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Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of mindfulness – so try this meditation to soothe your frayed nerves

Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of mindfulness. If you’ve practiced meditation for any length of time, then you will know of the intense frustration that can arise as soon as you close your eyes. And that’s assuming you’ve actually found the time to meditate. When you’re under pressure, it can seem difficult – and sometimes impossible – to make time for mindfulness. After all, why would you meditate when you have other, seemingly more important things, to worry about? But it is in precisely such times that the need for meditation is greatest.

We all know this, of course, but it’s a lesson that has to be relearned from time to time. I relearnt it for the umpteenth time yesterday – in a traffic jam just off the A4.

The pressure had been building for weeks. My new book had just been published which meant that I was having to devote a huge amount of time to giving interviews, engaging with social media and writing articles and blog posts. I had also been ill with one of those hacking coughs that wakes you up several times each night. Our young daughter had been violently sick with a stomach bug – as had my heavily pregnant wife. This was compounded by four out of my five computer backup systems failing within days of each other, a meltdown on my website, and being repeatedly locked out of Twitter, Facebook and Hootsuite. And then there was the problem with the water pump on my van… and our cooker giving up the ghost.

Whilst none of this was earth-shattering, dealing with it meant that I had found it very difficult to find the time to meditate over the previous week (I’d probably managed it only three times). So I was feeling under pressure and promising myself that I’d make up the time at the weekend. But the real world had other plans for me. And typically, it began after I was pushed for time after driving our daughter to nursery and my wife to work. I was fully aware of the pressure and was making allowances for my shortening fuse by trying to be extra courteous to other road users.

Everything came to a head when a rubbish truck appeared in front of me, when I was half way down a steep hill on the outskirts of town. I stopped opposite a road so that the truck could easily get past me. Except it didn’t. It stopped in the middle of the road about a third of the way up the hill – and waited for a group of men to get out. The driver could have parked at the side of the road but decided not to. He then got out of the van and watched the traffic build up around him. Within a few moments dozens of cars had stopped behind me. Then dozens more…. Then scores more began backing up behind the truck. It was almost comical – but I wasn’t in the mood for laughing.

‘This is the perfect argument against altruism,’ I muttered to myself (along with a few choice Anglo-Saxon expletives). Except it wasn’t. It was actually a gift of time. The time I’d spent most of the past week trying to find. Time I could use to re-engage with my mindfulness practice. As the chaos of the traffic around me continued to mount, here were a few minutes where I could do nothing at all apart from wait. I couldn’t drive anywhere. I couldn’t dematerialise. I couldn’t even get out of my van. So absolutely nobody could blame me for simply sitting there and watching the scene play out in front of me. So that’s what I did. I switched off the engine and breathed deeply. I focused on the sensations the breath made as it flowed into and out of my lungs for a minute or so and then began to monitor the to-ings and fro-ings of my own mind and body.

I began to silently ask myself:

What is going through my mind, right now? 

What sensations are there in my body, in this moment?

What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

I noticed the rise and fall of my frustration and anger. As I paid attention to these powerful emotions other, more subtle ones, began to appear. Disappointment and a sense of fractured idealism came to the foreground. I was stuck in my mind’s automatic Doing mode. That was fine, I reminded myself. My mind wasn’t making a mistake. It was simply doing its best.

Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant. 

This acceptance allowed me to tease apart the two major flavours of suffering – primary and secondary. Primary suffering was the initial stressor, the frustration of being in a traffic jam. It was OK to acknowledge that it was not pleasant; it was OK not to like it. Secondary suffering was all of the emotional turbulence that followed in its wake, such as the anger and frustration, and the ensuing thoughts and feelings that they triggered.

I allowed all of my frustration to remain with me, without trying to make it go away. I sat tall in the cab of my van. Breathed. Focused on the breath. I allowed myself to remain just as I was. These moments, too, were moments of my life.

After a while, the powerful emotions began to subside and I started to relax. I began to notice the early morning sun bouncing off windows and rooftops. I could see the docks and the river snaking away into the distance. I realised that the flashing lights of the rubbish truck had an unexpected and hypnotic quality to them. I noticed the filthy jackets of the binmen – and the huge loads of rubbish they were carrying.

