HealthMindfulnessWhat is mindfulness in the age of social media

Mindfulness is more than meditating on a mountain, like any practice, it involves serious daily effort.
Alexa Mena Alexa MenaMarch 28, 201912 min
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Mindfulness has fallen prey to the same malady as yoga. Mention the word and the mind flips through a photographic — actually, let’s say it, Instagram — catalog of people apparently oozing serenity out of their pores. But just as yoga is a lot more than social media posts of handstands and spiral contortions, real mindfulness is more than five minutes of meditation done without training.

Mindfulness has caught the interest of the health and wellness community with training centers and programs popping up all over the world, the UAE included. Many of these programs are run over a weekend or are one-day sessions, where self-indulgence is mistaken for self-awareness. In reality, reaching a state of mindfulness involves a complete lifestyle shift.

One day, or even a full weekend, won’t get you there. That would be like expecting to lose 10kg after dieting for one weekend. Try two months. For as with all things, it usually takes eight weeks to form a habit, said Bahar Wilson, Mindfulness UAE founder and a trained mindfulness teacher. Her mindfulness-based stress reduction (mbsr) program takes precisely that long — eight weeks. The sessions typically last between 1 and 3 hours and meet once a week, but don’t let the one day commitment fool you. You have homework every single day.

So, what is mindfulness? It is a Buddhist practice of being aware of the present moment, a state usually achieved and maintained through meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Zen Buddhist student and professor of medicine emeritus at University of Massachusetts Medical school, noted the psychological benefits from his own practice of the discipline. Then, combining his background in Buddhism and medicine, he developed a secular mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

But that doesn’t mean his program is Buddhist. It is non-religious. Dr Kabat-Zinn said of mindfulness in an interview with the Guardian: “I got into this through the Zen door, which is a very irreverent approach to Buddhism.”

In the secular practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation and other tools are used to investigate “present experience, including body sensations, internal mental states, thoughts, emotions, impulses and memories, in order to reduce suffering or distress and to increase well-being” — according Dr Kabat-Zinn, in his paper Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future.

Stress is a known precursor to major health risks, and a high level of perceived stress may cause depression, burnout, anxiety, sleep disturbance, fatigue and substance abuse. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychology and Cognitive Science, more than half of Dubai residents are stressed. For anyone who lives in the emirate, that may not come as a surprise.

In a study published in Neuroreport, Dr Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction program has been shown to improve focus, attention and the ability to be present. MBSR is not easy. It is a long-term, if not lifelong, commitment.

Bahar, the mindfulness teacher, always emphasizes to her students that mindfulness training is not a race. In order for it to take effect, you must do a little everyday. It can’t be hurried, she explained. So don’t fall for the instant gratification of the Instagram mindfulness movement.

Dr Kabat-Zinn said of mindfulness in an interview with the Guardian: “If this is another fad, I don’t want to have any part of it,” he says. “If in the past 50 years, I had found something more meaningful, more healing, more transformative and with more potential social impact, I would be doing that.”

“Mindfulness” has fallen prey to the same malady as yoga. Mention the word and the mind flips through a photographic — actually, let’s say it, Instagram — catalog of people apparently oozing serenity out of their pores. But just as yoga is a lot more than social-media posts of handstands and spiral contortions, real mindfulness is more than five minutes of meditation done without training.

Mindfulness has caught the interest of the health and wellness community with training centers and programs popping up all over the world, the UAE included. Many of these programs are run over a weekend or are one-day sessions, where self-indulgence is mistaken for self-awareness. When in reality, reaching a state of mindfulness involves a complete lifestyle shift.

One day, or even a full weekend, won’t get you there. That would be like expecting to lose 10kg after dieting for one weekend. Maybe, try two months. For as with all things, it usually takes eight weeks to form a habit, said Bahar Wilson, Mindfulness UAE founder and a trained mindfulness teacher. Her mindfulness-based stress reduction (mbsr) program takes precisely that long — eight weeks. The sessions typically last between 1 and 3 hours and meet once a week, but don’t let the one day commitment fool you. You have homework every single day.

So, what is mindfulness? It is a Buddhist practice of being aware of the present moment, a state usually achieved and maintained through meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Zen Buddhist student and professor of medicine emeritus at University of Massachusetts Medical school, noted the psychological benefits from his own practice of the discipline. Then, combining his background in Buddhism and medicine, he developed a secular mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

But that doesn’t mean his program is Buddhist. It is non-religious. Dr Kabat-Zinn said of mindfulness in an interview with the Guardian: “I got into this through the Zen door, which is a very irreverent approach to Buddhism.”

In the secular practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation and other tools are used to investigate “present experience, including body sensations, internal mental states, thoughts, emotions, impulses and memories, in order to reduce suffering or distress and to increase well-being” — according Dr Kabat-Zinn in his paper Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future.

Stress is a known precursor to major health risks, and a high level of perceived stress may cause depression, burnout, anxiety, sleep disturbance, fatigue and substance abuse. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychology and Cognitive Science, over half of Dubai residents are stressed. For anyone who lives in the emirate, that may not come as a surprise.

In a study published in Neuroreport, Dr Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction has been shown to improve focus, attention and the ability to be present. MBSR is not easy. It is a long-term, if not lifelong, commitment.

Bahar, the mindfulness teacher, always emphasizes to her students that mindfulness training is not a race. In order for it to take effect, you must do a little everyday. It can’t be hurried, she explained. So don’t fall for the instant gratification of the Instagram mindfulness movement.

Dr Kabat-Zinn said of mindfulness in an interview with the Guardian, “If this is another fad, I don’t want to have any part of it,” he says. “If in the past 50 years, I had found something more meaningful, more healing, more transformative and with more potential social impact, I would be doing that.”

Alexa Mena

Alexa Mena

Alexa Mena is a multidisciplinary artist and media editor for livehealthy.ae. When she's not writing for livehealthy, she's thinking about design and how it shapes the human experience.