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Young Vietnamese see meditation as stress buster

By Minh Trang   October 24, 2021 | 12:37 am PT
At 8 p.m. on a Sunday, instead of watching movies as usual, Ngo Minh Ngoc logged into Zoom to join an online meditation class.

Ngoc has never practiced meditation before, and joined the class at the suggestion of a friend. Staying at home and having conflicts with family members in the last few months of the Covid-19 lockdown, she yearned for something that could help her find peace of mind.

"This class was free, so I gave it a try," the 30-year-old, a resident of Cau Giay District in Hanoi, said.

At the same time, on the third floor of a house in Dong Da District, Nguyen Thuy Dung, Ngoc’s friend, was also waiting for the meditation session to begin.

It would be the third meditation class for Dung in the last year. The IT worker wants to get over a past relationship.

By 8:30 p.m. the class had nearly 200 attendees. All of them turned off their cameras and microphones, listening to the meditator’s guidance.

The class was organized by Minh Dao, 28, a writer who has been practicing meditation for six years. He has started the class "as a gift for everyone amid Covid-19."

The Cambridge dictionary defines meditation as "the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed."

Nguyen Cao Minh, a lecturer at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi’s University of Education who is highly trained in using mindfulness and meditation to address psychological problems, said meditation could simply be understood as focusing on the present moment and accepting everything that is happening, including thoughts and feelings without judgment.

In Vietnam, meditation has long been popular since it has spiritual and cultural underpinnings.

But it is becoming increasingly popular among young people.

Minh said: "In the past people were often interested in meditation when they were 40-45 years old. Now this age range is much lower, mainly 30 and below."

Dao estimated that 80 percent of people in his meditation class are 18-35 years old. Huynh Nguyen, owner of a meditation studio on Hanoi’s Nguyen Du Street for the last three years, has also noticed a reduction in practitioners’ ages.

Huynh Nguyen during a meditation session in 2020. Photo courtesy of Huynh

Huynh Nguyen during a meditation session in 2020. Photo courtesy of Huynh

"The largest number of them are from 22 to 40 years old."

Young Vietnamese often know about meditation classes via the Internet.

Once while surfing social networks, Dung typed the word "meditation," and got information about Dao and Nguyen’s classes. Some people like Ngoc learned from friends.

Why are young people attracted to meditation more than before? Minh listed two main reasons: to develop themselves and to deal with stress.

Both these needs are high among young people, especially the latter, he said.

Compared to previous generations, young people now are more interested in mental health, and actively seek ways to prevent and mitigate mental issues, he said.

Nguyen said his students often face problems such as stress, fatigue and insomnia.

Dao said most of his students experience "negative thoughts and emotions."

"The inner lives of young people are being ravaged by social networks not to mention the fact that the recent lockdown gave them time to look at themselves and realize that their problems are not always caused by the outside world, but also by their inner self."

Meditation has been accessible and affordable in Vietnam in the last few years. A five-week basic meditation course offered by Nguyen costs less than VND2 million ($86.2). During the pandemic, he has organized classes online, allowing participants to pay based on what they want.

Dao does not charge any fees.

Huynh Nguyen (sitting, 2nd left) and his students at a meditation class before the recent lockdown in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Huynh

Huynh Nguyen (sitting, 2nd left) and his students at a meditation class before the recent lockdown in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Huynh

Meditation classes must be carefully and logically designed so that learners can feel comfortable.

"Depressed people already have negative thoughts; we don't want them to feel worse," Minh said.

Experts said meditation is not a panacea for all psychological problems, warning that for people with paranoid or psychotic disorders, it could even be dangerous.

Minh said: "When we practice meditation, we turn inward, develop faith in our experience. If ones do it incorrectly, they should not do it."

But, in general, meditation helps relieve stress and understand oneself better, and so is useful for almost everyone.

Dao and Nguyen said meditation gives young people more tools to live peacefully and "touch their emotions".

After Dao's mediation sessions, some participants have shared they burst into tears when they remembered bad events and connected with their past.

Ngoc is not familiar with meditation, and said she would attend one more session to see how it goes.

Dung feels at peace. She will continue to attend meditation classes, because she sees it as an opportunity to sort through chaotic thoughts and heal the spirit.

"Meditation is very difficult. Reading books and listening to lectures from others are only the start," Minh concluded.

Ultimately, individuals must listen to themselves, develop faith in their own experiences and understand the nature of meditation."

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