When I stopped by the newly-opened Beijing Mindfulness Centre (BMC) for a chat with Founder Dalida Turkovic, I had only a fuzzy understanding of what “mindfulness” actually was, let alone how it could be applied in our daily lives.
Over Serbian cookies and tea, we talked for an hour and a half about the roots of mindfulness, its growing mainstream appeal, and the benefits for people of all ages. Here are highlights from that conversation.
An executive and wellness coach by training, Turkovic has been working with individual and corporate clients for over 20 years.
The BMC was born out of a small weekly mindfulness group she’d been running at the same location in Qian Yongkang Hutong for the past year. When the entire space became available, Turkovic seized on the chance to realize the mindfulness center she’d wanted to open for years.
Currently, BMC offers three weekly programs – Mindful Mondays, Mindful Body, and Weekend Meditation – in addition to regular yoga classes, film screenings focusing on spirituality and personal growth, full moon meditations, and occasional workshops with visiting experts.
Recently, Turkovic wrote and illustrated a book called Mindfulness for Beginners designed for parents and children (available at BMC and on Amazon). There will be an official book launch on June 1 to coincide with Children’s Day.
I’d really like to talk about this concept of mindfulness. It’s been written about so much in the past year and it seems like every big corporate is incorporating some element of “mindfulness” into employee programs. What’s your take on the definition of mindfulness and how it applies to everyday life?
Usually we’re talking about secular mindfulness, but the Buddhist practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years – and that’s going to stay.
What I’m really curious about is the research related to mindfulness: what happens to the brain when we practice mindfulness and why is it useful? We had a boom in [the prominence of]emotional intelligence with [psychologist and author]Daniel Goleman. It seems to me this stream of emotional intelligence is now under the umbrella of mindfulness, and mindfulness is under the umbrella of positive psychology.
There’s a Chinese story about a frog in a well who says “I’m the king of this well.” At the top of the well, there’s another frog looking at the space outside – not being the king, but having that perspective. This is what I think mindfulness enables us to have, this larger perspective.
For each person, the benefits are going to be very individual. It depends why we start to practice it. I started practicing mindfulness because I had depression, and [the techniques]were shown to me by the doctor; I didn’t even that’s what it was at the time.
If you start observing your thoughts in a more conscious way, you’re going to realize a lot are related to past or to future. Whatever I’m saying now, you’re most likely connecting to what you have read or what you need to write about.
You’re not in here, right? That’s what it means to be present – to become aware of how the mind wants to go in these two directions and to say “no” to that.
In order to do that, we need to use certain anchors, otherwise we get lost. One way is through breath; if you start noticing how your chest rises or falls, thoughts of past and future are removed.
Another anchor is mindful listening. [Turkovic pauses.] Right now you’re really curious; you’re searching for the sound. You may notice that your thoughts go back to past and future, but that’s OK. Each time that happens, bring it back to this moment.
Tell me about your book, Mindfulness for Beginners.
[The book] is actually for parents to better understand what [mindfulness]really means, but to do it together with their child. So far, I’ve gotten comments like “This is amazing, because so far the books I’ve seen are for parents to learn [mindfulness]and then teach it to my child.”
It can’t be “Here’s a book, I’m going to teach my child mindfulness techniques and they can practice them on their own.” First off, it’s not fair. Walk the walk. Second, it becomes quite difficult to help them through obstacles if you don’t yourself practice mindfulness.
Our education system is full of examples like this; we tell children, “You have to practice piano, you have to practice violin! But me? Oh no, I don’t have time.”
What are some mindfulness exercises we can do with kids?
At the moment, I’m not sure which age group is the most appropriate to start mindfulness practice because we’re talking about alertness, awareness, and the ability to meditate.
But if we’re talking about teenagers, there’s one technique where thoughts can be seen as buses. You don’t want to get on every single bus that comes to the bus stop. If there’s a bus that says “Destination: Worry,” just let it pass. If there’s a bus titled “Kindness,” you can jump on this bus and explore it from beginning to end.
Another exercise is to sit quietly and observe. There are apps where you can set up the timer to go off every 30 seconds or minute. Have the child to sit down and count how many times they hear the bell, and it becomes a game. They can also count their own breaths – times inhaling and exhaling – within a given period. Once they get better at [these techniques], you can start extending the amount of time.
Mindfulness is a long-term practice; there will be bad days. It’s about climbing the peaks and going through tunnels.
To find out more about BMC or join one of the center’s regular sessions, call 6416 6125 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sijia Chen is a contributing editor at beijingkids and a freelance writer specializing in parenting, education, travel, environment, and culture. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, The Independent, Midnight Poutine, Rover Arts, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @sijiawrites or email her at email@example.com.
Photos: Courtesy of BMC