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Vietnamese take increasingly to navel gazing

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The popularity of meditation is growing as more Vietnamese discover its health benefits amid the stress and anxiety caused by the modern rat race.

Nguyen Anh Duong, 24, always wakes up at 5 a.m. and starts her day by meditating for 10 minutes.

Having done it for more than a year, the Hanoi accountant says it helps ease work-related stress.

“I also attend a yoga and meditation class with my colleagues twice a week,” she says, standing outside her classroom on Hanoi’s Ly Thuong Kiet Street, where more than 20 people are seated with their eyes closed and breathing rhythmically.

She is among the growing number of people who have embraced meditation, which used to be associated with religion but has now become an antidote for many urbanites amid the rat race.

Meditation is not a new concept in Vietnam, where Buddhism has been around for hundreds of years. But not until now has it left pagodas and shed its religious tag, and classes are springing all over the country.

Le Thai Binh, director of Thien Viet meditation academy in Hanoi, says there are weekly meditation classes for students, half of whom are youngsters.

The academy plans to expand to other provinces to meet the demand, he reveals.

Nguyen Thu Huong, a teacher at the Contemporary Meditation Class in Hanoi, tells VnExpress International that in the last five years she has held 51 meditation courses for around 3,000 people.

“Actually 4,000 people registered but some could not follow through.”

She is busy organizing workshops on meditation planned to be held in Hanoi and HCMC this month.

Her class’ Facebook page has swelled to over 15,000 followers within a few years, with many asking her to organize more workshops and classes near them.

A range of meditation practices is being offered these days.

On the Internet and social media, it is hard to miss centers that offer movement meditation, focused meditation, mantra meditation, and loving-kindness meditation.

Besides, it is no longer enough to just sit or stand to meditate or even lie on a mat, people prefer to float in a tank of Epsom salts solution, the so-called sensory deprivation tank. The Float Vietnam fan page has over 12,000 followers now.

Meditation is also coming knocking on the doors of schools and companies for students and workers to “seek mindfulness.”

Some schools in HCMC and Hanoi have added meditation sessions as an extra-curricular activity for students aged six to 18.

“I love meditating because it helps me focus better,” Nguyen Thanh An of Hanoi’s Spring Hill school says.

In Saigon, Vo Trong Nghia, the internationally renowned architect, has created a meditation regime of at least two hours a day for employees in his company to “filter their thoughts.”

Stress relief

One of the biggest motivations for those practicing meditation is that it helps ease their stress and anxiety, an inescapable byproduct of modern life.

At a conference organized by the Vietnam National Institute of Mental Health in Hanoi in 2019, the health ministry said mental disorders caused by stress have increased sharply in recent years.

It said it used to get one or two patients a day needing treatment for psychological disorders and mental stress 15-20 years ago, but now the number has risen to 300.

Meanwhile, the mental health response system in the country remains largely inadequate, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Psychiatrist Vo Thi Minh Hue says as life becomes more stressful, both old and young people are vulnerable to the harmful effects of stress and are actively seeking some kind of therapy to regain their emotional balance.

Huong confirmed this, saying most of her clients “have some kinds of imbalance in life such as disorientation, heartbreak, stress, insomnia, and a feeling of disconnectedness with society.”

Some people with no mental issues practice meditation for wellness and improving their mind and quality of life.

According to scientists, meditationhelps lower blood pressure and improves breathing.

Importantly, Hue says, it can be taken up by anyone regardless of age or physical condition, making it accessible to a large proportion of the population.

“I heard a lot about the benefits of meditation, so I am giving it a try,” Nguyen Huong Quynh, 32, Duong’s classmate, says.

Another reason for the popularity of meditation is social media, where millennials and Gen Z members find a lot of meditation-related content.

On photo and video sharing platform Instagram, the hashtag #meditation has been used almost 37 million times and #mindfulness, 23 million times.

Many wellness centers promote a slower pace of life on these online platforms, attracting thousands of followers.

However, experts point out that meditation is not without a downside: researchers and meditation teachers acknowledge in fact that it causes anxiety, involuntary movements, headaches, fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, and dizziness in some people, especially if they are not trained correctly.

“Practicing meditation at home without any guidance is harmful,” Binh warns.

Duong says at first she tried by herself at home and saw no improvement.

“I could not focus on positive things after closing my eyes, and it caused me more stress.”

Now she is trained to be mindful while doing everyday work, whether at home or in office.

By Kieu Anh & Long Nguyen – December 9, 2020

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