By Samuel A. Mielcarski, DPT
Originally Posted on: July 14, 2009 at advanceweb.com
Seniors often report feeling frustrated when unable to function as well as they used to. A common complaint is that daily tasks seem to take much longer due to a decline in mental and physical faculties. As such, it’s not uncommon for seniors to experience depression. If this condition is treated with anti-depressant medications, it can often compound problems due to the neurotoxic side effects of these drugs. However, meditation, instead of medication, might provide a better solution.1
There have been several hundred studies completed that show the wide variety of health benefits meditation can have on one’s physiological, psychological and sociological well-being. 2-3 Long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. Meditation practice has also been shown to produce changes in the brain’s physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging has shown that brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing (including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula) were thicker in meditation participants than in matched controls. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, which suggests that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning.4
Some of the proven health benefits of meditation:
* Improved mental and physical health: decreased levels of stress and tension, decline in hospitalization as well as need for out-patient medical care, decreased rates of disease, decreased overall health care costs, reduced use of alcohol and other drugs, improved cardiovascular health, reduced complaints of physical ailments, enhanced energy, strength and overall feelings of well-being, improved vegetative functioning, improved quality of sleep, decreased pain levels, looking and feeling younger and increased longevity.
* Improved cognitive functioning: improved intelligence, better creativity, enhanced learning ability, improved memory, improved reaction time, higher levels of moral reasoning, improved academic achievement, greater orderliness of brain functioning and improvements in self-actualization.
* Improved social behavior: improved self-confidence, decreased anxiety, improved family life, improved relationships at home and at work, better social tolerance, improved job performance and increased job satisfaction.
So, what exactly is Meditation?
The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation ‘medha’ means wisdom. In a sense, meditation means “a cessation of the thought process”-a state of consciousness where the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns. The observer (one who is doing meditation) realizes that all the activity of the mind is reduced to one.
A simpler view of meditation is one of increased awareness. Therefore, whatever is done with awareness is by definition meditation. This could be breathing, watching the ocean, exercising, listening to music, etc. So, in essence, meditation encompasses more than just some technique, but rather is a way of life. So, the “practice” of meditation may be viewed as the practice of living and being with increased awareness.
What meditation is NOT:
Meditation is not contemplation, as this involves thinking about something, which engages the mind actively in reflecting on a certain idea or topic. However, meditation is really about going beyond thought. Meditation is not a religion. Although prayer would be considered a form of meditation, to practice meditation one doesn’t need to belong to a certain faith or hold certain religious beliefs. Meditation is not hypnosis. In hypnosis, a suggestion is made to the mind, and there is an attempt to program, manipulate or control the content of the mind. However in meditation, one simply observes the mind and lets it become quiet and calm, thus exploring and experiencing deeper levels of being.
Why does meditation work?
Simply put meditation = stress reduction = health production. When the body is allowed to release stress and relax, it can then operate better and heal itself. When the body remains in a sympathetic state (stressed state), an unfavorable healing environment is created within the body and healing is delayed or impaired. Conversely, meditation can help to drive a favorable healing response within the body. The important thing to realize is that the healing power is in the body, not the meditation. The meditation just provides a means to unlock the body’s healing potential.
Types of meditation:
There are various types of meditation, often classified as active or passive. Some methods of meditation may require the body to be absolutely still or to be moved with controlled deliberation, while other types allow the body to be moved freely. Examples of some meditations include: mantra meditations, which often involve the conscious repetition of certain sounds that appeal to the mind in order to achieve a meditative state. The word “mantra” literally means “revealed sound” or a combination of sounds that develop spontaneously. Mantras are not the same as religious chants, although they sometimes may sound like one. A popular mantra meditation is making the sound “om” or “ohm”.
Focused meditations involve a steady gaze performed on any one particular object, such as a picture or statue. This type of meditation is often part of yoga practices and helps to unite the mind-body connection. Vipassana or insight meditations use self-observation to enhance the ability to see things as they really are so that one can identify his or her own true nature. This type of meditation allows one to get better in tune with the body, mind and spirit. There are many other forms of meditation as well.
Creating an optimal physiologic environment that promotes tissue regeneration and repair is a main goal in rehabilitation. Meditation can help bring about this favorable healing state. The far reaching benefits of meditation are a perfect match for the long list of poor health conditions that seniors can have. Therefore, meditation should be considered a safe and efficacious evidence-based practice that can help the geriatric population correct dysfunctions, eliminate impairments, and prevent disease and deformity.
Incorporating meditation into treatment sessions is often limited only by a therapist’s creativity. For example movement-type meditations, such as yoga and Tai Chi can be used to improve strength, flexibility, proprioception, and balance, thus helping to decrease falls among the elderly.5-6
Focused meditations can be used to teach seniors proper breathing strategies to help decrease stress and anxiety and improve their well-being. Mantra meditations in a group setting can be a fun way to improve a sense of community and allow seniors to socialize, which can help to prevent depression and/or feelings of loneliness. This could be a whole other facet of therapeutic activities that long-term care facilities could be providing to their residents. Mindfulness meditations within a peaceful setting (such as a garden) can help to improve fine motor skills and overall feelings of well-being as seniors are allowed to connect with nature. This type of meditation has been shown to really help with chronic pain.7
Overall, meditation has been shown to lower health care costs among seniors.8 This is important as the price of health care will most likely stay on the rise and therapists will need to continue to be creative and resourceful to deliver quality care to their patients and clients, while still getting reimbursed. Meditation is one treatment option that may help to meet both therapists’ and patients’ needs. Some therapists may feel that seniors may resist meditation or be unwilling to participate. However, this is often not true. Seniors want to feel good and be happy and healthy like everybody else, and meditation may be one of their best medications.
Author: Samuel A. Mielcarski, DPT, is an expert in the field of rehabilitation with over 13 years of clinical experience. He is currently licensed as a physical therapist in Georgia and Florida and practices physical therapy in the Atlanta, GA, region. Samuel is the creator of the “Revolutionary Rehab Manual” and can be reached via his Website at www.DrSamPT.com