Are you feeling tight and tense?
Are you holding tension in your body?
How about your jaw? Your forehead?
Try this quick and easy Progressive Muscle Relaxation with Breath exercise today!
Progressive Muscle Relaxation with Breath:
- Lie on your back and close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths to prepare.
- Start at your feet. As you breathe in, tense the muscles of your feet.
- As you breathe out, release the tension in your feet.
- As you breathe in, tense your calves (the muscles on the back of your lower leg).
- As you breathe out, release the tension in your calves.
- Repeat this for each body part, working your way towards your head.
- End with your face, releasing the tension in your jaw, eyes and forehead.
- When finished, take a moment to simply lie there and feel your entire body.
- Notice the sensations and see if there is anywhere you are still holding tension, if so, release it with your breath.
- When ending the session, move slowly and thank yourself for taking a mindfulness break.
Meditation can help reverse the rate of aging, especially when it comes to maintaining your gray matter, which is the part of your brain that helps control movement, emotion and memory. From reducing stress, anxiety, and depression to improving our attention spans, discover how meditation can benefit you as you get older and how to get started.
Multiple studies over the years have shown the benefits that meditating has on your brain and overall mental wellness. Not only can it help control stress, but it can also positively impact attention span, memory, verbal fluency, processing speed, overall cognitive flexibility, conflict monitoring, and even creativity. It can especially be worthwhile as you get older to help offset the mental aging process.
Meditation Benefits for Seniors
Not only can meditation often provide immediate results but participating in a regular practice can bolster healthy aging. A study conducted by UCLA found that consistent meditation can result in less loss of gray matter, which allows you to control movements, retain memories, and regulate your emotions as you age.
Here are some of the reasons you should consider incorporating meditation into your retirement lifestyle.
The practice of meditation is about more than just sitting still. It’s about focusing your thoughts and your breathing — both of which help promote overall mindfulness. The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as a “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.”
The benefit of such practice helps reduce rumination — or becoming stuck in negative thinking — which has been linked to a range of adverse effects, including stress, depression, memory loss, and the inability to focus.
Reduce Stress, Anxiety and Depression
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of adults ages 55 and older experience some form of anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, or mood disorders, including depression; all of which can negatively impact physical, mental, and social functioning.
While meditation has long been viewed as a way to reduce stress, it can also reduce the side effects of stress by allowing you to control your response to it. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that meditation can be as effective as antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Boost Immune System
As you age, your immune system no longer responds to fighting off illness and disease as robustly as it did when you were younger. Recent studies on the effect of meditation on your immune system response is promising, suggesting that it can reduce inflammation, boost cell immunity, and reverse biological aging. One study from the Annals of Family Medicine even found meditation helped significantly reduce the severity and longevity of cold and flu symptoms.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of adults in the United States over the age of 65 experienced some form of chronic pain and 26% of all adults are projected to be diagnosed with some form of arthritis by 2040.
Mindfulness meditation helps us learn to control pain by focusing on our breathing and rewiring the brain to not ruminate. In fact, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, meditation has proven to have greater results than cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Improve Concentration and Attention
Our ability to learn, remember, and problem solve slows down as we age. Focused meditation can help improve all three, not only for people who have long been practicing, but even for those who have just started.
A study published in Psychology Today found via MRI studies that meditators had more stability in the region of the brain linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind wandering, meaning they were better able to control their thoughts and keep their mind sharp.
Lower Blood Pressure
Your body naturally release nitric oxide in response to feeling relaxed. Nitric oxide is a compound that causes your blood vessels to expand, in turn, lowering your blood pressure.
Though the results require a sustained daily practice, studies have proven that meditation is effective in reducing blood pressure in patients — even enough to reduce the blood pressure medication doses for some patients.
Meditation Techniques for Seniors
The goal of meditation is to learn how to focus and control both your breathing and your mind’s tendency to wander. If you’re new to meditation, here are a few ways to get started:
As you get started, you should only aim for a couple of minutes per day and increase the amount of time you spend meditating gradually.
Focus on a task
Many people find it hard at first not to go through a list of things you need to do, a conversation you recently had, or what you’re going to do next.
Find one task to do while meditating, such as:
- Inhaling and exhaling and becoming aware of your breathing.
- Scanning your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head and focus on what you notice in each place.
