All You Need to Know About Mindfulness

All You Need to Know About Mindfulness

27 May 2014

Forget fixating on being thinner, owning the new ‘It’ bag or marrying Mr Perfect. Focusing on living in the present with your new best friend - Mindfulness

You’d be forgiven for thinking that mindfulness, the art of treasuring the present rather than fixating on the future or past, was the preserve of celebrities and the idle rich. Katy Perry and Jennifer Aniston are fans and TV wellness expert Dr Oz dedicated a show to the practice. As more women in the UAE are discovering, living in the moment, the core behaviour associated with the new trend, can bring some serious rewards if you set your mind to it. 
There are now dozens of classes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi dedicated to helping us clear our minds of modern clutter and learn to be thankful for what we do have rather than obsessing over what we don’t. Helen Williams is a Personal Development Consultant and Owner of Dubai’s LifeWorks clinics which runs regular mindfulness and meditation courses. 

And Relax…
“Mindfulness is often defined as paying attention to purpose, moment by moment, without judging,” explains Helen, who exudes an enviable air of peace and calm. “It originates from ancient Eastern philosophies and has become very popular in the West as a means of dramatically improving our wellbeing, performance and daily life. Being mindful means developing the ability to pay deliberate attention to our experience from moment to moment, learning to tune in to what is going on in our mind and body without judging our experience of it.” Sounds easy, right? But you try switching off after a busy day at work or a screaming match with the kids. It’s an art. Luckily, Helen’s got plenty of advice to help us master it.
“Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations may not sound like an obviously helpful thing to do, however, learning to do this in a way that suspends judgement and self-criticism can have surprising results. Imagine being able to practice awareness of your thoughts and feelings - to feel as though you have control instead of feeling anxious, fearful, worrying? Mindfulness can become our simple way of being - our conscious choice to stay aware in the present moment can mean the difference between being governed by anxiety and worry or experiencing calm centred awareness in our daily lives. Think of mindfulness as a way of responding to the events of your life, whatever they may be, and to yourself, with patience, openness and compassion. Every mindfulness practice you work with is about learning to create spacious presence that will help you limit your need to react to fear.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the present without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” 

Practice Makes Perfect…
And Helen’s not the only one extolling the benefits of mindfulness in the Middle East. South African Marketing Manager *Tania, 36, who has spent the last 10 years living in Dubai, was on the verge of quitting her stressful job and felt like she’d lost her way after a bad break-up until a friend suggested meditation might help. “I started off going to a yoga class with my friend and really benefitted from the bit at the end where you’re encouraged to lie still and clear your mind,” says the now Zen-like blonde who credits meditation and mindfulness for saving her from a breakdown. “I felt like my life was spiralling out of control and that everyone else had what I wanted. I was single and started fixating on friends with husbands and kids and found it really hard to turn off the negative thoughts. I was on the verge of going to the doctor I was so worried and I didn’t think what I regarded as a bit of a ‘Hippy Dippy’ idea was going to help. But it really did.” She adds: “I really enjoyed the meditation aspect of yoga so I signed up for some mindfulness and meditation classes to find out more. The best thing about them was once you know how to manage your mind and be mindful, you’ve got the skills for life. It’s not easy to switch off, especially somewhere like Dubai, but since I’ve started focusing on the present I’ve never felt better.” And Helen’s not surprised. She’s seen hundreds of women, and men, get their lives back on track. “Practicing mindfulness has quite simply changed the lives of many stressed and anxious people into a more calm, peaceful, contented and centred way of being,” adds Helen. “Mindfulness has become an important way of helping people with anxiety, panic attacks, fear, sleep disorders, depression, physical pain, and many illnesses. Practicing mindfulness is a key element in happiness, improves both mental, physical and emotional health, helps people to a place of acceptance with grief and pain and can bring astonishing changes to behaviour, habits, thoughts and emotions. It empowers us to feel more optimistic, positive, confident and patient.” 

Sticking With It
But don’t be fooled into thinking that a couple of classes will cure a lifetime of negative thoughts. It takes time and commitment. “We habitually live outside of ourselves and go through our day with little inner awareness,” warns Helen. “Many of us focus mostly on others or on external circumstances and pay little attention to our own responses or reactions. Many of us live hectic and busy lives and seldom pause or stop to make time for ourselves. Our habits keep us focused on reactions, stories, fear, worry and anxiety and many of us have no idea just how stressed we actually are, or how to deal with the stress we are experiencing. The practice of mindfulness is about learning to let go of resistance – allowing your thoughts to just come and go without attaching a story to them, stilling your body and calming yourself. Through being more mindfully aware, a clarity and peacefulness are achieved, making our habits easier to notice and to change for the better.” And Helen’s not the only one extolling the benefits of mindfulness in the Middle East. South African Marketing Manager *Tania, 36, who has spent the last 10 years living in Dubai, was on the verge of quitting her stressful job and felt like she’d lost her way after a bad break-up until a friend suggested meditation might help. “I started off going to a yoga class with my friend and really benefitted from the bit at the end where you’re encouraged to lie still and clear your mind,” says the now Zen-like blonde who credits meditation and mindfulness for saving her from a breakdown. “I felt like my life was spiralling out of control and that everyone else had what I wanted. I was single and started fixating on friends with husbands and kids and found it really hard to turn off the negative thoughts. I was on the verge of going to the doctor I was so worried and I didn’t think what I regarded as a bit of a ‘Hippy Dippy’ idea was going to help. But it really did.” She adds: “I really enjoyed the meditation aspect of yoga so I signed up for some mindfulness and meditation classes to find out more. The best thing about them was once you know how to manage your mind and be mindful, you’ve got the skills for life. It’s not easy to switch off, especially somewhere like Dubai, but since I’ve started focusing on the present I’ve never felt better.” And Helen’s not surprised. She’s seen hundreds of women, and men, get their lives back on track. “Practicing mindfulness has quite simply changed the lives of many stressed and anxious people into a more calm, peaceful, contented and centred way of being,” adds Helen. “Mindfulness has become an important way of helping people with anxiety, panic attacks, fear, sleep disorders, depression, physical pain, and many illnesses. Practicing mindfulness is a key element in happiness, improves both mental, physical and emotional health, helps people to a place of acceptance with grief and pain and can bring astonishing changes to behaviour, habits, thoughts and emotions. It empowers us to feel more optimistic, positive, confident and patient.” 

The Science Bit
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a technique developed by the internationally known meditation teacher Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, can help treat and reduce a variety of emotional and physical problems, including cardiovascular disease and depression.
Studies have shown that meditation can help cancer patients improve their outlook - and even their chances of remission and survival. It can also serve as an effective natural remedy for chronic pain, with one US study (Wake Forest University) finding out that meditation can reduce pain by 40 per cent - morphine typically reduces pain by 25 per cent.

Lifeworks Counselling: This Al Wasl venue offers adult classes and courses to help people develop their own meditation practice. Call 04 394 2464 for details.
Sahajayoga Meditation: Offers free meditation sessions, as well as meditation for children. Visit www.sahajayogauae.com or call 056 605 5737 for more.
Cosmic Healing Centre: Offers meditation, including those which target forgiveness, self-confidence and healing.  Dial 04 357 6676 for more.