Health & Well-Being

Mindfulness Meditation: A Beginner's Guide

“It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now… with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” ~ Pema Chodron

Pause for a moment and breathe. Be present. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, relax your body. It might seem easy enough, but meditation—based on traditional Buddhist practices—requires you to be completely alone with your thoughts, and can actually take some time to “train your brain” to stop wandering. Once you’re able to focus on being present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, there’s no denying the positive benefits. Mindful meditation can improve our:

  • Sleep
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Stress levels
  • Health

People who regularly practice mindfulness say they’re more happy, less anxious, and more spontaneous. Mindful meditation can also encourage connectedness, which can alleviate loneliness.

How does a person start meditating? Actually, you may have meditated without realizing it. Remember the last time you stared at a flame in a burning fire? Or even did a jigsaw puzzle? Your brain was likely focusing and relaxing. It’s different, though, when it’s an intentional daily act. Here’s how to get started:

• Find a quiet, peaceful room in your home, a space without clutter or distractions. Some people prefer to meditate in the morning; others before bed.

• Clear your mind, but acknowledge that thoughts will pop into your head. Let those thoughts float away.

• When you first start meditating, it might be helpful to listen to the Calm app, white noise, or lulling music.

• Make sure your shoulders and neck are relaxed. Breathe deeply in and out.

• Count the inhalations and exhalations. Or breathe in positive energies and let go of the negative. If thoughts creep in, keep focusing on your breathing. Start with just 2 minutes, then work your way up to 10-15.

Being mindful doesn’t mean you’re thinking about nothing. It means waking up out of autopilot and really paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, and allowing those feelings to happen. It means accepting that some negative emotions are part of life, and learning to balance negative feelings with positive ones (once we deal honestly with emotions, we can learn and grow—and experience life in a more productive way). It means fully deeply present in the moment, with the past and the future having no power. As Mother Teresa said, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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What Seniors Need to Know About Heart Health

Contrary to popular belief, a heart attack isn’t always like what you see on TV, with an older man dramatically clutching his chest before falling to the ground. It can affect men and women of all ages in different ways—sometimes without any chest pain at all.  In honor of February being National Heart Month, we at American Baptist Homes of the Midwest felt it was important to shine a spotlight on heart attack warning signs and controllable risk factors.

First, though, what is a heart attack?

HEART ATTACK EXPLAINED

According to the American Heart Association, “a heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely.” Essentially, the arteries become clogged, eventually starving the heart of the oxygen it needs to function properly. It is different from cardiac arrest, which means the heart actually stops beating. While it’s true that a severe heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, they aren’t the same thing. A heart attack is a circulation problem and cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Cardiac arrest can be reversed if—within minutes—CPR is performed and a defibrillator is used to shock the heart back to its normal rhythm. Minutes can make all the difference in restoring circulation to the heart. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the pain and hope it will go away.Trust your intuition and get help right away. Pain should be respected. It’s proof that something is wrong. 

According to the American Heart Association, call 911 if you feel:

  • Chest discomfort: If you have discomfort in the center of your chest lasting more than a few minutes—either an uncomfortable squeezing, pressure, or pain—get to a hospital.
  • Pain or discomfort radiating down one or both arms, irregular pain in the lower or upper back (indicating stress to the heart muscle), neck, jaw, or stomach. The reason you might feel pain in one of these spots rather than in your heart is because of nerve proximity. This is called “referred pain.” Your brain is confusing those signals and thinks the heart’s pain is the jaw (or back, or neck), calling for help.
  • Shortness of breath: If you feel like you ran a race and you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, this is a red flag. Blocked blood flow to the heart can affect your breathing, whether you feel this way upon waking up, walking up a flight of steps, or going about your typical daily routine. If you suddenly feel like you can’t catch your breath and you didn’t feel that way before when doing the same types of activities, alarm bells should be sounding.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling nauseous or vomiting, feeling dizzy or light-headed, or experiencing extreme fatigue. These symptoms often affect more women than men who mistakenly diagnose themselves with the flu. The difference? These symptoms are typically extreme, sometimes accompanied by heart burn or chest pressure.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 and say, “I’m having a heart attack.” Don’t try to drive to the nearest hospital. Chew an uncoated aspirin and wait for help to arrive.

RISK FACTORS 

The more risk factors you can keep in check, the less likely you are to have a heart attack. Protect your heart at all stages of life through doing the following:

Exercising: Move your body at least 30 minutes a day. Start by walking, strength training, or stretching. You are never too old to exercise. If you have a chronic condition, though, be sure to get sign-off from your physician.

Eating right: Fuel your body with fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, and fish. Eat less salt. Watch portion sizes. Limit the junk food.

Keeping your weight down: Do you know your body mass index? If not, you can figure it out on this handy BMI calculator.

Quitting smoking. Just one year after quitting, you’ll reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.

Knowing your numbers: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Know your numbers.

Heart disease isn’t an inevitable part of aging. By knowing the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease—and the importance of controllable heart-healthy habits—you can protect your heart long into the future.

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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