We live in a time where it’s easy to operate on autopilot. We can order anything we want to eat or wear right to our door, and answer burning questions at the click of a button. Staying present, aware, and connected to the world around us can be difficult, especially with the comforting allure of movies, shows, and social media.
Modern technology has trained us to expect things quickly, and given us easy ways of tuning out and pushing down any feelings of discomfort. This can have negative consequences for our physical, emotional, and mental health. Mindfulness is a powerful antidote to this sort of apathy. Many mindfulness activities are slow and intentional, awakening us to the moment we are in right now while offering a world of benefits.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of being intentionally present in the current moment. This word is used in many ways, but it generally includes any activity or technique that encourages an awareness of your feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and immediate environment. The word “mindfulness” can be misleading since most mindful activities actually result in a release of busy thoughts. When mindfulness practices are successful, they result in a sense of the mind peacefully resting, a relief from racing thoughts, a sense of calm, a lower heart rate, and deeper breathing.
True mindfulness involves an acceptance of your current state without clinging, controlling, or trying to “fix” or alter it. Practising mindfulness is being in your current state without judgement. You might be aware of discomfort, unease, sadness, joy, excitement, or stress in a mindful state, but you learn to exist with these feelings and sensations on your path toward peace, balance, and release.
What’s the historical significance of mindfulness?
The word mindfulness may feel new and trendy, but historians estimate that the roots of mindful living date back to 3,000 BCE. Meditation was practiced by monks and nuns throughout history. Most mindfulness practices didn’t find their way into the collective North American psyche until the 1960s. Globalization and immigration played a key role in bringing Eastern mindfulness practices to North America, as they emerged in university curriculums and Buddhist centres before finding their way into the collective public consciousness.
Every major religion or spiritual practice includes some aspect of mindfulness, whether it’s through prayer, service, repetitive movement, or music. Researchers and historians often attribute the modern roots of mindfulness to Indian Buddhist meditation, Japanese zen practices and Tibetan Buddhism. The word “mindfulness” came into the English language as a translation of the word “sati,” from Pali, a language spoken in ancient India. The direct translation of this word is essentially “awareness.” The spreading of pamphlets, books, and articles were catalysts for the mindfulness movement in modern culture. A Buddhist text called the satipaṭṭhāna sutta is a seminal text on mindfulness meditation, and books like by The Miracle of Mindfulness by the famous Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh were featured on bestseller lists and picked up by shows like Oprah, bringing the art of mindfulness further into public awareness. Today there are thousands of films, documentaries, books, courses, and classes on mindfulness.
Why does mindfulness matter?
If you’ve ever tried a mindfulness practice of any kind, including meditation, yoga, intentional breathing, or even a simple nature walk, you’ve likely already noticed the difference it makes. From physical and emotional wellness to community-building and mental health, mindfulness has a myriad of benefits that contribute to a healthy, balanced life.
Benefits of mindfulness for seniors
Research shows how mindfulness offers benefits for almost every aspect of the human experience and well-being. Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness for older adults:
- Mindfulness can help preserve memory, improve cognition, prevent symptoms of dementia, and enhance your ability to focus or perform.
- Research demonstrates that mindfulness techniques like meditation or breathing exercises can improve depression symptoms, enhance mood, improve physical pain, reduce stress and anxiety, and help reinforce healthy habits.
- Mindfulness meditation lowers heart rate and is now considered an supportive treatment for those with coronary disease to reduce their risk of heart attack or aid in recovery.
- Being intentionally aware and implementing activities like mindful breathing can reduce inflammation, which has been shown to help with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Practices like yoga or tai chi pair the benefits of mindfulness with movement to improve balance, stability, and strength.
Read more about the benefits of yoga for seniors.
How to introduce mindfulness practices after 50
Introducing new mindfulness practices after 50 can be a great way to get inspired and reconnect with yourself. Every stage of life has its own beauty, and mindful living can open new doors and spark new ideas. Practicing mindfulness allows you to experience a sense of connection and oneness with your community and the world around you. Mindfulness practices can be shaped to suit the way you want to live your life and the specific goals you have for your emotional, mental, and physical well-being.
