Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but in recent times a flood of mainstream apps, podcasts, books and transformative meditation holidays has helped make the practice much more accessible to the masses than ever before.
In this post, we delve into the world of mediation and speak to Dina Ghandour, a meditation expert based in the UAE.
What exactly is meditation?
The well-known app, Headspace offers this basic explanation: ‘Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgement. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.’
So, to put it simply, meditation is about developing our awareness.
What happens when we meditate?
The FitMind app combines ancient meditation techniques with modern science to create a mental fitness program which is taught at Fortune 500 companies, addiction centres, schools, and government organisations. Here is their explanation of what happens when we meditate:
‘To provide an analogy, meditation allows us to look at the mirror (i.e. objectively observing thoughts and mental activity) without looking in the mirror and being caught up in our own internal movie. Or, to use another analogy, we are observing the washing machine from the outside, rather than being inside with the chaotic swirl of clothes.’
Why is meditation so popular today?
The global pandemic exacerbated many existing mental health challenges in society such as anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress. Governments, corporations and health services were forced to take mental health more seriously and help people to cope.
One of the most popular support tools people turned to, alongside daily exercise, is meditation. It is recognised as a recommended practice for dealing with stress by the National Health Service in England, the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation.
Transformative mediation holidays
There are many reasons people decide to travel to learn about meditation. For example, for busy high-achievers, it can offer a break from their fast-paced world or a way to gain clarity on big decisions. For overwhelmed parents, it can offer a moment of respite and calm. For those suffering from trauma or mental health challenges, it’s a break from living in the past or the future. Whatever your ‘why’, travelling to a meditation retreat to learn or deepen your practice can be a life-changing experience.
To find out more, we spoke to Dina Ghandour, UAE-based a yoga teacher, reiki healer and meditation expert who runs face to face retreats and online classes.
When did you start meditating and how easy or difficult did you find it at first?
DG: I started meditating when I first came across Jivamukti Yoga in 2011. This method always includes a short meditation at the end of class and that was really the first time I began practicing it properly, even though I had started yoga as early as 15 years old. I found it extremely challenging, and like waking up feeling different every day, my meditation practice felt different each time – some days I felt I caught a glimpse of stillness, some days were just pure raging thoughts none stop. That’s part of the practice!
What does meditation mean to you and how do you make it a part of your day?
DG: Meditation is a discipline. It’s like going to the gym, but it’s a gym for the mind. You don’t always want to do it – in fact most days your mind will trick you into believing there’s something better you should be doing, but you still have to get up and do it anyway. To me it means creating a ritual, something I do for myself. We also now know the incredible benefits to our mind and body, and so for me meditation is also about cultivating that sense of overall wellness. I know that by sticking to the practice I am becoming a better, more compassionate human being. I feel less stressed and anxious, and less caught up in the day’s ups and downs. Some days my meditation is five minutes, some days it’s 30 – but I always try to get it in.
Do you think going on a meditation break/holiday is a good idea and why?
DG: Absolutely! One of the main challenges of meditating is actually creating the habit – it’s saying you will carve out time everyday so rather than sleeping more, checking emails, or getting started on your to-do list – you will instead be sitting still. That’s not easy to do at all! Getting out of our current ‘busy-ness’ to travel or take a break to focus time and effort on meditation is the perfect way to start the habit because you are away from your usual distractions and you can fully immerse yourself and commit.
What kind of preparation work would you recommend before you embark on such a trip?
DG: Before taking an immersive trip or experience, I would suggest practicing on your own with some of the great apps out there like Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer, just to slowly ease into it. And like preparing for a food detox program, it would be good to start detoxing inputs – less phone and screen time before travel, more stillness and downtime if possible.
What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to someone who wants to introduce meditation into their lives?
DG: Start small, as small as you need! Use a timer and start with five minutes daily for a few weeks, and slowly work your way up to 20 minutes. Maybe that takes weeks, maybe that takes years but just do what you can. Get as comfortable as you can – use a back support and cushions or sit on a chair if needed. If being still doesn’t serve you, try something like a walking meditation instead.
What are your favourite resources for beginners and for more experienced meditators?
DG: I really enjoy the Insight Timer app, which I am on as a publisher as well. They have a great library of sessions and courses, plus now also host live meditation events. I personally enjoy all the mindfulness and meditation courses at Mindful Me (now held over zoom so anyone can join). These have really helped me boost my practice.
If you want to find out more about meditation breaks, check out our Mind & Spirituality page for some inspiration for your next trip.