Mindfulness: A fad, or the key to your future happiness? Good meets Emma Carbery, coach and founder of Mindfulness Dubai, to find out what all the fuss is about…

How did you become involved in mindfulness and what prompted you to do so? 

It was my own experience with stress and anxiety whilst climbing the corporate ladder many years ago that prompted my journey of discovery with mindfulness. I have always been very motivated and driven to do well, and I found that without mindfulness, these traits were pushing me to over-work and over-think everything, leading to exhaustion and constant anxiety.  A good friend suggested I try mindfulness practices about 15 years ago and I’m so glad they did. From day one I was hooked.  I then spent another 11 years in my corporate career at the same time as learning these practices, undertaking teacher training in my spare time and on sabbaticals.

Mindfulness is something of a buzzword at the moment – do you think that’s helpful? Or do people misunderstand it by seeing it as a mere trend?

I think that fact that mindfulness is a buzzword at all now says a lot about the state of our lives, both inside and outside of work.  When our days are commonly described as ‘crazy’, ‘mental’ and ‘manic’, people start to ask whether it’s sustainable and seek a different way of living their lives. Once people understand what mindfulness is, that its origins are thousands of years old and that there is a credible evidence basis to support its benefits, they then start to take it seriously, even if at the outset there was some scepticism. I would say the only downside of the buzz is that I am seeing more unqualified and, more importantly inexperienced teachers jumping on the bandwagon saying that they teach mindfulness. This is damaging for people who end up being taught by them and for the reputation of mindfulness more generally.

Who stands to benefit from mindfulness?

Mindfulness practices can help anyone in their lives.  Ultimately, mindfulness is teaching fundamental self-awareness and self-management skills that are essential to anyone who wants to lead a happy life with less stress and healthy relationships.  That’s why its appeal is so universal.

What sort of benefits does it offer?

Traditionally, secular mindfulness was used in clinical and medical settings to help people suffering from chronic illnesses and those suffering from chronic anxiety and depression. The practices were shown to help people reduce the pain they felt in their bodies in the case of chronic illness, and for those suffering from depression, the practices were shown to reduce depressive episodes. It is now being used, however, in schools, prisons, the armed forces and in many workplaces. Much of our work is with organisations and, from a workplace perspective, mindfulness builds emotional intelligence skills, leading to better leadership, performance, relationships and wellbeing. In a working world characterised by continual change, uncertainty and mounting pressure, mindfulness helps people to learn to pay attention again to what’s most important and gives them a sense of calm and clarity which is often sorely missing from the average working day. From this new sense of clarity, individuals are then able to develop their self-awareness and self-management skills to be able to cope with whatever life throws at them. Only when we know ourselves well can we manage ourselves and our relationships with skill and confidence.

How long does it take to develop a beneficial practice? What are the biggest challenges people face in establishing this?

A mindfulness practice starts to yield benefits from day one. Often, just sitting for ten minutes of practice can give people a much-needed pause in their day that makes them feel happier and less stressed. Like anything, however, the more you do the greater the benefits. You can think of mindfulness and meditation as mental training – just like physical training, the more we do, the stronger we get and the greater the benefits we reap. Although mindfulness isn’t difficult to do, often the most challenging part is making time in your day to sit down and do it. We are so used to ‘doing’ constantly, to sit down and watch your breath for ten minutes can seem like an odd thing at first.  We work with people over a four-week period to help them start and maintain a practice in a group setting. Having a supportive group of people around you when you first start can make a big difference.

You work a lot with corporate bodies training staff. Why do companies employ this training for their staff? What are the benefits to having a mindful workforce?

Many companies we work with are looking for ways to help their organisation and the people within it to thrive in an evermore demanding and competitive environment.  As the working world gets faster, new ways of working and living need to be explored to enable individuals to maximise their potential and their happiness inside and outside of work. Some organisations are looking for mindfulness techniques to address specific behaviours, such as dysfunctional team and department communication, which are often the result of high levels of stress. For others, the focus is on overall wellbeing and, for some, the focus is mental health and stress reduction. The great thing about mindfulness is that it will impact positively in all of these areas.

Stress is seen as one of the biggest contributors to ill health in developed society nowadays. How does the environment and lifestyle here contribute to that, and how harmful can living a fast-paced, high-stress life be?

I used to live and work in London, which also has high levels of stress, and in many ways the stress experienced in the UAE is not so different to that experienced there, or in any other large, busy city. There are some aspects of life in the UAE though, particularly for expats, which further exacerbate stress – loneliness brought about by working away from one’s family and support network, the financial stress that comes with supporting family back home, the worry of losing one’s job and not being able to find another and the impact that will have on those you are supporting.

There are also many upsides to living and working in the UAE, with the fast pace of change and new opportunities that arise from that. A fast-paced environment can be exciting and motivating, and can challenge us to learn and grow in ways we never imagined possible. The downside is that our fear of missing out or being left behind can create an obsession with work and getting things done, leading to burnout and exhaustion. So, as with everything, it’s about finding a balance. Mindfulness can be particularly impactful as a self-care technique to bring awareness to how you are feeling and thinking, and can help you identify and manage common, stress-induced destructive coping patterns such as overspending, overeating and drinking, workaholism and lack of exercise.  Left unchecked, the stress brought about by living in this way can contribute to the onset of lifestyle diseases, so it’s important that organisations and individuals look at their wellbeing holistically, taking into account their lifestyle, their mental health and their physical health.

Emma’s Top Tips

01. When starting a mindfulness practice, the best thing to do is to go and find a course with a qualified teacher. This will help you to understand the concepts, practices and evidence behind mindfulness practices, and enable you to start and build a regular practice.

02. There are some great mindfulness apps out there that can help you when you’re getting started. My favourites are Smiling Mind, which is free, Calm and Headspace.

03. There are also some brilliant books that can help you get your head around the concept of mindfulness. For a great practical introduction, try Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Comedienne Ruby Wax’s Sane New World is a fun read that also offers great advice.

To find out more, visit mindfulnessdubai.com