It’s a practice that has gained popularity in recent years and chances are most over-60s have heard about mindfulness at one point or another. Still, many people are confused as to what mindfulness is and whether it’s something that can benefit health – particularly for those in their 60s and beyond.
In simple terms, mindfulness is all about paying attention to your life in the present moment and being engaged with whatever is happening around you and with you. It’s all about a person looking at their life experiences in the moment in an open and non-judgemental way, rather than focusing on negative thoughts.
“It’s living in the now rather than looking to the past or future too much and being grateful for the position you’re in or being aware of where you need to head,” Gabrielle McCorry, psychologist at Lysn tells Starts at 60. “Mindfulness is often perceived as being linked to Buddhist practices but today it encapsulates a lot more and there are many activities associated with it, such as meditation, yoga, journaling or even art.”
Mindfulness is said to benefit overall health because it brings about a sense of contentment and allows a person to stop and contemplate their life in the here and now. For example, many people worry about things that have happened in the past or things that may or may not happen in the future.
“When we’re lost in this type of thinking, we can lose touch with the beauty and aliveness of the present moment. Mindfulness lets us appreciate the fullness of each moment of life,” McCorry says. “In fact, when you’re truly in the present moment, it is impossible for worries about the past or the future to arise.”
Breathing exercises, meditation and yoga force people to slow down and relax, which does wonders for the body and mind. People who practice mindfulness often feel less stressed which in turn, can increase sleep quality and improve emotional well-being.
A 2015 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal found mindfulness meditation practices appear to have a role in addressing the prevalent burden of sleep problems in older adults. The study found participants who practiced mindfulness saw improvements when it came to insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, fatigue interference and fatigue severity.
“Mindfulness can help you stop and take stock of your life, rather than just going through the motions without purpose or intention, and reduce emotional reactivity,” McCorry says.
Starting is simple and it’s usually best to begin by implementing some mindfulness breathing into the day. This technique requires a person to close their eyes and focus on their breath by listening to the sounds they make and focusing on bringing the breath through their nostrils, filling the lungs and breathing out again.
“You’ll notice things start to slow down and you might even start to relax,” McCorry says. “Breath work is incredibly powerful and is a great stepping stone to some other mindfulness activities like meditation and yoga.”
If you want to start slow try beginning with journaling, breath work and meditation. These activities should be completed in a quiet space alone or with a person who is supportive of the benefits.
Because mindfulness helps people to relax and slow down, it’s also great for people in stressful situations. Over time, mindfulness makes people less psychologically, emotionally and physiologically reactive to stressful events and eases negative feelings and symptoms associated with stress.
A 2014 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that just 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation practice for three consecutive days can alleviate psychological stress. Through a quiz and saliva sample to measure the stress hormone known as cortisol, researchers found mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience and biologically, participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.
“Focusing on the present moment can break the train of everyday thinking and worry, and relieve the anticipatory stress associated with things that haven’t even happened yet (and may not),” McCorry explains.
It’s also something many people in retirement are practicing to adjust to the transition between work and retirement and to help people cope with negative thoughts and feelings during this time. Journaling can be a great form of meditation for retirees.
“Often when we write things down, it can allow our brains to mentally let go of it for the time being and allow us to feel as though we’ve been able to express our feelings,” McCorry says.
There’s also plenty of help available for people who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to learning about mindfulness.
Headspace, Smiling Minds, the Calm app, Aura, Breeth and Buddify all offer apps that aid in developing mindfulness, which in turn can do wonders for reducing stress, enhancing mood, improving immunity, heightening concentration and creativity and improve relationships.
“Ultimately, practicing mindfulness helps us be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled,” McCorry concludes.