It took ten minutes before the truck finally passed me and another five for the traffic to clear. But that was 15 minutes of mindfulness that I might not have otherwise had yesterday.


You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive for free from here:

You can buy Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World from Amazon UK here:

From Waterstones here:

Or direct from the publishers HERE:

What Exactly is Creativity?

‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.


Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World


When I was researching Mindfulness for Creativity it proved to be surprisingly difficult to pin down a workable definition of creativity. It’s one of those things that we all know when we see it but is difficult to describe in words. After a while I decided that trying to pin it down was the antithesis of creativity itself. It’s like trying to describe a beautiful picture, a breathtaking view, or a song that moves the soul… You can do so but only at immense cost to the underlying whole.

Nevertheless, this is what I settled on: Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena and to generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.1

Creative people tend to be more open and enquiring, while being less constrained by existing categories and boundaries. They are generally more autonomous and value curiosity and exploration as ends in themselves. They have flexible minds and ideas are their currency. They value expertise and enjoy pushing their own boundaries and those of others. They love ideas for their own sake and will happily tinker with existing ones or use them as building blocks for entirely new ones. Creative people are not only artists, writers and academics, but are also to be found in science, engineering, business, finance and the law. In fact, creativity is so important – and so innately human – that there is no aspect of life that it can’t play a part in.

There are two broad styles of thinking associated with creativity:


Convergent thinking

Convergent thinking is normally logical, rational, deductive and focused. It aims to produce the single best answer to a problem with little or no ambiguity.2 It emphasises speed, accuracy and logic and concentrates on recognising the familiar, reapplying techniques and accumulating stored information. It is most effective in situations where an answer readily exists and simply needs to be either recalled or worked out using decision-making strategies. The solution that is derived at the end of convergent thinking is generally the best possible answer the majority of the time.

Convergent thinking is linked to knowledge as it involves manipulating existing information or wisdom using standard procedures. Knowledge can be an important aspect of creativity. It is a source of ideas, suggests pathways to solutions and provides criteria for effectiveness and novelty. When you use convergent thinking to solve a problem you will often consciously use standards or probabilities to make judgments. (This contrasts with divergent thinking, where judgment is deferred while looking for and accepting many possible solutions.)

It is an aspect of the mind’s Doing mode (see page 35 of Mindfulness for Creativity).


Divergent thinking

Divergent thinking is spontaneous and free-flowing. It lies behind the ‘purest’ forms of creativity and in many ways is true creativity. Divergent thinking generates ideas by exploring many possible solutions, often in parallel. Ideas may arise in an emergent cognitive fashion as epiphanies or ‘Aha!’ moments. Many possible solutions are explored and unexpected connections are drawn. A high IQ alone does not guarantee creativity. Instead, traits that promote this style of thinking are more important, and it is commonly found among people with personality traits such as nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, courage, persistence and resilience.

Divergent thinking is cultivated by the mind’s Being mode (see page 39 of Mindfulness for Creativity) and arises most often when the body’s soothing-and- contentment system is ticking over (see page 23).

Creative thought often involves both convergent and divergent thinking. Neither is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other, and each has its own qualities. The most creative solutions or ideas, be they in art, science or business, often involve multiple phases and iterations of convergent and divergent thinking. So although the finished idea will often arise in an ‘Aha!’ moment, divergent thinking shouldn’t take all of the credit; convergent thinking might have accumulated the knowledge, wisdom and ideas necessary for divergent thinking do to its unconscious work.

Experiments have shown that mindfulness boosts creativity largely by enhancing divergent thinking, but many of the qualities associated with convergent thinking are also enhanced by mindfulness. Such things as working memory, clarity of thought and mental fortitude, resilience and courage are all boosted by mindfulness and are important features of convergent thinking. Happiness also increases both convergent and divergent thinking. Mindfulness enhances happiness and dissolves anxiety, stress, depression and feelings of exhaustion. It is through this additional route that mindfulness also boosts creativity.


You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive for free from here:

You can buy Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World from Amazon UK here:

From Waterstones here:

Or direct from the publishers HERE:


1 See

2 See; Cropley, A. (2006), ‘In praise of convergent thinking’, Creativity Research 
Journal, 18(3), pp. 391–404.

Stuck for ideas? Struggling with a problem? Go for a walk and everything will fall into place…

‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.


Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World


There is something about the fluid nature of walking that encourages the mind to flow freely and feel at ease with new ideas. Research suggests that ‘creative output’ can increase by 60 per cent after a short walk.1 Countless generations of poets, writers, philosophers and artists have known this, and often walked for inspiration. Walking also encourages clarity of mind and purpose, which is why Steve Jobs hiked in the hills above San Francisco with his designers and board members before making important decisions. And he wasn’t unique – Aristotle, Einstein, President Obama and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg all walked to clarify their ideas.

For these reasons, another great Habit Releaser is to go for a walk for thirty minutes or more (you can find more in my new book Mindfulness for Creativity). You can walk more or less anywhere. Your neighbourhood is as good as the wild mountains if you walk with the appropriate frame of mind. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, then go somewhere a little wilder such as a nature reserve or the seaside. The important thing is to soak up the surroundings as mindfully as you can, so try to approach the walk with open-minded, playful curiosity. If you are not physically fit, don’t worry. The aim is not to push your physical boundaries, but to open up your awareness to new (or perhaps forgotten) states of mind and to notice the effect that walking has on your thought processes.

Before you start walking, spend a few minutes absorbing the scene. What can you see, hear and smell? Does the air have a taste? Focus on the sounds. Soak up the different ones. Can you hear the wind? Or perhaps the notes of different car engines in the distance? Can you hear insects, birdsong or the scampering of small animals such as squirrels? Notice the rise and fall of each individual sound. Mentally flick between them. How does the pavement, earth or grass feel beneath your feet? As you walk, notice the movement of your muscles and joints. Feel the gentle swaying of your limbs. Can you feel the movement of the breath in your whole body – at the front, the back and the sides? Can you feel how the breath is always changing, just as the sounds do?

If you are walking through the city, look up and pay attention to the buildings. Can you see any wildlife such as nesting birds? Are there any trees or grasses growing out from walls or roofs? What details can you see on the buildings? You might see sculptures, or perhaps dates carved into stonework or even a gargoyle or two. Simply observe with playful curiosity whatever you find.

When you finish your walk, how do you feel mentally and physically? Tired or energised? Achy or pleasantly relaxed? Whatever you feel is what you feel.


You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive for free from here:

You can buy Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World from Amazon UK here:

From Waterstones here:

Or direct from the publishers HERE:


1 Oppezzo, M. and Schwartz, D. L. (2014), ‘Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), pp. 1142–52.

Why Not Go on a Creative Date?

‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.


Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World


Understanding your own mind – and how it unwittingly ties itself in knots – is one of the central skills of mindfulness. This was traditionally done through meditation but there are other ways too. One if these is consciously breaking your ingrained habits of thinking and behaving. According to a study carried out at Duke University, most people spend around 45 percent of their time running through one or more of their habits1. If you think that’s bad, others estimate that it may be as high as 80 percent…. Clearly, that’s the antithesis of creativity.

Habits can can trap you in dull and unproductive states of mind and drive anxiety, stress and depression. But the converse is also true. Each time you break a habit you become a little more mindful – a little more conscious of the world around you. It helps you to reconnect with the world and all of its beauty. It helps you to see everything in a new light, to conjure up new ideas, and to develop the courage necessary to follow them wherever they should lead.

The Habit Releasers in my new book Mindfulness for Creativity will help you to break down the negative habits of thinking and behaving that force you into approaching problems – and the world – in the same old unproductive ways. They will help you to progressively ‘jump the tracks’ into new and more creative ways of thinking. They are generally interesting to do and require very little effort.

One of my favourite Habit Releasers is the Creative Date. This is simply a block of time for you to nurture your inner spirit or creative flame. As the years pass, it’s all too easy to forget the small things that used to make you happy and fed your soul. The pressures of life and work can erode life in myriad subtle ways. Think back to a time when you were half your current age. Were you more spontaneously creative? Were you ruled by serendipity? A creative date gives you the necessary time and space to rediscover this serendipity.

