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Be Aware And Kind With What Arises In And Outside You: Amir Imani, Mindfulness Expert

Amir elaborated on the practices of mindfulness and heartfulness in a free-flowing conversation with BW Businessworld

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Attending Amir Imani's session on Mindfulness and Heartfulness is a real treat. Not only is the content refreshing, but also his presence itself is serene and soothing.

India, despite being the seat of mindfulness, has failed to reap the benefits of the practice in the mainstream until quite recently. Luckily, the last few years have brought this wonderful practice front and centre into our living and board rooms.

Amir is a mindfulness teacher from Canada of Iranian descent and lives with his family in the Himalayas since the past six years (6 years in India - 3 years in the Himalayas), where his children attend a Hindi medium local school and his wife works towards supporting all his endeavours.

He holds a Master’s degree in Counseling and Adult Education from the University of Toronto and has worked in mental health research at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Toronto as well.

The practices and the effect of mind-body integration in mental health and balanced living have been his main focus since 2000.

Through his personal and professional interest in body-mind medicine, Amir has trained with Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn himself, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and creator (founder)of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR).

Amir has also trained with pioneer leading teachers including Saki Santorelli, Joseph Goldstein, and Larry Rosenberg.

He is the Co-founder/director of the India-based Centre for Mindfulness/Omega Wellbeing, founding director of the only hospital-based MBSR program in the Middle-East region, and senior certified mindfulness teacher at UMASS Medical School.

Amir travels extensively holding workshops and retreats on Heartfulness and Mindfulness, what he calls Heart-Based Mindfulness all over the world (internationally) for public and private organizations.

He elaborated on the practices of mindfulness and heartfulness in a free-flowing conversation with BW Businessworld.

What sets you off on this journey considering you are from Iran?  

Well, being born in Iran or India for that matter is a fertile ground for anyone to be pulled towards contemplative practices, considering our rich history in understanding and application of the inner space in art and life. Even in early school years, we had to memorize and learn the writings of Rumi, Hafez, and other mystics, and I recall loving the messages being conveyed in those pieces. So the ground was ready. Now about the seed, I have spent most of my adult life in the west. So in graduate school in Toronto some twenty years back, I recall I came across this program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, very new to me at the time, however, whoever of my clients and friends I sent to undergo the training would come back very impressed and transformed with positive feedback. Until when I sent my closest friend who was at the time going through depression and relationship issues. He was an executive from the corporate world, very skeptical towards anything to do with closed eyes, meditation, and yoga. However when he, after 8 weeks of training, came and thanked me for introducing the program to him, then I knew I had to look up mindfulness and the MBSR program, and the rest is history.  

What are the merits of mindfulness and heartfulness at a personal and professional level?  

These are the essence of life itself, so the merit is as vital as our lives, you see. Practice they may be, however, the practice will fall away when we give it heart and a chance to sink in. They become a way of being and working in the world that makes sense to the reason we are here, and that is to live life fully and to work with peace, trust, and harmony. These are not empty poetic words. I witness them in my life and in the lives of those, I come across through these training. A loving contemplative practice can save our lives from the confusion, low mood, fatigue, and restlessness caused by lack of awareness. It is all over the literature, remarkable stories of transformation we hear in testimonials. 

You teach MBSR, could you please elaborate on this method?  

MBSR is a program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn some 40 years ago in the USA through which we practice the cultivation of awareness and kindness towards ourselves, and in our relationship with others. This takes place by practicing different mindfulness skills regularly throughout the program which in its standard form is 8 weeks long, but is offered in 5-day residential format too. Years of scientific research is showing that the program does change people, and more than anything it seems to increase the quality of our lives, level of happiness, and our ability to concentrate, make a decision, recall, etc.

MBSR has been taught in USA, Canada, and Europe for more than 35 years in more than 1000 centres worldwide to groups as diverse as corporate employees, CEOs, educators, attorneys, judges, correctional staff, prison inmates, health care professionals, members of the clergy, Olympic and professional athletes. Mindfulness training is being taught in top companies and business schools such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Target, General Mills, Boeing, and Harvard Business School.

How big a stressor is technology today in the light of device disease and disconnection? 

I do not know what research implies but I can tell by simply walking around in town that we look less, listen less, taste less, smell less, and are losing the skill to just be and rest without doing anything. The machines have found their ways even in our restrooms and bedrooms where we are supposed to rest and take a break. So you tell me, where this trend may go if not intervened with raising awareness and education of our children in how to use the cyberspace mindfully.

What are the values which are essential in a leader according to you, and what is lacking in corporate leadership today?  

I feel any leader, to begin with, needs to fall back on being a human, with values and skills embedded in being that. Ability to feel, courage to be kind and compassionate, skillful in communicating, able to bear ambiguity before deciding, and maybe central to all is the skill to have access to the inner, being nourished and sustained from inside. A skillful, kind and centered being.

What are the top things you would recommend to deal with stress?  

Be aware and kind, times five, with what arises in and outside you. Take short breaks to cultivate this kind of awareness. Even 30 seconds at a time, and ask how am I feeling?, what is going on?, and whatever you find, give it a touch of softness, the way you can, and move on.   

What does the corporate mindfulness landscape look like to you? And how do you foresee the future?  

I feel we have come a long way in some countries, and not so in others. Of course, we have a long way to go looking at the overall world stage. But some amazing platforms are opening up to the call, and it is simply exciting to witness how simplicity and silence of sheer being are being received so open-heartedly by multinational companies, the house of parliaments, international gatherings of policymakers, and so forth.  It makes my heart feel full of gratitude towards the pioneer teachers of this way.   

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