Most mindfulness techniques begin with learning a mindfulness discipline and may not feel great right away. Make a commitment to trying a new practice like meditation, yoga, breathing, or simple awareness for a set period of time to properly test it out and get used to it. Some mindfulness practices may feel uncomfortable at first, but think of it as learning to walk. When a toddler takes their first steps it doesn’t feel good! If you remember where you’re headed, you can get excited about the benefits and the upcoming reward.
Test out different methods of mindfulness
Discipline is important in making mindfulness a habit, but not every mindfulness technique will be right for you. It’s okay to walk away if it doesn’t seem like a good fit. Only you will know when something really isn’t working. In the same way that some people find joy or meaning in different religions or spiritual practices, you might need to search to find what works for you.
Pushing yourself to try something that’s too far outside your comfort zone could scare you away from a new experience altogether. So start with a technique that feels a bit familiar, or something that is comfortable for you. This could be very simple. If you are someone who finds comfort and healing in the natural world, mindfulness could be as simple as committing to a five-minute portion of your daily walk to notice all of the living things like trees, grass, earth, and pay attention to all of your senses.
Start small and reward yourself
The perfect way to sabotage a mindfulness practice is taking on too much. If you’ve had small children, you know that melting some cheese on broccoli makes eating a vegetable easier until they grow to love the taste of the broccoli itself. In the same way, you can introduce little habits like stretching and mindful deep breathing each morning, or journaling twice a week. Reward yourself for little victories.
Research on forming intentional habits shows that creating a reward system for your brain helps to reinforce activities you want to make part of your life. Try meditating for five minutes instead of starting with 20, and reward yourself afterwards with a bubble bath so your neural pathways associate the mindfulness activity with a positive reward.
Connect with mindful community
In North American culture, we talk a lot about self-help in relation to mindfulness practices. But the roots of mindfulness grow from mindful presence with an awareness of our connection to the earth and the communities we are part of. Our modern adoption of ancient meditation techniques is often focused on the individual self, but if you look at Indigenous cultures, you’ll find many mindful practices that also involve community.
The purpose of mindfulness is not only for the self, but also to offer an awareness of our role in our community and our world. Mindful living reminds us that we are part of a bigger whole. Try a new activity with others, whether it’s in person or remotely through an online meditation class. Connecting could also be as simple as texting a friend to share what came up during your last meditation or committing to a weekly time where you check in to keep each other accountable.
How can I become mindful?
You may have assumptions about what mindfulness should look like. But there are a broad variety of mindfulness techniques, practices, and tools that you can try to find something that best suits your lifestyle. Here are some different ways to explore mindfulness.
Yoga classes aren’t just for young, fit people in spandex outfits. The history of yoga spans back centuries, and its origins in mindful movement and breath are perfect for any skill level.
Tips for getting started with yoga
Yoga classes for seniors offer variations that take your ability and limitations into account, helping you move and relax as you practice awareness. You can likely find a local yoga studio near where you live, but you can also start a yoga practice from the comfort of your own home for little to no cost. Online classes provide a way to comfortably learn and ease into something new while connecting with others.
Meditation offers a rich menu of benefits that includes mental health and emotional wellness. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to meditation is to start with a huge chunk of time and become discouraged. Even a few minutes of meditation a day can have lasting benefits. Don’t be surprised if meditating doesn’t feel good at first! Some people find the first few weeks are just spent getting used to the practice of releasing thoughts. If you’re mindfully releasing thoughts and focusing on your breath or mantra, you’re helping your brain build new pathways and training your ability to focus and release. Over time, most meditators start to feel comfortable and begin to experience the feelings of calm and zen that meditation offers.
Tips for getting started with mindfulness meditation
Meditation types vary, but in general meditation requires these elements:
- A quiet place to sit or lie comfortably that’s free of distraction. Some meditation practices also involve activities like walking or swaying.
- A point of focus like the movement of your breath, a specific word or mantra, an object, or all three.
- An intention to be totally present, letting thoughts come and go and purposefully releasing control by sensing what you are feeling and thinking.
Writing down your thoughts without judgement in a stream of consciousness is a great way to practice mindful living. A journal helps to release stress and reduce anxiety, as demonstrated in the book The Body Keeps the Score.
Tips for getting started with journaling
Try choosing a time to write every day, and start small with five minutes of writing or doodling. Journals are also a great way to reflect on what you’ve learned or to understand your own thought processes better. Spend some time reading back on old entries and you may recognize behaviour patterns or see your own life more clearly.