And what will you do? Anything at all. It can be a visit to a museum or art gallery or perhaps a trip to the cinema. You might like to go and see a car race, climb a mountain or swim in the sea. Or perhaps watch a sunrise or sunset, visit a castle, go to a music festival or learn how to be a fire-eater, a circus clown or how to ride a unicycle. Try to approach this Habit Releaser with a spirit of open-hearted playfulness. It’s not just children who learn best through play – we all do. If you’re short of ideas you can look at the Appendix 1 of Mindfulness for Creativity for inspiration. The essential aspect of a creative date is to simply do what you need to do to set your spirit free. So much of life is planned, ordered and hemmed in that it’s important to throw caution to the wind and trust to luck. And when you do so, you’ll find that your mind opens up to new possibilities – creative possibilities. Your senses will come alive once again and your spirit will be renewed.

Before you go any further, it’s important to allocate the time for your date now. If you don’t, it is likely to be squeezed out by other, seemingly more important, priorities. That’s the nature of the autopilot, it tends to reassert itself. It’s also important to defend this time against all comers. It’s your time to spend as you wish. It should be for you alone. Don’t feel the need to bring along friends, family members or your partner. If you feel guilty, gently remind yourself that this will be for everyone’s benefit in the long run because it will help rekindle your innate creativity and love of life, without which your life and theirs are greatly diminished.

If you wish, you can make the creative date a regular feature of your life.


You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive for free from here:

You can buy Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World from Amazon UK here:

From Waterstones here:

Or direct from the publishers HERE:


1 Neal, D. T., Wood, W. and Quinn, J. M. (2006), ‘Habits: a repeat performance’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(4), pp. 198–202; Verplanken, B. and Wood, W. (2006), ‘Interventions to break and create consumer habits’, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 25(1), pp. 90–103.

Enhancing Creativity, Problem Solving and Decision Making with the Breathing Meditation

‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.


Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World


The philosophers of ancient Greece believed that wisdom was imparted to mankind through the breath of the gods. Indeed, our own word inspiration means, literally, to breathe in. Mindfully focusing on the breath may not give you enlightenment from the gods, but it will certainly bring great clarity of mind. For this reason, the first week of the programme in my new book Mindfulness for Creativity teaches a simple breathing meditation that enhances clarity of thought and awareness.

Breathing meditations are not only profoundly relaxing but also directly relieve anxiety, stress and depression. They also enhance ‘convergent thinking’, or the ability to focus deeply on an idea, problem, or work of art – and this happens on both a conscious and unconscious level. The flipside of such convergent thinking is ‘divergent thinking’ (and I’ll come to that in a later post). Creative ‘Eureka moments’ happen when you shift between these two styles of thinking. In effect, this shift in awareness allows you to approach problems and ideas from different angles in different states of mind. Such a profound change in perspective is the essence of creativity.

The meditation programme at the heart of Mindfulness for Creativity enhances both convergent and divergent styles of thinking and teaches you how to move effortlessly between them. And it begins with one of the simplest of all mindfulness exercises: the Breathing meditation. You can listen to it here:

The meditation works by inviting you to focus on the sensations the breath makes as it flows into and out of your lungs and to notice the effect this has on your whole body. Throughout the meditation, it is important to focus on the sensations of breathing, rather than the idea of breathing. Many meditators, initially at least, tend to think about the breath, instead of actually experiencing breathing first-hand.

Why is focusing on the breath in this way so important?

Firstly, it provides a dynamic anchor for your awareness. It allows you to sense when your attention has wandered and provides a focus to return to. This helps you to see when your mind has slipped into the circular, repetitive thought patterns that undermine creativity. You also come to a deep-seated realisation that your mind is in constant flux. It is never idle and thinks constantly. This isn’t ‘bad’ in itself but if you are unaware of the thoughts passing through your mind then you can easily miss interesting or creative ideas. If you are lost in your thoughts, then your greatest ideas may also become lost.

Secondly, it helps strengthen your powers of concentration, so that you can effortlessly shift the focus of your awareness. See it as a form of exercise that gently builds and enhances your mental flexibility. This has positive ramifications across the whole of life.

