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Are mindfulness and meditation religious?
No, they are not. Although mindfulness can be traced back to Buddhist teachings, you do not need to be a Buddhist or ‘spiritual person’ to practice it. Essentially, when you are mindful you are waking up to your own experience and this feels liberating and transformative, which could be described by some as a spiritual experience. Anyone can practice mindfulness.

Who can benefit by cultivating a mindfulness practice?
Everyone can benefit, regardless of age, gender, culture, etc.

Is a formal sitting meditation practice the only way to cultivate mindfulness?
No, it’s not, but it is helpful and we would encourage it. When you intentionally put time aside to sit in mindfulness meditation you are cultivating a new habit which supports your day to day ability to be mindful. Your brain is literally 

re-wiring itself as you sit! Formal practice can also be in the form of listening 

to sounds, stretching, walking or yoga. What’s important is the act of setting the intention to practice. Research shows that intentional behaviour can transform lives.

When starting with formal practice, as little as three minutes a day will help 

to ‘ease you in’. Then you work up to ten minutes, twenty, thirty or more. Research suggests that as little as 10 or 20 minutes a day can reverse many of the ill effects of stress. Experiment and find what works best for you.


Another way to cultivate mindfulness is to have an informal practice of bringing awareness to bear as often as you can in your daily life. This would include noticing your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, people, surroundings, etc.  Simple daily activities such as saying goodbye to your family when you leave for work can be ‘honoured’ by paying attention to them. Such activities become ‘anchors’ that remind you to be mindful, especially when you get caught up in busyness and distraction.

How can I start a mindfulness meditation practice?
First set an intention to be mindful.  You don’t need any special equipment.  You might sit in the morning just after you wake up, or last thing at night. Research shows 
that even ten minutes a day can be beneficial.


When you practice, accept that you will be distracted.  This is totally normal, just part of the human experience. Your ‘job’ is to notice when you become distracted (by thoughts, sounds or whatever) and then bring your attention back to whatever you are using as a mindful object (the breath, for example).


Try not to judge yourself for losing concentration; remember that we are also learning to meet our experience with non-judgement and curiosity. And remember that each time you remember to bring your attention back from what has distracted it, you’re training your brain.  The act of returning to your awareness is the practice.

  

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?   
There are many well-documented benefits. Studies show that people 

who regularly practice mindfulness have experienced
•     improved health and overall quality of life
•     reduction in anxiety and depression
•     increased concentration, and:
•     an increased ability to cope more effectively with stress.
 
Health benefits include enhanced immune function, improved blood pressure and healthier cardiac functioning. Studies also show people who practice mindfulness 
have increased motivation to make lifestyle changes, decreased perception of pain and increased ability to tolerate pain.

 
Using MRI images, researchers can see changes in the areas of the brain related to fear, anxiety and self regulation, in people who practice mindfulness regularly. MRI imaging also shows that the cerebral cortex (a part of the brain that is critical in decision making and memory) thickens as a result of meditation. And studies suggest that meditation may protect against age-related thinning of the cerebral cortex.
 
Do I have to stop my thoughts?
No, it is impossible to stop thinking! We are learning to simply notice our thoughts, to not get caught up in them, identify with them, blow them out of proportion.

Why is daily practice important?
Regular practice reshapes the brain, which changes how we respond to and perceive situations that are difficult or stressful.
 
What if I am a sceptic?
Scepticism is a good starting point, as long as you can also hold an attitude 

of curiosity! Try it for a while and watch what happens. The proof is in your experience, not what we tell you. Just remember that it will take time to yield benefits, like going to the gym or adopting a healthier diet.

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