Mental health has never been more critical for seniors. According to recent research from the US National Library of Medicine, nearly 30 percent of seniors in long-term care facilities exhibit signs of depression, and 10 percent of seniors who live communally struggle with anxiety.

Mindfulness is one of the best ways to prioritize your mental health. From deep breathing to centering techniques, mindfulness exercises can help alleviate mental health issues and improve older adults’ overall mood. We break down the ins and outs of mindfulness and meditation for seniors below.

What is Mindfulness? 

Mindfulness isn’t just a few simple breathing exercises—it has the potential to change your life, especially if you’re over 65. 

Simply put, it’s the act of sitting quietly and paying attention—to your thoughts, to the sounds around you, to your surroundings, breathing patterns or even parts of your body. If that sounds easy, think again! The real trick is to bring your mind back to the mindful task at hand instead of letting it wander. While the foundation of mindfulness might seem easy enough, it can also have a myriad of benefits in all aspects of your life. Which brings us to our next section…  

Why Mindfulness? 

Meditation for seniors is about more than just breathing and staying in the moment. It can decrease anxiety and help seniors feel more connected to the world around them. According to reports by the Frontier in Aging Neuroscience, mindfulness can help improve seniors’ lives in the following ways:

  • Increased attention: mindfulness improves concentration, which means an increase in working memory, inhibition control and better task-switching. 
  • Improved psychological well-being: mindfulness exercises decrease loneliness, worry and depression in seniors, improving emotional well-being dramatically. These exercises can also reduce the severity of insomnia and fatigue. 

Mindfulness can essentially translate to a better and happier existence and reduce overall stress, especially in older adults. 

Start With a Breathing Exercise

For ElderGym’s experts, breathing exercises are a great way to get started with mindfulness and meditation for seniors. They’ve shared some of their best breathing exercises below:

Sitting breathing exercise: 

In this exercise, comfortably sit in a chair. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your stomach. First, inhale to make your right hand rise. This type of chest breathing uses the upper parts of the lungs. On your next breath, inhale to make your left hand rise. This abdominal breathing uses the lower parts of the lung, which maximizes the amount of oxygen your body receives. Continue for a few minutes switching back and forth. 

Standing breathing exercise: 

For this option, stand up in a comfortable position. Place both hands on your stomach. Use abdominal breathing to make your hands move. This kind of deep breathing gets increased oxygen to your lungs. 

Note, these breathing exercises are fine on their own, but to get the most from them, ElderGym recommends focusing on posture. Whether it’s for you or your loved one, make sure to sit or stand with their spine in neutral, lifted ribs and shoulders that are back and down. 

Try the STOP Method

According to Psych Central, this quick and easy technique is a great way to ease into mindfulness and meditation for seniors. The STOP method helps to focus the mind, and the acronym is easy to remember:

  • Stand up and breathe: when you stand up and breathe, focus on feeling your feet’s connection to the earth. The benefits? It’s simple, and it encourages you to feel grounded. 
  • Tune into your body: when was the last time you paid attention to what was going on in your body, specifically the parts that aren’t in direct discomfort? Scan your body, and notice the emotions or sensations that come out of the scan. Exhale any bad feelings, and pay attention to the good ones. 
  • Observe: now that you’ve scanned your body, it’s time to look outside yourself. What’s going on in the room around you? Try to choose something pleasant to focus on, and remind yourself that you’re grateful for your surroundings. 
  • Possibility: ask yourself about what’s possible and what you could do to take a step forward, either in your life or in your emotions. 

Develop a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness becomes more comfortable the more you do it, so developing a mindfulness practice for seniors is a great way to see benefits quickly. There are plenty of mindfulness and meditation videos specifically for seniors available on YouTube, and UCLA’s Mindful app offers a free introduction to mindfulness techniques. Instruction can go a long way when you’re establishing your practice (it can feel less silly to breathe along with someone than to breathe on your own).  

Keep it Pressure-Free

The key to successfully embarking on a new routine of meditation for seniors? According to Blue Moon Senior Counseling, “it’s best not to have any specific expectations for mindfulness activities. Everyone has a different experience, and expecting something to happen can prevent you from being fully present. As long as you approach the experience with an open mind, there is no wrong way to react to mindfulness practice.”

Whether you’re a caregiver, you have an elder loved one, or you simply use these practices for yourself—mindfulness is a powerful form of self-care. So start a breathing practice, focus on presence and gratitude, or dive into mindfulness however feels best for you! No matter what, you’ll see the benefits.