Thirdly, it teaches you that the breath can become a sensitive emotional radar. All of your emotions are reflected in the breath. If you learn to focus on the breath while paying attention to your own emotional landscape, then you can begin to use it as a sensitive early-warning system. You can learn to sense when you are under pressure long before distressing thoughts appear in your conscious mind simply by becoming aware of disturbances in the normal rhythm of the breath. Such an alarm system allows you to defuse the ‘negative’ emotions that drive anxiety, stress, fear, anger and unhappiness before they gain unstoppable traction in the mind.

Fourthly, it teaches you that you can relate to your thoughts in the same way that you do to the breath. Just as the breath rises and falls, thoughts ebb and flow. At any one moment these might reflect an accurate view of the world – or they might not. This can be a profound and liberating insight because you are no longer compelled to believe that your mind’s running commentary on the world is completely true. You come to realise that it might, instead, be simply reflecting your emotional state; or perhaps running on autopilot, with your thoughts simply reflecting a habitual state of mind.

Fifthly, breathing itself can be profoundly relaxing. When you pay attention to the breath, and it becomes calmer, it naturally becomes deeper and more rhythmic. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and is naturally calming. So, paradoxically, noticing the build-up of negative emotions by the effect they have on your breath and body actually helps dissolve them. And actively ‘breathing into’ the areas of the body where the negative emotions appear to be localised can dissolve them even more effectively.


You can listen to the Breathing meditation here – or by clicking on the red ‘play’ button below


You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity for free from here:

You can buy Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World from Amazon UK here:

From Waterstones here:

Or direct from the publishers HERE:


The Relentless Pace of Life can Stifle Creativity and Undermine Happiness and Wellbeing – But it Doesn’t Have To Be this Way…

‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.


Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World


The buzz of creativity always hit Jess around 10 a.m. For some reason, she’d spend the first hour or so of each day batting away pointless emails and staring blankly out of the window. But then her mind would suddenly clear, almost as if a veil had been lifted from her awareness. She’d straighten up in her chair, her pupils would dilate and she’d feel tingly all over. After a sigh, she’d begin typing furiously.

Nothing compared to that magical hour when everything flowed quite naturally. She didn’t consciously think or plan. The words seemed to pour through her fingers and on to the computer screen. All of her fears, worries and problems simply melted away, leaving her in complete control of her life and work.

But then something would shatter her concentration: the phone would ring, a text would arrive or a ‘vital’ email would flash on to her screen. The veil would then draw across her mind and that would be the end of her creativity for the day.

Why can’t I just think clearly like that all of the time? she’d snap at herself when her creative bubble had just burst. Resentment would begin gnawing away at her soul. Clearly I am creative. Nobody achieves as much as me when I’m in the flow. I do more in that hour than the rest of the day put together . . . Even if I could work and be as creative as that for just another hour or two each day, then life would be so much better. I’d get a pay rise. I could get a decent car, maybe a house . . .

Jess would then sigh before starting to deal with the pointless dross that cluttered up her workday as a copywriter for a marketing agency.

It’s not just copywriters who battle against the mental clutter that destroys their creativity. We all do. And it comes at a huge but largely hidden price. Designers and engineers fail to see cheap and elegant solutions to problems. Doctors miss subtle but important symptoms that cost patients their lives. Managers and entrepreneurs are too frazzled to take advantage of evolving markets. Writers, artists and performers fail to connect with their audiences’ souls. Even those who work from home inadvertently strangle their own productivity by forcing themselves into a creative black hole.

My latest book ‘Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World shows you how to enhance your own creativity and retake control of your life. It will teach you how to sweep away the barriers that are clouding your mind and throttling your creativity. It will help you make better decisions and deal more effectively with problems. In short, it will help to extend your own magical hour of creativity into two, three or four hours . . . or perhaps into whole days. The techniques aren’t only used by ‘creatives’, but also by major businesses such as Apple, Google, and Intel. Financiers at J.P. Morgan, HSBC and Deutsche Bank have adopted them to help them make better decisions. Even the US Marines use them. Truth is, we’re all creatives now – whether we want to be or not.

To enhance creativity and problem solving you need to cultivate three skills. Firstly, you need an open but disciplined mind that can gather and then integrate new ideas, concepts and information. This is known as ‘divergent thinking’ and it happens on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Secondly, you need to consciously notice the new ideas created by your mind and to realise their significance (otherwise they will simply pass you by). And thirdly, you need the courage to follow your ideas wherever they should lead – and the resilience to cope with the inevitable attacks and setbacks.

