I have found so much joy in working with elders. Perhaps it began when my father came to live with us for nine months after the death of my mother. I fell in love with the pace, patience and wisdom he so generously shared.
In 2005, I created and ran an ElderSHINE group for low-income elders in downtown Baltimore. It was a profoundly rewarding experience. For ten years, the group met and supported one another through both the joyful and painful stages of their shared journeys.
Currently, every month I travel across town to lead an ElderSHINE group with seniors who live in a local retirement community. The participants range in age from their 60s into their 90s. Some have familiarity with meditation and mindfulness, others do not.
Without exception, their response to engaging as a community in mindful awareness practices has been so positive and appreciative. Some of the comments shared by participants include:
- “For me, the best thing about these gatherings is learning to better care for myself and others. Sharing freely, with no fear.”
- “It adds joy to life, provides coping skills and builds close ties.”
- “We all have ‘baggage’. This is a chance to embrace the feelings and emotions, to arrive at a good and peaceful place.”
- “I’ve had difficulty falling asleep at night. Deep breathing techniques have helped me focus on my breathing and ignore all the junk going around my brain. It’s wonderful to wake up refreshed — looking forward to a new day!”
- “Meditation makes you kinder toward yourself and others.”
- “The breathing exercises are of greatest value to me in helping ease and alleviate chronic pain.”
- “I am more able to stop, become aware, examine what I’m feeling and let go.”
- “I am learning to forgive myself for mistakes and to forgive others.”
- “I accept changes more readily now.”
The program clearly provides opportunities for seniors to cope with anxiety, depression and other chronic health conditions; strengthen their capacity for compassion toward themselves and others; engage in their community with greater ease; and enhance the quality of their lives.
Research articles published in 2011 and 2012 by Dr. Sarah Szanton et al from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing demonstrated the positive impact of ElderSHINE. Results showed improvement in diurnal salivary cortisol levels; decreases in heart rate and blood pressure; significant decreases in depression; and increases in overall health, self-efficacy, social support, and utilization of mindfulness practice as stress reduction tools in daily life.
We are truly never too old to learn, and learning mindful awareness practices can enhance the daily quality of our lives. Coming together as a sangha (community) strengthens our bonds, reduces loneliness, and provides opportunities to share heartfelt laughter as we walk together through the poignant and painful moments of our lives.
What will you learn today to help you thrive?
To what one breath can do,
Amy Bloom Connolly, Founder