Mindfulness uses simple tools to live a more peaceful, fulfilling life.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply practicing staying fully present, aware of your surroundings and what you’re doing, with a neutral, open disposition. Regardless of whether you’ve got a packed schedule or are considering your retirement, mindfulness can help you sift through the chaos of life to clarify your priorities and needs.
How do you achieve mindfulness?
The key with mindfulness is to make it a regular habit; by using mindfulness tools in everyday life, you’ll reset your focus, and give yourself time to think clearly and breathe deeply. Learn more about how to achieve mindfulness.
Why is mindfulness important for seniors?
Studies suggest that mindfulness practices like meditation reduce stress, improve sleep, and can dramatically improve quality of life. Meditation has even been used to improve the experience of elderly people who are experiencing symptoms of dementia. A mindfulness practice also has physical benefits, including enhancing your immune response, decreasing anxiety and depression, and improving your heart-health. Your own mindfulness experience is personal, so choose exercises and practices that feel comfortable or intriguing to you. The most important thing is to choose a practice you can keep and do consistently.
10 mindfulness practices to try
If you’re new to the practice of mindfulness, here are 10 simple tips to get you started.
1. Practice gratitude
Our brains tend to focus on the negative aspects of life; we cling to a negative comment, a bad outcome, or a source of stress more than we allow ourselves to celebrate a triumph, a compliment, or a good feeling. Psychologists call this a negativity bias. A gratitude practice retrains your brain to focus on what is good and enriching, and can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress, or depression when you make it a regular practice. Try rewiring your brain for mindful gratitude by making a list of things you’re grateful for every morning, reflecting specifically on the positive moments of your day even if they’re small, or by telling people you love what you appreciate about them and asking for them to do the same thing for you.
2. Listen to your body
Listening to your body sounds like a simple practice, but truly tuning in takes time, patience, and extra attention. Our nervous systems are deeply linked to our thoughts, emotions, and mental processes. Because of this, our bodies often have clues about how we are doing or what we need. Any traumas or grief we’ve experienced can also be held in our bodies. By tuning into our physical selves, we can find relief for spiritual or mental challenges we are experiencing.
Here are some steps to listening to your body:
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position, and notice where you feel tension in your body. Are your shoulders tight? Are your fists clenched? Try softening mentally and physically around anywhere in the body where you feel pain, tightness, or discomfort and breathe in deeply, sending breath to the areas where you’re experiencing tension.
- The next time you feel stressed, tune into your body. What is happening physically as a response to the threat your body is anticipating or sensing? Some people feel a tightening in their chest, and others feel a pain or sick feeling in their stomach. Others might feel an urge to eat even though they’re not hungry, to seek relief through food. Sensations that you might associate with feeling sick or unwell might actually be your body giving you a message.
Here are some messages that your body might give you when you practice mindfulness:
- I’m tired! I need you to take a week off or to ask for help.
- I feel angry and might need to express frustration through exercise or through talking about my anger with the person I have a conflict with.
- I am grieving, or trying to heal. I need you to be more gentle with me.
- I need to have some fun or laugh; when was the last time we tried something new?
- I’m eating or drinking to forget about a painful memory, but this is only masking the pain. Perhaps therapy or meditation could be a better solution.
3. Mindful eating
In the same way that our bodies reflect our feelings and state of being back to us, food can equip and empower our bodies and minds. What we consume can dictate how much energy we have and how sharp our thinking is. By learning to cook your own healthy meals, you’ll be creating a meditative practice that brings you into the present moment. Mindful eating and cooking is also a great way to connect with others; making and eating a meal together tells someone you care about that you’re interested in their well-being. As you get more confident with recipes and techniques, cooking can increasingly become a place for creativity as well.
4. Observe your surroundings
Mindfulness is all about waking up to the life you’re already living. One way to calm down or recenter when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed is to focus on something in your environment. This aspect of mindfulness is all about noticing. Practice being in the present moment and notice how people relate to each other, notice a cute dog or a colourful outfit, note the energy you feel coming from the space you are in.
5. Conscious breathing
Many forms of meditation are deeply linked to breathing practices and techniques, and this is for a good reason. Coming back to your breath is an easy way to calm your nervous system, bring fresh air to invigorate your body and mind, and slow any hurried or panicked thinking. Meditation offers many benefits specific to seniors. Breathing techniques can be as simple as breathing in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly and intentionally. Notice how the breath feels as it enters and leaves your body. Other breathing techniques can be combined with practices like yoga, tai chi, or gentle stretching to simultaneously relieve tension in the body.
6. Active listening
Mindfulness is also powerful in the way it brings us an awareness of others and their experiences of life. By choosing to actively listen and ask questions when someone else is sharing, you’ll be able to widen your lens of the world and consider a new perspective. Active listening can also remind us of how we are all connected; when we truly listen to someone else’s struggles or ideas, we might see parallels to our own life or discover new ways to connect. Actively listening also gives you an opportunity for self-improvement, as you ask questions like “how do this person’s words make me feel?” or “what might they be trying to tell me?”
7. Start your mornings off with mindfulness or meditation
The first hour of wakefulness is a brilliant opportunity to set your intention for the day. It’s easy to reach for your phone or flip on the T.V. or radio to start a new day, but take time for mindfulness in the morning and you may discover a new aspect of yourself.
Your meditation practice can be uniquely shaped to suit your life, your preferences, and your level of focus. When you start meditating, don’t be deterred if it feels like nothing is happening, or if you feel your mind wandering. Even the act of bringing your focus back to your breathing is helping your brain build a new channel to a calmer, slower, more even-keeled way of thinking. There are many ways to practice meditation, including group meditation classes, online meditation classes, in-person classes, or through an app like Headspace or Open. A guided meditation class with Boomerang is also an easy place to start.
9. Mindful walking
The steady, meditative act of walking is a great way to combine mindfulness practices. Walking brings you into an awareness of your body, strengthens your muscles, and can be a great way to work through ideas or obstacles. While it’s relaxing to walk listening to an inspiring podcast or music, try walking with no phone or headphones to challenge yourself to stay present. As you walk, notice where on your foot each step lands, or where your thoughts tend to wander. Notice greenery along the trail and tune into your senses as you walk.
Try asking yourself questions these questions as you walk and think about your responses:
- How am I doing today?
- What am I trying not to feel right now?
- How does my body feel?
10. Explore your senses
Practicing mindfulness can be difficult when life is happening quickly, and sources of stress emerge without warning. If you struggle to breathe consciously or feel that you can’t snap into a mindful practice throughout the day, use your senses as a guide.
What sounds can you hear that are closest and loudest to you? What can you hear off in the distance?
What can you see? What colours are present in your environment? Can you pick up a leaf and look at the details and lines on the leaf? Is your environment light or dark? What visual cues are the people near you communicating through their body language?
If you are eating, what do you taste? Is the flavour salty or sweet?
Notice what you smell and tune into the nuances of the smell. Is it familiar? Does it bring up any memories?
Notice the ground under your feet or under your body. What is supporting you? How does your body feel? What sensations can you feel in your fingers, toes, and body?
Open the door to mindfulness with Boomerang
Mindfulness practices can be easier to integrate when you’re part of a group. Pursuing your hobbies or rediscovering your passions has never been easier. With Boomerang, older adults can register for over 100+ online classes a month in areas of their interest.
Our online mindfulness workshops are led by passionate instructors to help you explore your interests. Read more about how to explore mindfulness online.