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Some of us remember watching or hearing about former ABC World News Tonight anchor Dan Harris’ on-air panic attack. While unusual and embarrassing, what is truly remarkable about Harris’ experience is how he ultimately conquered his anxiety and the incessant chatter in his mind: meditation. “If you had told me a few years ago that I’d turn into an evangelist for meditation, I’d have coughed my beer up through my nose,” said Harris, who wrote a book about the power of meditation.

As ancient Hindis discovered as far back as 1500 BCE, meditation – particularly mindfulness
meditation
 – has enormous physical, psychological and spiritual benefits. Simply put, mindfulness meditation is concentrating on the present moment without judging it. Older adults stand to gain more than most from the practice, as evidenced by numerous studies.

Despite several misconceptions about meditation (the biggies being that you have to sit in a trance chanting “om” or completely empty your mind), it’s easy to do, quick to be effective, and doesn’t require a doctor’s approval!

Let’s look at the many ways in which meditation (as well as mind-body exercises such as tai chi, qigong, pilates and yoga) can help us – mind, body and soul.

Physical Benefits

  • Decreases blood pressure and inflammation
  • Slows heart and breathing rate to a healthy degree
  • Reduces muscular and vascular tension
  • Alleviates chronic pain, headaches and coronary artery disease
  • Prevents or forestalls cognitive decline and memory loss
  • Improves digestion, circulation and cardiovascular health
  • Brain activity moves from the right frontal cortex where stress lives to the left frontal cortex, where calm resides
  • Aids sleep and restfulness
  • Improves skin resistance and slows its aging process

Psychological Benefits

  • Decreases stress, anxiety and depression
  • Increases creativity
  • Increases clarity of mind and perspective
  • Eliminates or lessens addictive behaviors
  • Improves mood and feelings of loneliness
  • Promotes happiness and emotional stability
  • Alleviates malaise and disorientation associated with memory loss
  • Produces a sense of calm and relaxation

Spiritual Benefits

  • Promotes a sense of oneness with self, the universe and/or a higher power
  • Creates a feeling of centeredness, balance and peace
  • Fosters a sense of connection to a higher power or greater realm

Meditation has long been associated with a kind of “Zen” spiritualism, and while all world religions recognize meditation to some degree, it has been an esteemed practice in secular society since the 18th century. Schools of yoga were established in the 1890s, and in the 1960s, transcendental meditation became the stereotypical stuff of hippies and gurus, if unfairly so.

Today, meditation is embraced around the world as a holistic mind-body exercise for all who wish to rise above the daily churn of distraction and disharmony (who doesn’t?). It is practiced in homes, fitness studios, schools, senior living communities, and even in the workplace. Everywhere, it is growing more popular all the time. In America, approximately 18 million people meditate, while that number is estimated to be as high as 500 million worldwide.

Getting Started
All meditation requires is a little time, a quiet space, and a commitment to regular practice. But there are scores of podcasts, guided classes, instructional videos, etc. to help incorporate it into one’s routine. Here in Naperville, a web search of “Meditation in Naperville” produces such links as “The Best 10 Meditation Centers in Naperville.” Clearly, we have choices – good choices – in our fair city.

For residents of Monarch Landing, meditation and mind-body activities are part of their weekly regimen. On Tuesdays, it’s Mindfulness Meditation in the peaceful space of our chapel, and Fridays offer a Mindfulness DVD series. Mondays bring tai chi; yoga comes in four forms throughout the week, including Gentle Yoga, Yoga Ease, Yoga Flow and Yoga Plus.

According to Monarch Landing health and wellness coordinator Shannon Denny, “It’s essential to include mindfulness meditation and mind-body exercises into our regular curriculum. The mind and body are so strongly linked, and seniors benefit tremendously from tapping into that connection.”