- Reciting a phrase, sentence, or even a single word repeatedly
Find a comfortable position
You may have an image of someone sitting upright on the floor associated with how to practice meditation. But the truth is, whatever position provides the least discomfort is the best option. This could include being seated in an upright chair, reclined chair or even lying down.
If none of these are working or you find yourself falling asleep, try yoga, tai chi, walking or any exercise that allows for physical movement and mental focus.
How to Start Meditating
The great benefit of meditation is you can do it from anywhere. Whether you prefer to meditate at home or in a rec center, there are a ton of great resources from audio and video recordings to classes that will help hone your focus and begin a regular meditating practice.
There are several different types of meditation that involve different techniques and provide different benefits. You can start by considering what you want to accomplish through meditation and what types of meditation are best suited to you.
5 Types of Meditation
Breathing meditation– Breathing meditation uses different breathing techniques to quickly reduce stress and clear the mind. It can also help with your physical health. You can research breathing techniques on your own or find information on them through yoga studios or wellness centers.
Guided meditation– A teacher or instructor guides you through your meditation through a class, recording or another form of instruction.
Mindfulness meditation– Mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day by taking short moments to pause and become aware of what’s happening around you. It is helpful for dealing with stressful moments in your day.
Silent meditation– Also called unguided meditation, silent meditation involves meditating alone. It may be as simple as sitting quietly, alone and becoming aware of your thoughts and body for a set period of time.
Spiritual meditation– Almost all religions and spiritual practices use some sort of spiritual meditation. You can practice it almost anywhere including at home or your place of worship to seek a deeper connection and understanding of your religious or spiritual beliefs.
Once you find a type of meditation that works for you, you may want to take classes or use some other form of instruction to get started.
If you feel more comfortable alone, you’ll need to research the techniques more thoroughly, perhaps using recorded instruction.
For a beginner, meditation requires you to get comfortable, prepare to sit still for a few minutes, focus on your breath and thoughts, then follow your breathing for a couple of minutes.
A love of trees and green spaces is nearly ubiquitous across the globe. Even those raised in ‘concrete jungles,’ largely isolated from the natural and wild world, still find themselves more relaxed and at peace when they visit or view the Earth’s verdant areas. In fact, just having a little greenery you can see out your window at your work or your home has been shown to increase relaxation and well-being.
With humanity’s long love affair with trees, it’s probably not surprising that trees have impacted our brains and even made their way into our religions, spiritualities, mythology, symbology and folklore… But what is it about trees that has us so enthralled with their existence? Is it hardwired into our brains? Is it evolution? Is it something else?
Trees In Folklore
So, why do we love trees? Well, it’s a natural human phenomena. The concept of a “Tree Of Life” is a widespread symbol across many of the world’s mythologies, often related to the concept of a sacred tree in both philosophical and religious traditions.
The ancient symbol of the Tree has been found to represent physical and spiritual nourishment, transformation and liberation, union and fertility and are seen as powerful symbols of growth and resurrection. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the “Tree of Knowledge” connects heaven and the underworld and the “Tree Of Life” connects all forms of creation. Many scholars think the trees portrayed in various religions and philosophies are the same tree.
The bond and affection to trees is so deep in Celtic traditions, that the Celts believed that the actual trees were their ancestors and gatekeepers to the Celtic Otherworld. As such, the Tree Of Life in Celtic Culture is one of their most sacred images. You can also find tree spirits in many animistic worldviews, where they see the entire environment populated with spirits, such as the Kami of Japan, or tree specific spirits, such as the Dryads of ancient Greece.
Alongside the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, another infamous tree symbol is the known as the “World Tree.” The World Tree of the Nordic Vikings was seen as the structure of the very universe itself, with its different branches and roots being home to many diverse creatures and worlds.
Trees also make prominent places for important events, such as in Buddhism, when the Buddha was said to have ‘awakened’ and achieved liberation. It is said that during his ardent meditative journey, he had shelter under a great Bodhi Tree for 49 days.
Trees have even made their way into fields that are typically seen as at odds with religion and spiritual paths. The expression, the “Tree Of Life,” was used by Charles Darwin as a metaphor for the phylogenetic tree of common descent, in the evolutionary sense. “Mother Tree” is a term that refers to the biggest and oldest trees in the forest, providing incredible biodiversity; they are the glue that holds the forest together. Through their huge photosynthetic capacity, they provide food for the whole soil web of life.