The practices in Mindfulness for Creativity foster all three skills. They are based on ancient traditions dating back at least 2500 years, and were originally developed by the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and the early Buddhists. Over the centuries they have been adapted to suit the times, but the core principles have always remained intact. The state of mind they cultivate is known as ‘mindfulness’, but it has also been called ‘awakening’, ‘presence’ or simply ‘awareness’. Mindfulness is a state of calm, open-hearted, non-judgmental awareness. It’s a state of mind where you are paying full attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, rather than living in the past or worrying about the future. Although it is traditionally developed through mindfulness meditation, other, less formal practices can also be used. Mindfulness for Creativity teaches both.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that practising certain forms of mindfulness meditation for ten to twenty minutes a day can enhance creativity, problem solving and decision making. They also dissolve anxiety, stress and depression, while enhancing happiness, wellbeing and resilience. A typical ten-minute meditation consists of focusing your attention on the sensations the breath makes as it flows into and out of the body (download here). This creates a calm mental space from which you can observe all of your thoughts, feelings and emotions as they bubble up from your deep subconscious. It allows you to watch as they appear in your mind, linger for a while and then dissolve. In effect, your mind becomes less frantic and ‘noisy’ and this, in turn, means you can notice your quieter thoughts and ideas. So it helps foster great clarity of thought. In this way, mindfulness smoothes the path of ideas as they arise from the deepest reaches of your mind. This enhances divergent thinking – the purest form of creativity – and the type that most of us would recognise as ‘creativity’ itself. Divergent thinking is the most mysterious state of mind because it appears to conjure up ideas from nowhere – often out of the blue, and frequently without bidding. It’s the form of awareness that gave rise to Archimedes’ ‘Eureka’ moment, Isaac Newton’s insights into gravity, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and many great novels, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In short, it’s the state of awareness that allows you to spontaneously ‘see’ the solution to a problem, to conjure up new ideas and to create a work of art or design with true insight and flair.



Mindfulness enhances such divergent thinking on another level too. It progressively dissolves the mental habits that force us to think along the same tired, old lines over and over again. These habits exert immense control over our lives, but we are largely unaware of their influence. In fact, scientists estimate that around 45 per cent of the choices and decisions we make each day are governed by habit1. Such habits have their uses, but they are very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they allow the mind to outsource routine matters to its ‘autopilot’, so that we can focus on the more important things. On the other hand, they can lock in place the ways in which we approach the world and think about ideas and problems. In short, they can stifle creativity.

And here’s the rub: because habits allow you to outsource certain forms of thinking to your autopilot, often without you realising it, thinking itself can become increasingly habitual. Certain thoughts can become habits in themselves. Negative, self-defeating thought patterns are particularly habitual. Ones such as Why can’t I do this?, What’s wrong with me today? or He’s got it in for me can turn into mental soundbites that the autopilot throws into your mind just as easily as it helps you brush your teeth or find your way to work. The same is true for countless other thought patterns too.

The way that we tackle problems at work and at home is often governed by thought patterns laid down many years before. They originally served a purpose, but do they still? Technology may allow us to tackle problems in new ways, but do our patterns of thought and behaviour? Circumstances may change, but our patterns of thought and behaviour often do not. This is why it is so easy – and so seductive – to think along the same tired, old, familiar lines and to make the same decisions over and over again. In this way, habitual thought patterns can progressively narrow the mind and ensure that we consciously think less and less, while ceding more and more control to our mental autopilot.

This is why around half of the choices and decisions we all make each day are governed by habit. If this figure seems a little high, cast an eye over your own life: do you always sleep on the same side of the bed? Have sex on the same nights of the week (and in the same positions)? Do you wake up at the same time each day? Always take the same number of footsteps to the bus stop, station or car? Take the same route to work? And when you’re there, do you always sit in the same chair at meetings, drink out of your ‘favourite’ cup and have the same polite conversations with the same people?

