Top 7 Benefits of Meditation for the Over 40’s
Meditation has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. While the practise has been used in the East for centuries, it is only recently that the Western world has started to recognize its effects – specifically when it comes to the work-hard, play-hard culture which is so prevalent in our daily lives.
While it’s natural to assume that life slows down a little as you grow older, this is often not the case. Running after children (or grandchildren!), attempting to excel in your career, looking after your body and trying to maintain a social life can seem an impossibly large amount of responsibilities to juggle. Plus, once we reach a certain age, taking care of both our physical and mental health becomes even more important. Take on too much, and we can end up run down and exhausted – struggling to keep up with daily stresses and that ever-increasing to-do list.
One of the best ways to take care of our health is by developing a regular meditation practise. Meditating can help us cope with so many stresses and strains in life, with the benefits extending far beyond the time we actually spend meditating.
Start a regular meditation practise and you could see some (or perhaps even all) of these wonderful physical and mental benefits.
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- Start a regular meditation practise and you could see some (or perhaps even all) of these wonderful physical and mental benefits.
- Here’s our quick and easy 5-minute meditation to get you started.
No longer sporting the thighs we had in our 20s or the biceps of our high-school hockey days can take its toll on our confidence. While our bodies should be celebrated no matter how they look, the realisation that our bodies have changed without our noticing can give our egos a serious knock.
Meditation is a fantastic way to increase confidence – this is because it promotes both acceptance and gratitude. Regular meditation helps to calm the chatter in our minds, allowing us to sit with our bodies without the distraction of self-doubt and lack of confidence. Meditation allows us to sit and essentially, make friends with ourselves again. By practising non-judgement and acceptance, we can stop getting hung up on our thoughts and feelings, and start to speak to ourselves in the same way we would a close friend. Furthermore, there’s a number of guided meditations available which are specifically designed to invite kindness, confidence and contentment into our lives.
As we grow older we may find ourselves not quite as…sprightly, as we once were. While our 20s and 30s are filled with adventurous activities, once we reach 40 we often find ourselves starting to slow down in the bedroom. Unbeknownst to many, meditation can increase our libido and help us find our sense of adventure again.
When we are stressed, our reproductive instincts move far down on our list of priorities. This is why many women find it difficult to get pregnant when they are under a lot of stress – their body is telling them it’s not quite time for a baby! Meditation reduces stress and helps your body put reproduction back on the agenda which, even if you’re not trying for a baby, will result in a higher libido.
Secondly, meditation helps you re-establish a sense of connection with your body and partner. We are so often distracted from all the chatter in our minds that we don’t feel really in our body. Meditation gets you out of your head, and back into your body – allowing you to experience and recognise your sexual energy, instead of focusing so much on what’s going on inside your head.
As we grow older, there’s no denying our hormones can go haywire. One day we’re bright as buttons, the next we’re waking up in hot sweats or getting frustrated with the cashier for no reason whatsoever. Meditating regularly will lower both cortisol and adrenaline in the body – two of our most prominent stress hormones. It’ll also increase our feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. The result is a decrease in mood swings and an all-round more balanced and centered feeling as we go about our day.
Menopause is a major transition for many women, and can be a both physically and mentally exhausting process. Meditation provides a perfect management technique, helping to ease physical symptoms while also reducing stress. Whether it’s headaches, backache, lack of energy or insomnia, meditation can help ease or completely dissipate any nasty symptoms.
If you feel as though your to-do list spans the length of your right arm, but you still never seem to get anything done, you could be one to benefit from a meditation practice. While meditating when you have a lot on seems a little counter-productive, research suggests that meditating regularly will lead to a greater level of productivity.
How? Well, meditation causes physiological changes in the brain. This change is called gyrification which boosts how well our brains process information and make decisions. Gyrification can even help us to concentrate for longer. While these benefits can be seen from just a few minutes of meditation, practising regularly is even more valuable. Keep up a regular meditation practise and you might find that to-do list gets slightly easier to crack.
Suffering from insomnia or even missing out on just a few hours’ sleep regularly is an all too common problem. Those who suffer from sleep deprivation will know the impact it has not only on the night in question, but also on the days, and weeks, that follow.
