The power of the mind

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Rober Bridgeman (3rd, L) in his meditation class

Meditation helps calm the mind and focus, among its other tangible benefits.

Vietweek checked out a meditation class run in Ho Chi Minh City by Robert Bridgeman, a Dutch expat who also provides personal counseling.

Yours truly arrived at the place a bit early. Lyon center, a quiet villa near the Saigon River in District 2, had a Zen-like atmosphere with Buddhist statutes, white silk lanterns and bamboo curtains opening into a small garden. It looked more like a monastery than anything else.

The class began with a basic introduction to meditation. Bridgeman said by focusing oneself, one can understand himself or herself first, before understanding others.

And then we sat in a comfortable position with straight backs and lowered shoulders. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

Meditation teaches us to let go of obsessions and disturbing thoughts and feel better.

Observing one's breath is a basic concept in meditation, and during the lesson we were taught how to improve our concentration by focusing on our breathing. "Just like muscles, we can develop concentration too by training," Bridgeman said.

When we were into the first minute we tried to count the number of different thoughts that crossed our heads. Unsurprisingly, some of us had up to 80 in a minute.

Then we learned how to focus on the self and the moment by focusing on the breath. We imagined a rose and tried to keep the thought for a few minutes.

Bridgeman pointed out that often people forget that the breath is the first gift of life and one that ends when a person passes.

After that we learned how to breathe deeply with the stomach and practiced meditation while walking around by focusing on each minute movement of the feet.

I looked around to observe the people around me. Some were very relaxed, some looked a bit stressed with furrowed brows as they tried to focus.

At the end of the lesson I spoke to some students.

"I look forward to coming here every week. It is a good time to calm down and feel peaceful," Saori Nishio, a young Japanese who works in finance, said. She sometimes meditates at home but finds it difficult to concentrate.

Filip Jankovic also comes to the meditation class to relax. "I expect to learn something new and to be mindful of the moment," he said.

Some, like Simon Fraser, an Australian, come because they have problems in their personal life and work.

"In the past I always thought too much and obsessed over things. I had a lot of issues in my career and private life," Fraser, who has been coming to the class for nine months, said.

 He said after four months he began to sleep better. In the past he would often take vacations but could not relax. He no longer goes on vacations but is more relaxed and comfortable nonetheless.

The road to meditation

Bridgeman first turned to meditation to rescue himself.

A few years ago, because of his "arrogant behavior," he was fired as managing director of a construction company back home in the Netherlands. Shortly afterwards his wife of eight years left him. Luckily, Bridgeman said, he found awakening.

He said that suddenly he understood that the reality he had been living was actually an illusion. He started to straighten his life out, cutting out drinking, smoking and overeating.

"I dropped 30 kilos. I spent the years immediately following the awakening trying to discover why I was suddenly so effortlessly able to make substantial changes to my new life.

"I traveled to Nepal and Thailand studying the traditions of many "¦ spiritual teachers from numerous rich and eclectic faiths, creeds and denominations," he continued.

Bridgeman came to Saigon a year and a half ago and started "healing" people through yoga, meditation and counseling classes. He lives with his Dutch girlfriend.

"I want to help other people to think positively, open their hearts, accept and love themselves, find out what they want in life and achieve that."

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