If you ask most adults who are middle age or older, what their greatest fear is in regards to aging, many will say they do not want to “lose their mind”. They want to be able to age and still have their mental capacity and wits about them.
Many people who claim they do not want to live for too long, actually dread the thought of a long life if you cannot enjoy it, or even worse cannot recall your fondest memories, or even not recall who you are or where you are. Is it 1918 and you are fighting in the great war, stuck in the trenches all over again? Perhaps, as you look out the window, hours pass by and you cannot recall why you were looking out the window to begin with. The thought of this life becoming a reality is something that many people are afraid to face until it is often too late.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org):
- more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States alone
- Approximately 500,000 people are dying each year from Alzheimer’s
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia
- Alzheimer’s costs the economy approx. $220 billion per year
- by the time you finish this article approx. 10 people will have just found out they have Alzheimer’s, that’s almost one person every 67 seconds
Oxford dictionary defines dementia as: “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes marked by memory disorders, personality changes, impaired reasoning etc. due to brain disease or injury”. Alzheimer’s is only one type of dementia, however, it is also the most common and one of the leading causes of premature senility.
There is good news in the fight against this terrible disease that causes much hardship on those afflicted and their loved ones, as well as the often silent warriors—the caregivers!
The study was conducted by Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, in association with Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Wells was led towards this study as a result of there currently being no FDA approved medications that can help stop or slow the progression of mild cognitive impairment or more serious forms of cognitive deterioration. According to Wells:
“We also know that as people age, there’s a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer’s disease, so we wanted to know if stress reduction through meditation might improve cognitive reserve. (Science Daily)”
The study involved only 14 adults but showed extremely promising results that will lead to further research. The participants ranging in age from 55-90, were split into two groups consisting of mindfulness meditation and standard care. The mediation group met for two hours per week, were encouraged to practice for 15-30 minutes on their own time, and participated in a mindfulness mediation retreat.
After eight weeks the groups results were compared to prior tests and revealed that:
“…the results of MRI imaging showed that the group engaged in MBSR [meditation] had significantly improved functional connectivity in the areas of the default mode network. Additionally, as expected, both groups experienced atrophy of the hippocampus, but those who practiced MBSR [meditation] experienced less atrophy.( Science Daily)”
The meditation participants also reported better cognition and improved well-being.
An interesting side note to this story is that once again, a modern or current study is only confirming what the ancient Taoists and Chinese Medicine has known for thousands of years. Meditation in one form or another (sitting, standing, moving or even sleeping) has often been recommended as a preventative exercise for problems with the body and mind.
Meditation is an exercise that allows the practitioner to focus on a task with almost single mindedness, it is not, as often described by modern teachers, as “letting go, or just being in the moment, thinking of nothing” etc…
Meditation is work and work can be meditation, actually, anything can be a form of meditation, and at its highest level, eventually everything becomes a form of meditation. Whether ironing your clothes, preparing a meal, walking in the garden etc…
First, however, we must start somewhere, and there is no greater and simpler form of meditation than “Crane Breathing”. To practice, one sits comfortably with the back straight, or lies flat on the back, and inhales and exhales as slowly as possible through the nose, when you inhale gently push the abdomen out as if you are filling a balloon with air, when you exhale, gently pull the abdomen in, when you inhale again just allow the belly to come out and fill with air again. Perform this exercise a few times at first and focus on the slow movement of the belly and slowly inhaling and exhaling, ideally your breath should be so slow that you would not move a feather if it were placed under your nose.
Other forms of meditation include the Taoist Internal Self Healing exercises, properly taught Tai Chi and Qigong etc…
Let’s all do ourselves a favor and start a simple practice of meditation today or tonight, actually every morning and evening is a great time to practice the Crane Breathing exercise.
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