Meditation is a great way to relax your body and prepare it for a night of sleep. One of the most effective practices is a body scan meditation, which involves bringing awareness to each body part before consciously relaxing it. There’s a whole host of meditations online and in apps which are specifically designed to help you sleep. Developing a relaxing night-time routine which includes limiting caffeine, screen time and ensuring your bedroom is cool and comfortable will set you up for a great night’s sleep. Add a guided body scan to this, which will tap into the parasympathetic nervous system to release stress and anxiety, and you may find yourself sleeping better than you ever have before.
As busy 40-somethings, getting sick is an inconvenience we don’t need in our lives, and it always seems to happen at the worst of times. If you feel your immune system might need a little boost, meditation could be your secret weapon.
To put it simply, meditation increases activity in the left side of our brains. This side is responsible for the immune system. Increased activity here means our brains do a better job commanding the production of defence cells which protect us against illness when cold and flu season hits.
Another study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco suggests that meditation might even play a part in preventing dementia. In this study, a group of meditators were compared with a group of non-meditators over a set period of time. The meditators finished the trial with a better ratio of the proteins most strongly linked to dementia. Experienced meditators also show better levels of these proteins, suggesting both long and short-term positive effects.
Decreased Anxiety and Depression
Meditation is now a recognized form of therapy for a number of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. One of the best ways to decrease anxiety in difficult situations is by practising breathing exercises. Focusing on the breath provides a welcome outlet from the thoughts running through our heads, and can produce a sense of calm and clarity – a feeling which continues long after we stop meditating. As we have already picked up on, meditation both decreases stress hormones and increases happy hormones – chemicals which are actually used in various antidepressants. Unlike antidepressants however, meditation has virtually no unwanted side effects.
While meditation might not rid our life of stresses altogether (if it did we’re sure the world would be a far better place!), it can help us to sit with, and manage stress, far better. In our hectic lives, we rarely get a chance to just sit and be. Stillness is practically unheard of, so it’s no wonder we often struggle to cope. Meditation provides a time to just be with our thoughts, stresses and anxieties, neither labeling nor judging them. We are encouraged to recognise them as just thoughts, which teaches us to be non-reactive and passive – a skill which can be applied to other areas of our lives.
How to Meditate:
It’s all very well knowing the benefits, but you may be feeling you simply don’t know how to meditate – and we can assure you that you are not alone! People are often put off meditating because they feel intimidated by the practise – often believing they need to ‘shut off’ all thoughts or remain still for hours at a time.
This is not the reality of meditation however, and many don’t realise that it can be done in just a few minutes. In fact, meditating for just a couple of minutes but ensuring you make it a regular practice is arguably the most effective – and you don’t need to spend money on guided meditation apps to feel the effects!
Here’s our quick and easy 5-minute meditation to get you started.
– Set yourself a timer for 5-10 minutes. This will ensure you’re not worried about falling asleep or spending too long meditating – allowing you to properly switch off and take this time out of your day to be with yourself.
– Find yourself a comfortable place to sit. We recommend feet flat on the floor with a straight back. While it’s important that your body is relaxed, your spine should be straight and not hunched over.
– Begin by taking a few deep breaths in and out through your nose – this will centre your body and help you to settle into the meditation. Try to breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and then exhale for four seconds.
– After completing up to five of these breaths, allow your breathing to come to its natural rhythm.
– Begin to bring your awareness to the breath. We recommend focusing on the part of the body you are most aware of during the breathing process – this could be the rise and fall of the chest, the movement of the belly or perhaps the sensation of the cool air flowing into your nostrils.
– If your attention begins to wander, notice where your mind went and bring your focus back to the breath. This is a totally normal part of meditation and does not mean that you are doing it wrong! It takes a huge amount of practise to completely quieten the mind, what matters the most is that when you notice your focus has drifted, bringing your awareness back – focusing on non-judgement and a sense of passivity.
– As thoughts, emotions and memories crop up (as they will), practise the art of non-judgement. Try to distance yourself from them and imagine yourself simply observing these thoughts – acknowledging them before returning your attention to your breath.
– Continue to breathe in this way until your timer goes off. On completing this meditation, you should feel calmer, more settled in your body and more alert. With time, you will feel ready to meditate for longer periods of time.
Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com