The practice of mindfulness exists in all contemplative traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Today, mindfulness is widely practised secularly as a way to manage emotions and mental health.

In Singapore, Brahm Centre was set up in 2012 to promote happier and healthier living. It offers various mindfulness programmes to reduce stress and enhance well-being, impacting close to 40,000 adults.

Mindfulness trains our minds to pay attention to the present moment, in a non-judgemental way. It is about being fully engaged in the moment. It helps us to develop tools to gain control of our thoughts. Mindfulness meditation allows us to apply these tools to everyday situations which enables us to respond to challenging circumstances in a beneficial way.

Wondering how often you are being mindful? The Mindful Attention Awareness Score (MAAS) was developed to measure mindfulness and allow us to see our ability to be mindful.

Research has found that mindfulness leads to reduced negative feelings (stress, anxiety, depression, anger), increased positive feelings (self-compassion, empathy), better quality of sleep, enhanced cardiovascular health and improved cognitive function. Duke-NUS and NUS collaborates with Brahm Centre to measure the efficacy of the mindfulness courses conducted, revealing that it reduces stress and improves sleep quality.

The Pride speaks with A/Prof Angie Chew, founder and CEO of Brahm Centre and certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher to find out how mindfulness can help us lead happier and healthier lives.

Why is it important for Singaporeans to practise mindfulness, especially during Covid-19?

Mindfulness enhances mental resilience and helps people stay focused on what they can do instead of what they are not able to do. It helps them to look at the situation from different angles, and gives them new perspectives so that they can choose a better response.

When we have clarity of mind, we will be able to see our difficulties in life in a different light, and it becomes easier for us to solve them, or to pack them aside if they are not solvable. Not every problem in life can be solved and we need to have the wisdom to know which are the ones we can, and which are the ones we can’t.

How often do you practise mindfulness?

I practise mindfulness every day. At Brahm Centre, at the start of DORSCON Orange, I offered mindfulness sessions during lunch on weekdays and subsequently switched it to evening sessions when the circuit breaker kicked in. More than 100 people attended daily and over 1,000 registered!

What usually happens during a mindfulness session?

I usually start with a motivational talk. I answer questions from the public. Then I would lead them in a mindfulness session.

Some of the questions include “I don’t like my boss, how do I continue to work with him?”, “I’m very worried about Covid-19 and about my job stability”, “How do I forgive someone who has hurt me so deeply?” or “How do I get my kid to stop playing video games?” So I became an agony aunt (laughs).

How long do you need to practise mindfulness for it to be effective?

I would say that if you practise mindfulness and feel a bit calmer, you are already in a position to be able to look at your problems differently. So the more you practise, the more you are able to make better decisions and choose better responses. You can pretty much reap benefits right away.

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Some people say they have no time to practise mindfulness, especially in a fast-paced society like Singapore. How would you respond to that?

I would ask them, “do we have time to eat?” We eat food for the body and we practise mindfulness for the mind! When we recognise the importance of practising mindfulness we will incorporate it into our schedule. It’s not about finding time, it’s about making time.

How can mindfulness help parents?

If a mother is angry, she tends to be triggered and her reaction could be to send the kid to the room or deprive the kid of something he enjoys. When she has the ability to calm herself down, she may be open to talking to the child to understand the child better and help the child make better choices to change his or her habits. Mindfulness is not suppressing or denying the emotion, but to be aware of the emotion and to be able to dissolve it.

It is important for parents to manage their own reactivity because a child absorbs a lot of emotions that the parents display. That is why we started weekly mindful parenting webinars on Sundays. These have attracted over 700 people.

Mindfulness can help parents in Singapore
Image source: Shutterstock / Janon Stock

Would you say that the main cause of anger is stress?

I would say it is due to people wanting things to be changed right away or wanting things to go their way. When we have this attitude, we become easily agitated when we don’t get our way or get what we want right away. This activates our stress response system.

What is the relation between mindfulness and kindness? Does mindfulness help you to be a kinder person?

You can’t be kind if you have a lot of anger. When we are angry, we are not being kind to ourselves, or to the other person. Our replies tend to be hurtful and the words used can damage our relationships. Anger also stresses our body and this can harm our health.

With mindfulness, we can choose a different response, e.g. not to answer back and allow the person to calm down. If we retort, we can end up escalating the situation. When we are calm, we are in control of ourselves and the situation.

Mindfulness also promotes empathy and compassion. It enhances our ability to sense when someone is hurt or in pain because we have heightened awareness. To be able to just sit with the person in silence, giving them support with our presence that is kind and non-judgemental. When we empathise, we don’t necessarily have to say something. Worse is when we utter something that makes a situation worse.

How has mindfulness helped you personally in your relationships and career?

Hugely. First of all, when things don’t go my way, I am able to remain cool and not cause harm with hurtful words. As a mother of two – my kids are now in their twenties, but you know, teenagers are really tough – with mindfulness I am able to stay calm and not be as affected when the children are coming across as being ungrateful or hurtful in the way they speak. So even when my children hurt me, I will not hurt them back.

In my career, it’s important to empathise with staff members. I manage a team of 40 and each one of them has their strengths and limitations. When we have clarity of mind, we can see each individual more holistically, to be aware of their strengths and not focus on their weaknesses.

What would you like to say to readers of The Pride?

If we want a kinder Singapore, we really should promote mindfulness, starting with parents and teachers, because they are the ones who are influencing the next generation. When parents or teachers are harsh or pressuring, it can be damaging to our young. Children need to feel a sense of security, approval and acceptance in order for them to grow up in a balanced way. Most of all, they need good role models who are kind and forgiving.

To join one of Brahm Centre’s mindfulness programmes, visit http://brahmcentre.com/programs/

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