Last year, on International Day of Yoga (June 21), the Dubai government sponsored an event where Heartfulness trainers led 25,000 people in a group meditation session.
On a warm May morning, as my taxi pulls up at the entrance of an elegant office building in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers business district, I know I’m at the right place. Small groups of Indians have just arrived and are greeting each other as they enter the building. Instead of rummaging through my handbag to find the address, I simply follow them into the elevator. I’m sure we are all heading to the same place. The elevator stops at the first floor and I follow them out, down a short corridor, and into a large hall. Within minutes, the cacophony of 300 people exchanging pleasantries dies down and everyone is seated with their eyes closed; the lights are switched off and the hall descends into pin-drop silence. This is how members of the Heartfulness Meditation Centre at the Sahaj Marg Spirituality Foundation begin each morning; with an hour-long meditation session.
Founded in 1945, by the Shri Ram Chandra Mission in Shahjahanpur district, Uttar Pradesh, the Sahaj Marg method of meditation—also known as Heartfulness—is based on the ancient system of Raja Yoga. Its goal is union with God or self. The organisation is led by meditation teacher Kamlesh D. Patel, who lives in Hyderabad.
As the session commences, I’m ushered into an adjacent room that serves as an office. A handful of children are sitting on the floor entertaining themselves with drawing and colouring while their parents sit next door for a hour of peace and quiet.
“Heartfulness is a programme that teaches techniques of relaxation and meditation, free of cost, in 180 countries,” says Sanjay Meherish, a trainer, who serves as the organisation’s regional coordinator for the Middle East. “The programme is extremely popular and successful in the UAE, and a key reason for this is the support it receives from the government.” Fellow trainer, Harpreet Kalra, adds: “The UAE government has a Ministry of State for Happiness and supports activities that contribute to overall well-being. Since Heartfulness enriches a person’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being, it is in alignment with the ministry’s vision. Last year, on International Day of Yoga (June 21), the Dubai government sponsored an event where Heartfulness trainers led 25,000 people in a group meditation session. This was followed by a yoga session led by yoga guru Baba Ramdev.
In Dubai, Heartfulness sessions have been conducted in government bodies, schools and companies. At the centre, people from different countries attend sessions, which begin at 6.30am on weekdays and 8.30am on weekends. “For those who cannot make it to the centre, there is an option of attending a session at a trainer’s home,” says B.R. Subramanian, fondly called Mani, who serves as country coordinator for the UAE. “Or simply download the Heartfulness app Let’s Meditate and practise relaxation and meditation anywhere.”
As the session concludes, attendees begin leaving to get back to the the daily grind. Dora Vargas, from Colombia, talks to me about her initiation into meditation. “Four years ago, when I moved to Dubai, I was very lonely and missed my family and country,” says Vargas, 43. “I was always finding fault with everything. Tired of listening to me complain, a friend suggested Heartfulness. I had no idea what it was, but heard it was for free, so decided to try it. I then met a trainer who told me to simply sit, relax and close my eyes. I thought it was a waste of time! She said, ‘Keep at it and you will soon notice a change in yourself; others will notice it, too.’”
A week later, at a party, a stranger walked up to Vargas and told her there was an aura about her; that she looked so calm and peaceful. The following day, she met a friend for coffee, who said the same thing. “The trainer’s words came back to me,” says Vargas. “I then decided to trust the process. Meditating every day has helped me through the ups and downs in my life.”
The trainers stay back for breakfast and a meeting scheduled thereafter. Mani introduces me to renowned DJ Pierre Ravan. In nightclubs and music festivals around the world, Ravan always conducts a half-hour meditation session before he begins his DJ set! “I want to bring spirituality into clubbing without taking out the fun,” he says. I want the youth to experience natural intoxication; to have fun, but to find inner joy in a different way, without chemicals. The intention is for them to know that spirituality is not boring and can be adapted into their lives.”
Rosewitha Flarer, 51, from Italy, says: “The benefits of meditation are so many that I wouldn’t know where to begin. When I began meditation ten years ago, the first benefit I noticed was an improvement in my relationships with family. I have achieved inner peace, detachment, become more patient and tolerant, have more time for others and myself, and have an expanded awareness of the bigger picture.” Her husband, an Emirates pilot, too, practises meditation.
The trainers are about to begin their meeting, and Mani insists I have some breakfast before I leave. “You must try the pongal,” he says. “It’s the best in Dubai!” Having been away from home for more than a fortnight, I’m happy to oblige, and help myself to a couple of vadas, too.