We don’t have to be told that certain changes take place as we get older. If climbing out of bed in the morning requires a touch more ‘awareness’ than it did a decade ago, if forgetting where you parked the car, where put your glasses, or why you just hopped online are common occurrences, then you know what I mean. To an extent, these changes are natural and inevitable. Past the age of 50, most of us wouldn’t dream of attempting the positions of the lithe bodies we see in yoga magazines, and thankfully, we don’t have to.
Our Western infatuation with yogasana (the yoga postures) is misleading. Traditionally, yoga poses were intended to prepare the body for a more profound purpose: union with Higher Consciousness. Current research is now emphasizing the benefits of a meditation practice—something that yogis in the East had already realized and began to impart thousands of years ago. One of these benefits is its capacity to slow the hands of time.
Although there is no “Buddha Pill” we can consume to enjoy instant and eternal youth (be wary of those who tell you there is!), science has proven that the traits we typically associate with “old age” can be slowed, prevented, and in some cases even reversed through a regular meditation practice. The following 3 reasons should inspire you to embark on this age-old tradition:
1. Prevent Stress-Related Disease. People at all stages of life incur stress in one form or another and many of us feel unequipped to handle the ups and downs of daily living, let alone the real curveballs. Unlike animals, humans have the unique capacity to carry the memory of a stressful event long after it has ended. Studies have shown that this subconscious imprint alone is enough to trigger a stress response. Meditation trains the mind to focus on the present moment, which is free of disturbing (or pleasant) memories and fearful (or anticipatory!) concerns.
2. Normalize Blood Pressure. Over one-half of all US adults aged 55 to 64 years are hypertensive (have high blood pressure), a condition that increases one’s risk of stroke and other cardiovascular disease. Early research in the Journal of Biofeedback and Self-Regulation showed that “patients given [mindfulness] training show[ed] clinically significant and lasting reductions in systolic and diastolic pressure” (Chandra Patel, 1976). Meditation programs that employ slow, rhythmic breathing techniques are especially beneficial in this population.
3. Improve Memory. The brain undergoes cognitive decline as early as 30 years of age, and one of the first places this is most obvious is in the limbic system, where memory is stored. Transcendental meditation is a technique where you repeat a mantra over and over again for about 15 or 20 minutes. The act of learning, repeating, and re-focusing your mind sharpens mental acuity and helps prevent degenerative brain diseases.
Now, let’s bust the most common myths about meditation today, as these may be holding you back from exploring this intriguing age-old tradition!
1. Myth: You require one hour of uninterrupted alone time every day to benefit from meditation.
Truth: Although formal meditation is incredibly powerful, you can reap the benefits of a mindfulness practice throughout your day, standing in line at the grocery store, driving to work in rush hour, waiting for a dentist appointment . . . Mindfulness as a subcategory of meditation can be used anytime, anywhere, to ease your mind when needed.
2. Myth: People with busy minds can’t meditate.
Truth: Au contraire! People with busy minds are the best candidates for the practice! The ultimate goal of meditation is NOT to stop thinking, but to observe your thoughts and redirect them in a more positive and productive way
3. Myth: Unless you have a profound realization or life-altering experience, you’re not “doing it” right.
Truth: If you pause for a moment to take a deep breath, repeat your mantra, hear the sounds of nature, or feel your innate inner stillness, then you are “doing it” brilliantly!
4. Myth: Meditation is for extreme spiritual adepts, scantily clad old men in Himalayan caves, and really boring people.
Truth: Some of the most famous, fascinating, and successful people on this planet endorse a regular meditation practice: The Beatles, Madonna, and Oprah—to name just a few.
Read more in “Strong Body, Calm Mind: A Simple Guide to Empowering Your Life with Yoga.”