Kendal Residents, Staff Find Mindfulness Improves Well-being

Oct. 26, 2017—Over the past decade, residents and staff in more than a half dozen Kendal communities have adopted a variety of mindfulness-based practices—including meditation, yoga and tai chi—to reduce stress and enhance well-being.

Jefferson Health System’s Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine has conducted research over the past year on the effectiveness of mindfulness at reducing stress among residents of Kendal-Crosslands Communities. Two staff and 75 KCC residents have participated in three rounds of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs offered there by the Philadelphia-based Brind Center. On Nov. 30, Dr. Andrew Newberg will present results of their MBSR research to KCC residents.

Mindful breathing, gentle touch and essential oils are bringing comfort and healing to residents and staff at Kendal at Granville. “At first everyone was skeptical,” Director of Nursing Krystal Etters says about the Kendal at Granville’s Urban Zen Program. A woman trained in the gentle healing therapies of yoga, essential oils and Reiki was hired to come to the community a couples times a month. Now she’s a popular visitor at Kendal at Granville and everybody asks when she’s coming back, Krystal says.

Yoga therapy involves gentle movements and breathing exercises that can be done in a bed or chair. Reiki is a Japanese technique of light touch, on or near the body, that helps reduce stress and promote relaxation and healing.

Kendal at Oberlin offers tai chi classes on land and in the water. Often described as meditation in motion, tai chi involves a series of slow-paced movements, accompanied by deep breathing. The benefits of tai chi include increased flexibility and balance and decreased stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that tai chi can reduce falls among older adults by up to 45 percent.

Fortune 500 companies like Google, General Mills and Black Rock offer mindfulness training to enhance focus, decision-making and productivity. A course called M-Fit has been taught to Marines in order to strengthen their resilience in combat, and both yoga and meditation are used at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Early research suggests that regular mindfulness practice can help older adults sustain cognitive function and slow memory loss.

Research also indicates that consistent mindfulness practice can create long-lasting changes in the brain. “The best data shows powerful impacts from meditation right from the beginning. The more hours of practice you accumulate, the stronger the benefits,” says Dr. Daniel Goleman, co-author (with Dr. Richard Davidson) of Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

“It’s gratifying to see how mindfulness practice strengthens Kendal culture as residents and staff grow more resilient in the face of stress. There’s less conflict, more cooperation and kindness toward self and others,” says Laura Peters, Human Resources Development and Learning Manager at Kendal at Ithaca.

Laura began teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts more than 35 years ago) in the wider Ithaca community in 2007. Residents and staff expressed an interest in taking mindfulness classes so Laura began teaching a six-week modified form of MBSR in 2012. Learning simple practices in a supportive group setting, participants reported benefits including improved sleep, lower blood pressure, greater self-control, improved digestion and less pain.

Laura shared these results with wellness and Human Resources leaders across the Kendal System and gathered information about their mindfulness offerings. She also began delivering a mindfulness presentation annually to Kendal Leadership Fellows.  As information about mindfulness’ benefits becomes public knowledge, interest is growing among Kendal Affiliates.

In 2015, Barclay Friends’ Social Work Director, Kimberly Coder Bernardi, reached out to Laura, expressing interest in offering classes to her community’s assisted living residents. Laura, in turn, connected Kim with Lucia McBee, author of Mindfulness-Based Elder Care. This yearlong mentoring relationship bore fruit on Oct. 31, 2016, at the LeadingAge National Conference in Indianapolis, where the three presented “The Art of Mindfulness: Cultivating Well-being” to an audience of 120. It was the organization’s first presentation on mindfulness.

Following the LeadingAge presentation, Laura was invited to deliver a hands-on workshop at the LeadingAge Gulf States/Lousiana Assisted Living Association Conference in New Orleans in April. The enthusiastic group of aging services providers said the mindfulness practices were “much needed tools for relieving day-to-day stress.” And some of the workshop participants said they “enjoyed being made to slow down.”

In May, Laura presented an overview titled “Cultivating Mindful Living in Kendal Affiliates” to representatives of the San Francisco Zen Center who are collaborating with Kendal on developing a Zen-inspired community for older adults in Northern California. The ensuing discussion focused on the Zen concept of “contemplative care” and similarities between Quaker and Zen values.

Mindfulness-based practices

Posted by Larry Elveru