Meditation in the Third Age

Another sunrise

Meditation, once considered new-age and the domain of cheese-cloth wearing hippies, has gained immense popularity in the past few decades and with the many scientific studies into its health benefits, it’s no wonder that this discipline has become popular.

The practise of meditation dates back to ancient times and is found in many cultures as part of their religions or beliefs. It was and still is practised by Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, and Muslims, and is found in in Confucianism, Judaism and Kabbalah. It’s entirely possible that hunter gatherers huddled around their open fires and sat, mesmerised by the flames, gradually slipping into a deeply satisfying meditative state.

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy;
then you should sit for an hour.”
Old Zen adage

Why meditate? The answer is simple; it’s good for you. It takes only 20 minutes a day (40 minutes if possible) to create change, and because our population is ageing, meditation is an opportunity for people of the Third Age to boost health levels, reconnect with their spirituality, form new, long-lasting friendships, discover who they are, and release the creative genius that lives within all of us.

Described as life after retirement and the children have moved on, the Third Age can herald an exciting new phase of life, a time to experience new things, and pursue dreams long buried beneath the pressure of career and family commitments. A general assumption is that older people live in some kind of care accommodation when according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, 94% of those aged 65 years and over lived in private residences.

If you didn’t already know there seems to be enough energy and drive left for the elderly to reinvent themselves, lead independent lives, and take up new hobbies or careers. Minnie Pwerlie was a contemporary Indigenous Australian artist who didn’t start painting until the youthful age of 80. Anne Beasley, a lawyer in her 70’s from Coffs Harbour, hopes to complete her PhD by her 80th birthday. It seems it’s true – age is but a number.

However, not all seniors are blessed with active, healthy lives, the flip-side to this story is ill-health, children move on, marriages break up, loss of a mate, lack of support, or it’s necessary to move into a nursing home, all of which can lead to loneliness, depression and anxiety, diminishing quality of life.

Studies have shown that loneliness has been linked to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and even pre-mature death. In regards to moving into a nursing home, statics from 30 June 2012 showed that 52% of all permanent aged care residents had symptoms of depression, 53% women and 51% men, and had higher needs care. The interesting thing is that just under half had no symptoms of depression when they were first admitted.

In an article written by Stephen Easton, One is the Loneliest Number, sociologist Professor Adrian Franklin from the University of Tasmania said that putting older people together in homes for the elderly, wasn’t enough because they need to be provided with relationships that matter. It makes sense; you might go to a party, meet a few people, but then go home and in all probability won’t see them again.

Meeting regularly for meditation is different. If you’re new to meditation, a deeper connection and level of supportive can and does happen at both the soul level and with other members of the group.

Joy Nish, Director of Naturally Calm is passionate about meditation and has worked with ailing clients. She found that with regular meditation her clients began to feel whole again, less fearful, and their level of confidence increased. They also felt supported and encouraged by their group “Deep connection also brings people together outside of class.” Working with elderly in a nursing home, Joy says, “People felt more peaceful, they slept better and were happier overall.”

Denis Joynt, a retired psychologist, 89 years young teaches psychology and meditation classes once a week at the University of the Third Age (U3a) in Redcliffe Queensland. He believes meditation should be included in aged care activities. Asked if he believed it created deeper connection with others, he said “Yes and the best way to meditate is in a group, the group vibration has energy itself. I’ve taught meditation in the same room for 15 years and people can feel the difference. With regular meditation there’s a psychological change you can see; you watch as it takes place.” It’s observing the positive changes that happen to the people in his groups that keep Denis doing what he does.

Meditation is more than focusing on the inward and outward breath while sitting in the lotus position, there’s much happening behind the scene. The sympathetic nervous system prepared for its fight or flight response, begins to calm down as blood starts flowing to the parasympathetic nervous system instead. As the breathing begins to slow, so too does the system and the healing process begins.

The mind, body and spirit slowly begin to work together harmoniously to achieve balance. Eventually the monkey mind chatter fades into the background (this does take a bit of practise to quieten) and the creative genius awakens with new ideas filtering through; the connection with the spiritual Self opens up enriching life in ways not previously imagined.

However before all those wondrous things can happen, the right meditation technique will need to be found – what suits one doesn’t necessary suit another. Examples of meditation include the popular guided meditation which will take you on a purposeful journey using your imagination, if deciding on Zen or Mindfulness meditation you’ll be in the present moment and only reacting to what is happening now – within or without.

Classes can be found in communities everywhere as are Universities of the Third Age (U3a). Meditation groups meet in community and church halls, private homes, schools for yoga or meditation centres. You can a copious amount of information on the internet, or through DVDs, CDs and ‘how to meditate’ books.

Although both men and women benefit equally from meditation, traditionally more women take up the practise – guys, you don’t know what you’re missing! In the third age there’s a level of freedom like no other with opportunities to reinvent oneself, and whether living independently or in a nursing home, it’s a good time for both men and women to join forces to get the Zen on and join a meditation group – cheesecloth attire optional.