Mindful baking or cooking
If you’re not excited about meditation or breathing techniques, try implementing mindfulness into an activity you already love to do. Mindfulness baking can be a way to practice mindful living and to end up with a product you can share with those you love, connecting your mindful activity to a sense of community. Preparing food is a tactile, hands on activity.
Tips for getting started with mindful baking
Small, repetitive actions like kneading or mixing can be therapeutic when paired with deep breaths and a conscious effort to notice what you feel, smell, sense, and touch. Culinary therapy has even been integrated into curriculums and grief programs because of its mindfulness benefits.
Mindful exercise doesn’t have to involve yoga or stretching. You can practice mindfulness while doing tai chi, running, practising Qigong, walking, swimming, or in online mindful movement classes.
Tips for getting started with mindful movement
Use water as a way to practice meditative swimming, letting the movement of your breath, the sensation of the water, and the repetitive strokes guide you into awareness. Musical theatre programs or expressive dance can also be great ways to connect with yourself mindfully.
Learn more about our mindfulness and meditation classes for seniors.
You may notice some of these mindfulness techniques are outside the box of what most people assume mindfulness has to be. Since the root of mindful living is being aware, you can practice mindfulness in any activity by counting your breath in and out, becoming aware of your surroundings, noticing sensations in and around your body, and training your brain to ask mindful questions.
What are some mindfulness questions?
- What am I feeling? What am I trying not to feel?
- What is happening now?
- What can I smell, see, touch, taste, or hear?
- Can I say “yes” to everything, even the feelings that don’t feel good?
- When my thoughts wander, what helps me come back to the moment?
- Does moving my body help me stay present?
- Where in my body do I feel unease, and how does the feeling change when I take several deep slow breaths?
Educational mindfulness podcasts
Start exploring mindfulness by learning more about it. Informative podcasts may introduce you to different techniques, tools, ideas, or offer education on the history of mindfulness. Some podcasts feature guests or offer panel discussions in which thought leaders and teachers on mindfulness share their experiences, expertise, and ideas. Start building your toolbelt with great techniques you can try later on your own.
Self-help mindfulness podcasts
These podcasts can be a direct part of your daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Some podcasts offer a direct guide for the practice of mindfulness itself, like walking you through a timed meditation or offering journal prompts to write down your thoughts and feelings on a topic. Meditation podcasts can help you start meditating and ease you into it with a helpful guide. Mindfulness teacher Tara Brach often offers encouragement during her 20-minute meditation podcast guides, letting you know that a wandering mind (or thinking about what you’ll make for dinner) is normal, and offering tools and tricks to train your brain. Podcasts like this can help if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable about the idea of mindfulness meditation and offer an affordable alternative to in-person classes.
Tips for mindful living as a senior
- Experiment and get to know the tools that help you rebalance and find your centre when life feels overwhelming.
- Explore Boomerang’s blogs and online classes to search for mindfulness-themed classes that appeal to you.
- Remember that habits are a lifelong commitment and they get easier with time. As demonstrated in the book Atomic Habits, research shows that habits are easier to keep when you’re intentional with physical space. For example, trying to meditate on the sofa you usually watch TV on will likely be especially difficult. Try designating a special cushion, chair, or corner for your meditation practice. If you’re drawing or doing a creative activity, try putting on a special hat, robe, or choosing a desk that’s especially used for that practice. This helps your neural pathways form around a new habit.
- Ask your friends, peers, siblings, or those who share a similar lifestyle what they find helpful. Your kids, coworkers, or neighbours can also be great resources for ideas.
- Get curious about new kinds of mindfulness. Some people find a way of meditating or moving mindfully that they keep for life, but you might be more inspired if you’re constantly exploring and learning about different kinds of mindful living.
Explore mindfulness with Boomerang’s online classes
Growing older can open doors to a new world of possibility and learning. With Boomerang, older adults can register for a variety of wellness classes each month. Passionate instructors are here to guide you on your way to living your best life. Connect with mindful community from the comfort of your home. Boomerang classes are a great way to learn, practice, and connect through mindfulness practices.
Looking to get started on your mindfulness journey? Explore all of Boomerang’s classes today.