Mindfulness-based stress reduction changed Bahar Wilson’s life, and ultimately led her to found Mindfulness UAE. Since launching in 2017, her mindfulness institute regularly offers a variety of courses, including mindfulness based stress reduction, for beginners, the workplace, and chronic pain. On April 25 Mindfulness UAE will host the first Women’s Health and Wellbeing Conference in collaboration with the Dubai Business Women Council, in the main office of the Dubai Chamber.
The conference aims to bring together professionals in the local health care, mindfulness and wellness fields to share best practices and further figure out how to help the growing number of working people deal with their stress and achieve a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.
While the conference is open to all, it is focused towards women. Some of the topics to be discussed will include: mindfulness and self-compassion, preventative health and early detection, the benefits of yoga beyond the mat, wellness in the workplace, and understanding chronic pain.
Mindfulness UAE founder Bahar Wilson, a key speaker and a passionate advocate, knows mindfulness is a trendy buzzword these days. Everyone, it seems, is time-pressed, squeezed at work and at home.
And that means people jumping on the bandwagon, many of them without proper education and training. For example schools have begun teaching the practice, but not always properly, says Wilson. A well-rounded knowledge and ability to instruct in the field is not something that can be achieved in a four-hour workshop, or even a weekend intensive — as many mindfulness programs might have you think. That is why Wilson, who has trained extensively in the subject, has made it her goal to educate as many people as she can on the practice.
The key when it comes to a mindfulness practice, she says, is to pay attention to the present moment.
“It’s difficult,” she says. “I mean saying it is simple, but when it comes to action, how can you bring your attention, your mind to the present moment? The mind is created to think and what it does, it’s just doing its job, but wondering so many times, escaping to the past, to the future, but bring it back to the present moment.”
It also helps if people stop and take stock, although that is also easier said then done.
“Why do you have to do so many things?” she says. “Juggling too many balls at the same time is a bit challenging. We practice, even I practice still for the rest of my life.”
The kind of mindfulness Wilson is talking back stems back to Buddhism, and the practice of awareness — again, 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, was one of the first to extoll the psychological benefits from his own practice of the discipline. He combined his background in Buddhism and medicine to develop a secular mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
Wilson never thought she’d be a teacher, much less a mindfulness teacher. Up until three years ago, she was a project manager working for a development firm. Like many in Dubai, her life was stressful. She worked days, nights and weekends and hadn’t taken a day off in three years.
The stress was taking a toll on her body and consequently her wallet. Wilson had chronic pain in different parts of her body. She found herself regularly in and out of her doctor’s office. Her insurance premiums were skyrocketing. She only took three days off to get married in the UK, and she was ill with a fever.
It was then, at her lowest point, that she realized she needed a change. She knew that shift had to start from within, she just didn’t know how.
Searching for a change, she came across the practices of Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and Dr Michael Beckwith. Yet though these life coaches are wildly popular globally, their teachings were not right for Bahar. Then she discovered mindfulness-based stress reduction and signed up for an eight-week course at Oxford University. She also studied at the University of San Diego and spent a week at a silent retreat.
When she returned, her family and friends said she was a different person. Her chronic pain was gone, a dramatic improvement she attributes to her mindfulness-based stress reduction practice. Pain free, stress free, and armed with new stress-reduction tools, Wilson felt ready to return to work.
Yet although she had transformed, her job hadn’t. Everything that caused her stress before was still there, even though she had been transformed.
“I used to look at life like there is a destination to arrive,” she says. “I have to achieve and I have to achieve and I was running and now I know there is a journey, I am here. To learn to grow and I’m here… That’s it and then that brings you to the present moment. You don’t need to be worried,the future hasn’t arrived yet. How do you know if it is going to be good or if it is going to be bad?”
So following the adage of “do what you love”, she decided to become a mindfulness teacher — and pursue the job full-time. In addition to offering an assortment of courses, Mindfulness UAE also teaches in schools and companies throughout Dubai.
These days it seems everyone is stressed out, and in her work in Dubai, Wilson finds there is no “typical client.”
“There’s people that are a housewife, people who work, people who have 25-year-old kids, who have severe anxiety,” she says. “And then I have 50-year-olds who have depression.”
Being a mindfulness teacher in Dubai is not all bliss, however. Wilson says many prospective students don’t understand the 8-week commitment her courses require, especially when there are other mindfulness programs in Dubai that certify after a weekend or even a day. People also don’t understand that they will have to work on mindfulness long after the course is over — and it doesn’t mean the end of stress or negative feelings.
“One of the funny questions I got from someone was, ‘So, if I learned this I never had any stress in my life?’” she says. “I said, ‘No, you cannot remove stress from your life but you can learn how to deal with it.’ So, your negative emotions come and go, but you’re strong enough to not let that negative emotion stay with you for a long time.”
That is why Mindfulness UAE runs awareness campaigns on social media and with partners, to combat misinformation.
Bahar will be teaching about mindfulness at The Women’s Health and Wellbeing Conference.
• Tickets for the conference are Dh200 and can be bought through the Dubai Chamber.
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.