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Keep calm and join a mindfulness workshop

More mindfulness groups are running sessions teaching participants how to be in the moment

A group of mothers are seated on the floor in a circle, some with babies on their laps. They may sit in silence, focusing on their breathing. At times, they may be eating tangerines at a deliberate, slow pace.

This is a monthly mindfulness session organised by Mindful Mums, where the goal is to learn how to be present in the moment and acknowledge how you are feeling without any judgment.

The 30-minute tangerine exercise, for example, is about encouraging curiosity and eating mindfully such as by observing how the tangerine tastes like and noting its texture.

The idea behind mindfulness is to focus on a single thought at a time - something easier said than done in the mobile age where there is a seemingly incessant need to toggle between multiple apps and windows throughout the day.

The Straits Times estimates that there are at least six groups that organise mindfulness sessions on a regular basis. Some, such as those by Mindful Mums, are free, while others require a small fee.

While mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, the practice of secular mindfulness is generally credited to Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American molecular biologist and medical professor from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He created a programme called the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in 1979, which uses mindfulness techniques to relieve stress and improve physical and mental health conditions. The eight-week course is offered by a number of certified trainers in Singapore.

However, those keen to have a taste of mindfulness can try out the various drop-in classes here. There is a common perception of meditation being linked to certain religious practices, but these groups all emphasise on being secular.

These sessions, which can cater to as many as 30 people, usually incorporate breath-focused meditation. But meditation is just one part of mindfulness.

Associate Professor Jochen Reb, director of the Mindfulness Initiative in Singapore Management University (SMU), says: "Mindfulness is not a specific practice. It's more of a state of mind and the quality of your attention. You don't have to sit on a special cushion to do it, it's about tuning into what is going on right now."

His interest in mindfulness research reflects a growing recognition of the practice in the international corporate world.

Corporate leaders - from the late Apple founder Steve Jobs to founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Arianna Huffington - have extolled the benefits of meditation.

Besides meditation, some of these groups also practise mindfulness activities such as colouring and walking.

Organisers here say that in the last two to three years, they have noticed more people becoming aware of mindfulness and its benefits for relaxation and stress relief.

Prof Reb, who has been researching mindfulness in an organisational context for about a decade now, says: "Ten years ago, when I presented about mindfulness research, people would come up to me and tell me in private that they meditate. Now, more people are growing aware of it."

Ms Gladys Lee, 48, of the Singapore Breath Meditation Group, which organises monthy meditation sessions at the Botanic Gardens, echoes his sentiments.

"People are more open to meditation. Lee Kuan Yew practised it, Steve Jobs too. They want to emulate what successful people do."

One mindfulness enthusiast is 35-year-old hairdresser Yazid Kelana Salim. The ultramarathon runner attended a meditation session in May organised by the Singapore Breath Meditation Group to help him recover in between training sessions. It was his first meditation session.

"In the beginning, there was some discomfort and I felt very hot and sweaty, because I was not used to it. But during the second half, I started feeling the breeze. It was excellent," he says. "I think anyone living in a city should try it. You get to detach. It grounds a human being."


Monthly Breath Meditation @ Botanic Gardens

What: In 2012, a group of five to six friends came together to meditate at one of their homes.

The following year, the session grew into free outdoor meditation sessions at the Botanic Gardens.

Today, the sessions, organised by Mr Thomas Heng, 39, and Ms Gladys Lee, 48, are attended by 15 to 20 people each time. Mr Heng and Ms Lee have been practising breath meditation since 2010, learning from a practitioner from India.

The group, Singapore Breath Meditation Group, is led by Mr Heng through a 50-minute meditation in a shady spot in the park.

At each session, he encourages participants to share their experiences - which can range from feeling a prickly sensation in their legs to being able to "see" colours with their eyes closed - and ask questions.

Ms Lee says: "There is no right or wrong way to meditate. It's about finding something that works for you."

Where: Botanic Gardens

When: The next session is on July 24, 9 to 10.30am

Admission: Free

Info: www.meetup.com/breathmeditation


The Mindful Movement by Nirvana

What: Nirvana Mind, a company that offers meditation classes, conducts various pop-up mindfulness sessions in multiple indoor venues, including co-working space The Working Capitol in Keong Saik Road and The Forgotten Recipe, a restaurant in Tiong Bahru.

Each class can hold a maximum of 20 people.

Nirvana Mind was set up by Ms Helen Clare Rozario, 32, in 2014 after she discovered that meditation helped her "find inner peace" and "be a more productive human being".

She found that most meditation centres here were either affiliated with a religious group or tied to spirituality.

"I hope to bring meditation to people who are looking for something non-spiritual and non- religious," she says.

Ms Rozario is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher-in-training with the University of California San Diego Medical School's Center For Mindfulness.