Humanity has embraced the symbolism of the majestic Tree, from its earliest recorded histories. We see it in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Ancient Egypt and Persia, Paganism and Norse Mythology, to China and beyond. It has literally been a part of every culture on earth. They are beautiful, majestic and linked to humans.
Trees And Psychological Well-Being
Trees are vital for the air we breathe. As the biggest plants on the planet, they absorb and store carbon, provide oxygen, and combat the effects of climate change. Trees also stabilize and regenerate the soil, and they are habitat to much of the world’s wildlife. They even provide shelter to many species of fungi and plants that live in their understory, like ferns. The more trees in the world, the better!
Time spent amongst trees has been scientifically proven to have many psychosocial, physical and emotional benefits for human beings. People not only appreciate what they have in life more, but seem to be calmer and have a greater sense of connection to themselves, the land and each other. A few of these things that have been confirmed through science and are known as Attention Restoration Theory and Forest Bathing.
Attention Restoration Theory was developed by the Psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. Their theory states that time spent in nature helps to improve or restore our attention. So, simply being among the trees can help make you a calmer and more mindful person.
Additionally, there is a practice from Japan called Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing. Forest Bathing has been studied a lot over the last couple of decades and it has shown that time spent in nature helps boost your mood and your immune system. How do they do this? They found that many of the natural aromas and terpenes trees release can influence our mood and boost our immune system when we breathe them in. Now, many people are using essential oils from trees as an easy, natural remedy to boost mood and immune functioning. So, not only do trees actually create the air we need to breathe, but they fill it full of feel-good and health improving chemicals.
Additionally, hugging a tree increases your level of the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for feeling calm and emotional bonding. When hugging a tree, the hormones serotonin and dopamine also make you feel happier. It definitely seems like trees love and care for us. What is a better way to show our love for them, than by giving them a hug and making sure they continue to exist through protection and reforestation (more on this in upcoming blogs).
As far as our best archaeologists and anthropologist can tell, our ancestors were crafted by and evolved in the warm embrace of the Earth’s tropical jungles. Although we left the trees for various reasons, making our way to grasslands and ultimately every other terrestrial (land) ecosystem on the planet, our biological change has been a much slower march than that of our rapid technological advancement and modern lifestyle. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) haven’t changed much biologically in about 300,000 years, however, our lifestyle changed dramatically about 10,000 years ago when we made the change to a less nomadic lifestyle and became farmers.
During this time, we also partook in a viscous onslaught on the natural world, turning its wild spaces into farms, towns and cities; leading to the destruction of much of the environment, as well as ravaging our minds by exposing them to lifeless, dead places devoid of natural vegetation. However, we innately remember our times among the trees and they have populated our collective unconscious and permeated our religions and folklore.
Our lifestyle has changed, but our brains and bodies have not. Nature isn’t a place to visit, nature is home and as the saying goes, ‘home is where the heart is.’ So, it’s not surprising that we feel more open, relaxed and loved among the trees, because going into the forest is actually returning home.
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Buddhism is a User’s Manual for living a content life. Unfortunately, many people have heard that Buddhism’s starting point is the idea that “life is suffering.” Buddhism is unlike so many other religious and spiritual traditions that tell you exactly what to believe and how to act. Although Buddhism does have many core beliefs, in essence, it is more of a guideline of how to live, with suggestions on how to achieve contentment. Different lineages and schools within Buddhism place more emphasis on certain aspects than others, but ultimately, it is an empowering path to walk, that calls upon the individual to uncover the truth for themselves.
The Buddha is known to have said “O monks, just as a goldsmith tests gold by rubbing, burning, and cutting before buying it, so too, you should examine my words before accepting them, and not just out of respect for me.” He was also quoted as saying, “Be a lamp unto yourself.” In both of these instances, he is suggesting that we never take anything solely on faith or out of respect, but only when and if it feels true to us. Of course, only learn from the those who you hold in esteem, but always be your own highest source of wisdom. In this regard, the Buddha shared his teachings with his disciples and followers, but he then left it up to the them to sit with this knowledge and uncover the truth for themselves.
So, after the Buddha sat under that Bodhi tree for 49 days and became self-realized, what did he bestow? Well, his very first teaching has come to be known as the Four Noble Truths and they are what we are looking at today.
What Are The Four Noble Truths?
