and all of them enjoy meditating with me from the comfort of their own homes, especially in winter,” he says.

“It’s been going for nearly two years now and the 60s and over find it particularly useful because of the convenience.”

How to find classes

Many places offer introductory courses such as Mindworks (currently offering their 14-day Fundamentals course online for free) and Mindfulness Works Australia (four sessions, across four weeks in person for $145) as well as many free meditations you can access from YouTube.

Packman says how you decide to meditate comes down to personal preference.

“My simple instruction is an old quote from William Wordsworth: ‘To begin, begin’.”

There are also numerous meditation apps. Some are free, some offer a free start-up period and then an on-going subscription.

“In these Covid times it may make more sense to use an app like Calm or Headspace, when the opportunity for physical gatherings is limited, but my preference is always to suggest sitting with a teacher,” Packman says.

Tyrie recommends giving it a go.

“What could be simpler than sitting quietly for a few minutes each day and reaping the benefits – a sort of additional asset in your pension portfolio, accumulating returns that will last the rest of your life. No brainer really,” he says.

So does it really work in the race against ageing?

Australian-American scientist and Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn has specifically linked meditation with stress reduction and the impact that has on the ageing process.

Now who are we to argue with science?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Do you practice meditation? How do you like to relax?

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