With the press of a button on the tape deck, four senior women at Florence Bain Senior Center listen to soft music and a gentle voice as they stretch out on floor mats.
"You are a magnet that draws peace, wisdom and health to you," the voice says. "Float and breathe on the ocean of life."
For members of the meditation group that meets three mornings a week, such visualization is one way to deal with stress, pain and life in general.
"I have always been interested in things connected with the growth of the spirit and the mind and I am especially interested in the reduction of stress," said Kate Lorber, an "over 55" Columbia resident.
Raquel Coleman, a "60-plus" Columbia resident, had practiced meditation during her college years when she studied the
philosophy of Eastern religions. "I was taught meditation and there was a big change in my life. I got along better with people, my grades improved and I was much more relaxed."
Having begun meditating with the group to "have that experience again," Ms. Coleman now leads the group through the initial conversation and stretching periods before the meditation segment.
Eloise Rand, a 72-year-old Fulton resident, said she believes meditation may be the answer to dealing with the pain in her neck and back. "This is my only hope, because I feel as though we have the power within us to do this, but we need to get our minds out of the way," she said.
"We have a lot more impact on our health than we are aware of," said Karen Roberts, coordinator of the Seniors L.I.N.K (Learning and Involvement within a Network of Kindness) program. Sponsored by the county's Office on Aging, the program provides various activities for seniors.
Ms. Roberts got the idea for the group -- which she started in February -- after having taught meditation to two seniors who had suffered strokes. "The stroke survivors had good results and one lady attributed to meditation the lowering of her blood pressure," she said.
Although she no longer teaches the class, Ms. Roberts' mix of meditation styles has been carried on by the group, which continued to meet throughout the summer and now meets an additional two days a week.
Ms. Roberts, who has a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Yale University, has taken several yoga and meditation classes, but has no formal training in meditation.
"I have found in my experience a lot of varying things that are quite helpful," Ms. Roberts said.
"There are different tools to help ourselves relax and it depends on the person. Some have active minds and need something to focus on; others can drift right along, finding their own way toward relaxation," she said.
Vipassana, a Buddhist style of meditation that focuses on a person's breathing, is one of several techniques she teaches.
"Vipassana involves acknowledging what you are thinking and feeling . . . You allow the thought to be present and then let it go; the goal is to quiet the mind," she said.
A second technique concentrates on guided visualization and imagination such as "seeing yourself bathed in healing light."
Another method she uses is "following a mantra," a short phrase that is repeated either out loud or silently.
"It helps you to stop thinking about the grocery list and other things that you need to do," Ms. Roberts said. "Meditation is another state of mind. It's a place where we have access to lots of other resources."
Wednesday's taped recording focused on deep breathing and the imagery of floating in water.
"Return from your voyage; inhale, changing your direction and float back to the tasks at hand . . .," said the soothing voice at the end of the recording.
Looking totally relaxed, each member's experience was unique.
"It's like peeling off layers of disease," Mrs. Rand said.
Ms. Lorber described a feeling of euphoria. "When it works, it's quite fabulous," she said.
"Before I started meeting with the group, I had been involved in other activities and had very little control," Ms. Coleman said. "Now, I can parcel out my time and determine what is significant . . . Meditation has benefited my whole life."