When it comes to the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha is often likened to a doctor because he first diagnoses the problem and then he explains how to cure it… but before we go any further, what are the Four Noble Truths?
- The truth of suffering (Duhkha).
- The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya).
- The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha).
- The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga).
Or, more simply put: There is suffering, there is a cause of suffering, there is an end to suffering, the end of suffering comes from living in a certain way and fostering a certain perspective.
A Note On Suffering, What Is Duhkha?
These truths are typically the entry point of Buddhism, but they are also often the point where people get turned off to this wonderful path, why is that? Well, why would anyone want to follow a path that tells you that life is full of never ending suffering? I know I wouldn’t. So, did the Buddha really say that to live is to suffer? Was this his great realization?
Of course not, and this is where the confusion frequently sets in. Duhkha is a word that can mean suffering, but it can also mean unsatisfactory, unease, unhappiness or pain. Really, it is the experience of anything unpleasant. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sukha, which means joy, pleasure, bliss, etc.
What Do The Four Noble Truths Mean?
- Truth 1, The Truth of Duhkha: You are alive, how wonderful is that? Being alive, you have all of these amazing senses to take in all of the sights, smells, sounds, etc. that you can experience as a human. Just like you can experience pleasure, satisfaction and delight, you can also experience unhappiness, woe and pain; as well as all those mundane places between these two extremes. So, as part of being alive, you will experience unpleasant things from time to time, this is the truth of Duhkah. It sounds unfortunate, but it is natural, and without experiencing the lows, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the highs that life has to offer.
- Truth 2, The Cause of Duhkha: In Buddhism, it is said that those who are ‘awake’ or liberated live in a state of Nirvana, and those who have not yet awoken live in Saṃsāra. An oversimplification would be to compare these to Heaven and Hell, except that in Buddhism, they are not two distinct and different realms. They are actually the same place and they are where you exist now. The difference of which of these two places you reside in is really a matter of perspective; but back to the second truth. Why are we suffering? All things in the universe are perpetually changing, being transient and impermanent. If we accepted this fact, we wouldn’t be upset by change. The Buddha taught that we suffer mostly because of our perspective and lack of understanding. This is due to our yearnings, attachments and expectations. We each have desires when it comes to people, places, events and experiences. We often want things to go (or be) a certain way. If they don’t transpire just as we want or expect, many of us will then become unhappy. By harboring these unnecessary, preconceived ideas and expectations of things, we ourselves are creating Duhkha in our lives.
- Truth 3, The End Of Duhkha: The Third of the Noble Truths is rather straight forward. If you’re alive, you will suffer, but you don’t have to, there is another way.
- Truth 4, The Way Out Of Duhkha: The last of the Noble Truths is the cure to Duhkha. This “cure” is a life path, as well as a way to train your mind and release yourself from all of this suffering. This path is known as the Noble Eightfold Path and has many similarities to The Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Putting It All Together And Final Thoughts
2500 years ago, the Buddha declared that “I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach.” and this is probably where people got the notion that the Buddha said that life is suffering. Many people stop exploration here and never look further into Buddhism. Those that do delve a bit deeper sometimes get the idea that Buddhists are just emotionless automatons that spiritually bypass the woes of life and the world by being unattached. Again, this is not what the Buddha was saying. He didn’t say that life is suffering, nor did he say to be detached from the world and feel nothing.
Rather, he said that we must be open to things as they are, and allow them to arise, without expectations. This allows us to appreciate what comes up and the opportunities life brings, rather than trying to control things, with our happiness hinging on those things going exactly as we expected or hoped for. Essentially, expect nothing, so that you can appreciate this moment and all that it has to offer. This simple, yet radical shift in perspective has the power to change how you view the world and ultimately your life.
Furthermore, the Buddha outlined a path for you to try. A path that will help you achieve a state of being where you are mindful, where you experience life fully- the high and the lows, denying nothing, clinging to nothing. A life where you feel your joy, and your sorrow, but only as long as they are present, not a second longer. By clinging to these things, we bring them with us. This robs us of experiencing the current moment fully and furthers our Duhkha. The path he outlined as the cure to Duhkha is the Noble Eightfold Path and is what we will be looking at in our next blog! Stay tuned for more on Buddhist wisdom.
The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha
By LOTUS TRIBE, Sept 27, ’22
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