Why Meditation Keeps You Young at Heart
When Gwen Amlotte was laid off from her job last year, her stress levels shot up. It didn’t help that she was in the middle of a divorce and, at age 50, was worried about the sting of age discrimination as she thought of searching for a new job and partner.
But Amlotte, a former travel agent who lives in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, had a secret weapon at her disposal. It wasn’t something that made life’s difficulties disappear. But she says it made things a bit easier to handle, accept and approach as the days went on.
What she had was meditation.
Across the country, millions of Americans have embraced meditation, yoga, and other practices that connect the body, mind, and soul. A recent Centers for Disease Control report found that more than 35 million Americans have tried meditation.
The practice, which has roots in Buddhism but is often undertaken without religious ties, uses breathing techniques, mindfulness and focuses on achieving mental clarity and calmness. It can be done alone, in groups, in quiet settings, or in noisy ones.
The Dalai Lama, undoubtedly the most famous Buddhist and someone who starts each day early in the morning with meditation, described meditation’s benefits in his speeches: “A calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence.”
All you need is your body, your breath, your intentions, and a place to sit,” Amlotte says. “Ideally, that is somewhere quiet, but honestly, you can meditate in the middle of Times Square if you please. People have done it.
Amlotte had no plan to up her confidence or become calmer. She first tried meditation three years ago at the invitation of a friend.
“I had gone to a one-day retreat with this friend who was into mindfulness and did it just on a whim,” says Amlotte. “I didn’t think I would learn anything from it, but I thought there wasn’t much to lose by trying. I thought it was some sort of hippie or ‘woo-woo’ thing.”
She was wrong. “Now, I meditate every day. It helps me not let the stress or drama of life get to me too much. I live each moment in the moment with intention and accept things as they are and as I want them to be,” Amlotte says.
For Amolette, meditation can range from going to a weekly guided class-like setting at a local community center that hosts a “sitting group” (the term for meditation groups) to simply doing her meditative practices while at home alone in her living room.
“All you need is your body, your breath, your intentions, and a place to sit,” Amlotte says. “Ideally, that is somewhere quiet, but honestly, you can meditate in the middle of Times Square if you please. People have done it.”
Researchers have also found that it's women who meditate the most.
The CDC reports that around 16% of women have meditated compared to just under 12% of men. Meditation is most popular among adults in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Overall, about 14% of American adults have practiced meditation. Compare that to a decade ago, when just more than 4% of adults said they meditated.
Studies have shown that those who meditate experience less stress, lower the risk of high blood pressure, and say they feel happy and confident more often.
The practice has also grown in the workplace as corporations embrace meditation and mindfulness. So have famous figures such as Oprah Winfrey, who offers her mindfulness guides online. Author Arianna Huffington left her namesake media site HuffPost several years ago to launch Thrive Global, an organization that helps businesses incorporate wellness, including mindfulness and meditation, into their offerings. “If you take care of your mind, you take care of the world,” Huffington is known to say.
Amlotte, who teaches meditation to friends as a hobby and aspires to one day teach it as a job, believes more people should try meditation.
“We’re living in this material, physical world where people judge you by how you look, your age, your job. There’s war, violence, hatred, and racism that you see every day in real life or on the TV or social media,” she says. “It can cause havoc on someone’s mental and spiritual well-being, all of it. Meditation doesn’t make things go away or magically solve them. But it does help you recenter yourself and focus on the gift of living and breathing.”