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Mindfulness: Be Here Now

By Lucia McBee


Women “of a certain age” are often in the midst of many changes. Maybe you have retired and embarked on volunteering or travel. Maybe you have lost friends or family, or gained in-laws and/or grandchildren. Perhaps you are coping with chronic illness, or caring for someone who is, and are not able to enjoy the freedom of retirement.  Change can be exciting, challenging, frightening, stressful, or all of these.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) offer a mind/body approach towards health and healing that teaches coping skills for conditions that disproportionately impact older adults such as chronic illness, stress, and pain. 

It offers a shift from conventional medicine’s emphasis on curing to living with what cannot be changed. Practiced in the East for over 2500 years, boomers are re-discovering meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneering creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) describes it as:

  Moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way,
            that is, in the present moment, as non-reactively, and as open-heartedly as possible. 

 
Mindfulness is learned through personal practice, the same way we learn to play an instrument, or ride a bike. 

There are many classes, books, and online apps to learn mindfulness. The most widely used and researched program for teaching it is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. MBSR was introduced in 1979 by Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. MBSR is an intensive 8-week class that teaches participants to connect with and cultivate their innate capacity to find balance, reduce stress, and heal using daily assignments of secular, yet often deeply transformative practices of meditation, mindfulness-in-daily-life, and yoga. MBSR practices include formal exercises such as meditation and yoga, as well as informal exercises that integrate self-compassion, and invite you to pay attention to all aspects of your life. These practices of “non-doing” cultivate our inner capacity to grow and find balance.

Initially created to help people with chronic pain, MBSR has been shown, in many evidence- based research studies, to improve mood, sleep, and stress levels, as well as reduce inflammation, impacting multiple chronic conditions (www.goamra.org). Mindfulness has been taught to all ages and in a wide variety of settings such as yoga studios, hospitals, schools, and prisons.

Groundbreaking studies of participants following an 8-week MBSR class include:

  • Strengthened immune systems
  •  Increased brain grey matter (related to intelligence, skill, memory and emotion)  
  •  Slowing of cellular aging

Mindfulness interventions have also shown the following benefits for older adults:

  • Improvements in memory and attention
  •  Reductions in anxiety and depression
  •  Reduction in pain
The essential message of mindfulness is to learn ways to participate in your healing and focus on your abilities, not disabilities.Despite the powerful historical and scientific evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, the final evidence is personal.

Try the exercise described below throughout the day. Notice what you feel immediately following this practice, and after practicing for several days. There is no right or wrong answer—become the scientist of your own life!

Basic Breathing Exercise The following three-minute breathing exercise is from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale:

First minute: Awareness                                                                                                                             Observe - bring the focus of awareness to your inner experience and notice what is happening in your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.                                                                      
Describe - acknowledge, identify-put experiences into words.

Second minute: Redirecting Attention                                                                                                      Gently redirect your full attention to your breath. Follow your breath all the way in and all the way out.

Third minute: Expanding Attention     
Allow your attention to expand to the whole body - especially, to any sense of discomfort, tension or resistance. As best you can, bring this expanded awareness to the next moments of your day.


Lucia McBee, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., C.Y.I., is a geriatric social worker and certified yoga teacher who integrated mindfulness and complementary therapies with elders and their caregivers for more than 27 years. She is adjunct faculty at the Columbia School of Social Work, and a freelance speaker and consultant in New York City. She is the author of Mindfulness-Based Elder Care (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2008). Lucia will be the featured speaker at a Caring Collaborative Presentation in October.