When I have the opportunity to speak about mindfulness there are typically a few people who come up to me afterwards and have some great questions about the practice. I thought I'd share a few with you on my blog.
Q: Do you have to practice for long periods of time....like 30-40 minutes per day?
My response: I look at mindfulness training kind of like I look at exercise. A thirty minute walk is great, but if you cannot sustain daily walks of thirty minutes, ten or twenty is better than none. The key is to establish a habit and commit to doing it daily. As you see the benefits of ten minutes, you will likely be motivated to practice for longer periods of time. Sometimes 3-4 mindful breaths is enough to bring you back to the present, but training the mind and understanding the mind takes time and commitment. Ultimately, we would like there to be less of a distinction between our practice and our "regular life." The formal mindfulness practice is where we learn the skills needed to live mindfully. If we view the practice as the only time to be mindful, we are missing the point.
Q: I like to play music or exercise as my form of stress reduction. Can't that replace mindfulness practice?
My response: I encourage everyone to find their own paths and do what works for them. If music, art or exercise help you unwind and reset, then go for it. I would, however, recommend at least giving mindfulness practice a try for an extended period of time to see how it can complement what you are currently doing. For me, there is a deep sense of stillness and calm I experience with mindfulness that I have never felt when playing music or exercising. Mindfulness of the breath exercises force me to confront my mind and provide effective training in coming back to the present. It is a greater challenge to do this when sitting on a cushion versus playing an instrument or a sport.
Q: My life is already busy enough. How do I find time to fit something ELSE in?
My response: The busier I get, the more I need to practice. It is challenging to carve out enough time in each day to devote to my mindfulness practice, but I consider it essential maintenance. When your car is due for an oil change, you get it changed because you know that if you fail to do so your car will not run optimally. It will ultimately break down. So even though it can be tough, I always find time to keep my car maintained. Why would I not have the same attitude towards myself and my mind? If I expect my mind to work optimally (creative, productive, calm, focused), I have to keep it maintained. Regular mindfulness practice is my mind's oil change.
Q: I am a Christian and don't know how I feel about these techniques. Do you feel they are appropriate for a Christian?
My response: I would never make a judgment like that for anyone. The mindfulness practice that I speak about is secular. It has roots in a variety of religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity, but it has been stripped of its religious "accessories." I can see how a Christian could incorporate mindfulness practice into a Christian prayer of meditation, but I would neither promote or discourage that. I am merely trying to help people access an effective tool to reduce stress. So, yes, I think it is appropriate for a person with any set of religious/spiritual beliefs.