Dare to be different this UAE summer and do something

Higher temperatures don't have to translate to staying indoors and doing nothing. Here are a few ideas to get you going.

Meditation can help calm the mind and body. Russell Monk / Getty Images
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Summer is here, which heralds the start of the UAE's hibernation season. In our quest to survive the scorching temperatures, most of us like to retreat to our sofas, zone out to the latest DVD box set and wallow with our iced cappuccinos. Instead of wasting time this year, why not dare to be different and use the quiet summer months to your advantage? Researchers have found that it takes approximately 66 days for a new habit to become automatic; therefore this is the time to stop making excuses and finally try something new. Livia Anzaldo, a Dubai-based lifestyle coach and yoga instructor, says that the summer months are perfect for trying to adopt a new skill or hobby. "We tend to be indoors more during the summer, which is an opportunity to reflect, look within and spend time searching for what is missing, what it is that we want and how we can create resources around us to reach that outcome." Looking for some inspiration? Ready to think big? Read on for seven ways to make this summer count.

Learn a new language

Evidence suggests that learning a new language is good for you. Researchers from York University in Toronto, Canada, have found that as the human brain begins its decline, bilinguals appear to sustain better cognitive function. Speaking an additional language also appears to delay the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Suad Shamma, a public relations professional from Abu Dhabi, decided to learn French last year. She studied for four hours a week at the Alliance Française Centre in Abu Dhabi. "Learning a new language during the summer is a great idea as it will keep you busy, keep you thinking, and not only will you come out with a semi-fluent language you can speak, or at least pretend to speak, but you will also feel like you've spent your summer doing something productive alongside lounging on the beach and going out for drinks." There are a number of language schools in the UAE. Alliance Française Abu Dhabi (www.af-aboudabi.net) has courses for different levels of proficiency. The Goethe-Institut (www.goethe.de/abudhabi) offers German classes for all levels. In Dubai, the Eton Institute offers courses in more than 100 languages. For more information, visit www.eton.ac. Trying to save money? Busuu (www.busuu.com) is a free online community for learning languages; options include Arabic, Italian and Spanish.

Write a book

Yes, you can. Think of all the people, more than 250,000, who last November wrote a 50,000-word book in 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month (www.NaNoWriMo.org). No Plot? No Problem! That's actually the title of a book by Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder. So give it a quick read and there goes that excuse. Victoria Watson, an author from the UK, wrote Letting Go - a collection of short stories - over the space of a few months. She says that like many writers, she faced problems with time management and self-confidence. "I overcame these by being disciplined with myself and setting realistic targets. There is no point telling yourself you need to write 15,000 words before you can go to bed - you're just setting yourself up to fail. Now, doesn't 1,500 sound more reasonable? That's just an example - some people will do far more in a shorter space of time but whatever you do, be realistic," she advises.

Fix your look

Now is the perfect time to throw out all those outfits that you keep because you hope to wear them "someday" and make room for new, well-fitting clothes. Rana Saab, a certified image consultant and celebrity stylist (www.ranasaab.com), offers a wardrobe audit service, which is designed to help you organise your clothes in a manner that suits your image, figure and lifestyle. During the consultation, Saab will help you weed out all the colours, sizes, shapes and styles that do not suit you, and to mix and match items, and create new outfits. "Most people have wardrobes that are stacked with old clothes that they don't wear anymore but keep for emotional reasons; clothes that are too tight or loose for their figure now, items that were bought on impulse and never worn more than once, and even items with the tags still hanging," says Saab. "Clearing your wardrobe not only organises your outfits, it teaches you why some items were wrong purchases, thus stopping you from making shopping mistakes and saving money on future buys."

Give back

It is very likely that you've listed charity work as something you want to do, but how often do you actually get around to it? Never? Thought so. Draw inspiration from Muna Harib, a communication director from Dubai, who enjoys volunteering so much that in 2008 she decided to go one step further and establish Seeds of Change - a community group that raises awareness on the importance of volunteering. "I started volunteering to meet similar-minded people and with time, it opened my eyes to the way the world is," she says. "It also made me start changing the way I do things in my life, such as how I travel. I now do it in a way that is less harmful to the world and of more benefit to the land I visit. For example, I volunteer abroad instead of travelling for tourism." There are a number of volunteer groups in the UAE. To get started, visit the Seeds of Change Facebook page (www.facebook.com/The.SoC.UAE), or try Volunteer in Dubai (www.volunteerindubai.com), which connects you with charities and non-profit organisations that need volunteers on a number of different projects every month.

Get fit once and for all

If your New Year's resolution was to get fit but you're still having a mini-heart attack every time you take the stairs, now is the time to refresh those good intentions and hit the gym. Michael Haddin, managing director and founder of Haddins Fitness in Zayed Sports City, says: "The UAE slows down a little bit during the summer. Often, you are working a little less. It's a great time to use those extra hours when you would normally be working to do some extra training." But instead of trudging away on the treadmill, why not try something a little bit different? Haddins' Primal Fitness Programme is based around "functional movements" - picking things up, carrying them, dragging, pushing, pulling and throwing. In other words, all the movements the body is meant to do. The next session starts during Ramadan; for further information, visit www.haddins.com. Alternatively, ADNEC is hosting the Abu Dhabi Sports Festival 2012 - the region's indoor sports event that runs until July 19. You will have the opportunity to play a number of sports in an air-conditioned area, including football and basketball.

Learn how to play a musical instrument

Let's face it - knowing how to play a musical instrument gives you some serious street cred. Unless it's the accordion. Now is the perfect time to dust off the electric guitar that's been abandoned in the study and unleash your inner Jimi Hendrix. Domenico Cannizzaro, the operations manager at The Young Musician Music Institute in Abu Dhabi, and a classically trained professional tenor, says that with two months of lessons, a student can realistically learn some basics of how to play an instrument. "I would recommend the piano, as it has a large musical range and the keys are wonderfully set out in front of you." Considering it? You can rent an upright piano from the AKM Music Centre (www.akmmusic.net) for Dh1,800 a year, while Virgin Megastore has an excellent range of cheap Fender acoustic guitars. The Young Musician Music Institute offers piano, guitar, violin, singing and music theory lessons. Visit www.tymmi.com for more information. Looking for something a bit different? The SAE Institute in Dubai has an electronic music production course for those of you looking to create your own beats. Visit www.dubai.sae.edu/en-gb/home.

Learn how to meditate

Meditation was once just the territory of a handful of New Age hippies and Indian yogis. However, with research increasingly highlighting its benefits, this age-old practice is now making its way into the mainstream. Anzaldo says: "Neuroscientists have found that people who meditate shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex - brainwaves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal. In other words, they are calmer and happier than before." Not sure how to get started? Try Headspace (www.getsomeheadspace.com) a website that was developed by the former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. It teaches the basics of meditation and encourages people to practise for just 10 minutes a day using a simple and easy-to-learn technique. Not only will you feel calmer, but meditation will also help you stay focused and help you stick with all your new, positive habits this summer.