Besides the pop-up sessions, The Mindful Movement by Nirvana Mind also holds a four-week mindfulness course, overseas retreats as well as "mindful walks" at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Where: The Forgotten Recipe, 3 Seng Poh Road (private glass room within Tiong Bahru Bar)

When: Every Wednesday, 11.30am to 12.15pm

Admission: $15 for drop-ins, $10 a session for series of 10 prepaid sessions

Where: The Working Capitol, 1 Keong Saik Road

When: Every last Monday of the month. Next session on July 25, 7 to 8pm

Admission: $20

Where: Trehaus, Claymore Connect, 442 Orchard Road, 03-01

When: One Wednesday of the month. Next session is on July 13, 1 to 2pm

Admission: $20

Info: Go to www.nirvanamind.net


Mindfulness Workshop by kikki.K

What: Mr Shahrul Hussin, regional manager of Swedish stationery and lifestyle store kikki.K, leads a regular mindfulness workshop in-store. It is meant to act as a guide on how to use kikki.K's Mindfulness Journal, which contains short mindfulness exercises one can do daily.

During the 11/2-hour session, Mr Shahrul, 41, teaches participants how to create their own mood board using quotes and images that inspire them. He also guides them through a simple meditation for five to seven minutes. The workshop caters for six to 12 participants a session.

Mr Shahrul went through mindfulness training at kikki.K's Melbourne store last year.

"I try to make it localised. In Australia, they might be able to enjoy a meal in the garden, for example, but in Singapore, I talk about how to eat mindfully in the foodcourt, or how to meditate in the train," he says.

The sessions are held at the Ion Orchard store in the mornings before it opens at 10am. But they will soon be available at kikki.K's new outlet in Raffles City which opens later this month. The new store will include a space at the back for Mr Shahrul to hold sessions during opening hours.

Where: kikki.K store, Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, B2-53

When: Next session is on Aug 11, 9am to 10.30am

Admission: $50 (includes one Mindfulness Journal which costs $44.90)

Info: Registration and payment must be done in-store in advance. Go to www.kikki-k.com/workshops


Mindfulness Space @ SMU

What: The Singapore Management University (SMU) holds a weekly mindfulness session on Wednesday evenings during term time. It is open to the public and is free.

During the hour-long session, participants - usually 10 to 15 - meditate for 30 to 40 minutes, after which there is an informal sharing session. Different people lead the group and sometimes, they do activities such as mindful walking or colouring.

The university's Mindfulness Initiative was started by Associate Professor Jochen Reb, 42, in 2013 to build a community within SMU which could practise mindfulness together. He also teaches classes in mindfulness in leadership and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course.

Where: Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University, 50 Stamford Road, Level 3, Classroom 3.2

When: Classes will commence weekly from the middle of next month and will take place on Wednesdays at 7pm

Admission: Free

Info: Go to business.smu.edu.sg/mindfulness or e-mail mindfulness@smu.edu.sg


Mindfulness By The Bay

What: These monthly sessions, which started in May, is organised by Light Of Mindfulness, a group of 10 to 12 people in their 20s to 40s who practise meditation at Buddhist organisation Dharma Drum Singapore.

The organisers note that the sessions are not religious in nature, but are about helping participants stay calm and relaxed.

Ms Tan Shin Yee, 37, says: "All of us have benefited from practising meditation. We got a greater sense of calmness, peace, joy, relaxation and mindfulness, which is very much needed in today's way of living."

The two-hour sessions for about 30 people are held at Gardens by the Bay. Members of Light Of Mindfulness take turns leading participants through activities such as light exercises, stretching, walking, meditation and sharing.

Where: Gardens by the Bay, SuperTree Grove

When: Held on a monthly basis. The next one is on July 23, 7.30am

Admission: Free

Info: www.facebook.com/mindfulnessbythebay


Mindful Mums

What: This monthly support group is for mothers to share their struggles and learn mindfulness techniques which they can practise even with a baby in tow.

About two to 10 mothers turn up for each session. The group was set up by Portuguese Silvia Wetherell, 35, and Australian Joanna Bush, 41, in 2013. Both work as counsellors and each has two children.

When she was based in Britain five years ago, a pregnant Ms Wetherell had wanted to find a way to be calm and centred when her baby arrived. Her research led her to mindfulness.

Later, in Singapore, she met Ms Bush, who had once struggled with post-partum depression, and they decided to form a free support group for mothers.

Ms Wetherell, who is trained in mindful motherhood and maternal mental health, says that mindfulness is beneficial for mothers to learn how to "let go of things they cannot control" and "use acceptance and curiosity to help them cope with their day-to-day life".

She acknowledges that mothers with young children might not be able to find the time to meditate. As such, Mindful Mums advocate a "mindfulness in the trenches" approach that allows mothers to practise mindfulness even when they are busy.

For example, even changing a diaper can be done mindfully, if the mother focuses on how her baby's skin feels, or how she is bonding with her child.

Says Ms Wetherell: "A lot of mothers go on autopilot and say 'it was all a blur, I can't remember anything'. "I tell them to remove external distractions, get rid of Facebook on their phones and bring back curiosity into their lives. Everyday experiences can be meaningful."

Where: The Mother & Child Centre, Tanglin Mall, 03-11, 163 Tanglin Road

When: Usually held on the first Tuesday of the month. The next session is on Aug 16, 3 to 4.30pm

Admission: Free

Info: Go to mindfulmums.sg or e-mail mindfulmums@gmail.com

An earlier version of the story stated that it was a Meditation Journal. This is incorrect. It should be a Mindfulness Journal. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Mind over matter'. Print Edition | Subscribe