The how and why of mindfulness meditation

What it means to be more present and how to get started

Julia Collins
June 1, 2017

The intention of being present is growing in popularity among people of all ages and backgrounds. From the Seattle Seahawks, who incorporate a mindfulness meditation into their otherwise intense and physical practices; to busy politicians who sit in a "quiet caucus;" to myriad apps like Meditation Studio, Headspace, and Calm that put guided meditation at your fingertips, our fast-paced world is perhaps starting to slow down, at least for a few minutes at a time. 

The retirees at Seabrook, an Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J., are no exception. From weekly mindfulness and crystal bowls meditations to qigong, tai chi, and yoga classes, Seabrook residents have been increasingly including mindfulness into their daily lives.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Wait, retirement is supposed to be slow-paced, right? 

Well, at Seabrook, residents can be as involved—or not—as they want. For those who want to be involved, the community cultivates a vibrant, active lifestyle.

In fact, attempting to schedule an interview with a Seabrook resident for the Tribune can be quite a challenge because their calendars are full of activities, religious services, club meetings, and social gatherings. 

Because Seabrook provides a maintenance-free lifestyle by removing the burdens of home ownership, community members have more time to pursue hobbies and passions. Whether that includes learning to meditate, or they're just discovering they need to make time to slow down (yes, even in retirement), they have plenty of opportunities to do so each week.

Pastoral Ministries Manager David Bowman leads the Mindfulness Meditation Group, which meets weekly for 45 minutes in the Town Square activities room on campus. 

Bowman breaks each meditation class into three parts: relaxation and body awareness, counting breath, and natural breath awareness.

The first part, body awareness, includes a body scan where Bowman guides the group through relaxing every muscle in the body. During the second part, Bowman counts from one to five on the inhalation and from five to one on the exhalation. 

"The third part is where we come back to our natural breathing," Bowman says. "If a distraction comes to their minds, I remind them to acknowledge it and bring their awareness inward, back to the breath."

Once a month, they practice a "loving-kindness" meditation using a singing bowl.

"We start to work that point of relaxation, bringing our attention from our breath to our heart," Bowman says.

They say silently to themselves, "May I be well. May I be happy. May I live in peace."

"Once that has settled in and they feel a sense of loving-kindness within themselves, I ask them to do that same repetition toward someone else. Then we take it to someone whom they have neutral feelings about, then to someone who has irritated them. Finally, they take it to someone who has hurt them, who they feel they have a hard time being happy about, then finally back to themselves," Bowman says.

The first Wednesday of every month, Donna Sica of Soulful Awakenings leads an hour-long crystal bowls class in place of Bowman's mindfulness meditation.

Sica uses seven bowls, each with a different tone. 

"It's a combination of relaxation and motivation," Bowman says. "I felt a push, a drive from the bowls. Some people sense a color or warmth. Particularly with this age group, it's such a holistic approach to healing and relaxing."

Benefits of meditation

Bowman bases his meditation classes on the work of John Kabat-Zin, whose research shows the effects of mindfulness on blood pressure and other systems of the body.

"Mindfulness mediation is beneficial at any age, as it helps us to savor life and everyday occurrences," Bowman says. "For older adults, in particular, it strengthens their ability to concentrate and focus. The relaxation affects their blood pressure, and a general reduction of stress helps them in their day-to-day to be more mindful in the present moment. It helps them to avoid overreacting to any stress that's coming their way."

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., psychologist, and cofounder of The Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles, Calif., says one of the essential attitudes of mindfulness—and one most beneficial to older adults—is a beginner's mind. 

"Novelty is one of the fastest routes to creating new neural connections," Goldstein writes in his blog article "7 things mindful people do differently and how to get started."

"People who practice mindfulness bring [the attitude of a beginner's mind] with them throughout the day," he writes. "When they take a shower, they might imagine it was the first time feeling the water, smelling the soap, or watching the steam as it shifts and changes before their very eyes."

Other things Goldstein says mindful people do differently include: forgive themselves, hold their emotions lightly, practice compassion, make peace with imperfection, embrace vulnerability, and understand that all things come and go.

Live more mindfully

Want to learn more about living mindfully? Seabrook priority list members may attend the Mindfulness Meditation group. Call 1-800-615-9625 to learn more about the benefits of becoming a priority list member and how to join.

You could also take Goldstein's A Course in Mindful Living—a six-month mentorship program on how to live with greater purpose, courage, ease, and happiness. Visit to learn more.