When it comes to approaching problems, habitual ways of thinking can make it very difficult to create innovative solutions or to spark a chain of new or original ideas. But there is an alternative. Habits aren’t destiny (unless you allow them to be). You can progressively disentangle yourself from the web of habits that controls your life by using the meditations in this book. And when you do so, you’ll find it increasingly easy to think clearly, spot new ideas and adapt to changing circumstances. In the long run, this will allow you to consciously ‘jump the tracks’ into more fruitful ways of thinking.



It is not enough to think clearly and to produce original ideas. You also need the courage to follow them wherever they should lead and the resilience to withstand failure, hardship and cynicism. The scientific evidence is clear: mindfulness helps build such courage and resilience.2 It does this by encouraging the mind’s harsh ‘inner critic’ to fall silent for a while. Your inner voice is an essential part of your identity, but if it becomes too dominant, then it can stifle free-flowing creativity and experimentation. Left unchecked, your mind can start baiting itself with such bitter and angry thoughts as, This is pointless. I’m just not up to it any more . . . I can’t come up with anything new at all. Why can’t I just make a decision and get on with it? Your inner critic can all too easily consume all of your energy, leaving behind a burnt-out shell. You can start to become paralysed with indecision and even the smallest of problems can seem insurmountable. This not only further erodes creativity, but left unchecked it can lead to anxiety, stress, depression and exhaustion.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As you read through Mindfulness for Creativity you will come to understand that your inner voice is not always correct. The mind’s running commentary on the world should not be mistaken for the mind itself. In short, thoughts are not always facts (even those that claim to be). Simply understanding how this aspect of your mind works can reinvigorate creativity and grant you the courage to experiment, to make decisions and to risk failure in pursuit of your goals.

Such courage, especially in the face of failure, is essential. After all, you simply cannot create something new or make a difficult decision without risking failure – and taking such risks requires great courage. Creativity, problem solving and effective decision making all require a special type of quiet, persistent courage. It’s not the flavour of courage that is bold or arrogant. It’s far more subtle than that. It’s the type that you feel when you are standing on solid ground; when you have a sense of wholeness, certainty and strength; of trusting that there is a path to your goal, even though it might not be obvious at the time. Mindfulness cultivates such courage by broadening your mental horizons so that everything falls naturally into perspective. It’s as if you can see the world for miles around and all of your fears, worries and problems simply dissolve. You come to understand that most problems, no matter how difficult they might at first appear, are often akin to bumps in the road, rather than life-and-death scenarios. This, in turn, fosters the courage necessary to create new ideas and follow them wherever they should lead.


Mindfulness for Creativity operates on two levels. Firstly, there is the four-week meditation programme, which takes around ten to twenty minutes a day. This clears the mind and allows innovative ideas to take form and crystallise. It also soothes the mind and dissolves stress. This, in turn, allows the mind to work more effectively, so that you can begin to solve problems faster and more intuitively. Mindfulness also helps decision making by dissolving anxiety, stress, frustration and depression. Even if you have none of these problems, you will still find yourself feeling happier, sleeping better and becoming fully engaged with life once again.

Secondly, mindfulness creates a mental vantage point from which you can observe just how much of your life is controlled by habitual ways of thinking and approaching the world. Such renewed clarity will help you tackle the habits that constrain creativity and effective problem solving. Habit breaking (or habit releasing) is as simple as taking a different route to work or spending a little time walking around the park soaking up the sights, sounds and smells. Or it might mean listening to your favourite music with fresh ears or drinking a cup of tea or coffee with your eyes closed. Such simple things broaden awareness, spark curiosity and open the doors to serendipity……


You can buy Mindfulnes for Creativity from Amazon UK HERE:

From Waterstones HERE:

Or direct from the publishers HERE:



For a full list see ‘Mindfulness and Creativity’ and ‘What it can do for you’.

1 Neal, D. T., Wood, W. and Quinn, J. M. (2006), ‘Habits: a repeat performance’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(4), pp. 198–202; Verplanken, B. and Wood, W. (2006), ‘Interventions to break and create consumer habits’, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 25(1), pp. 90–103.


2 Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J. and Finkel, S. M. (2008), ‘Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, pp. 1045–62; see Barbara Fredrickson’s website at http://www.unc. edu/peplab/home.html.









How to breathe yourself happier: This week doctors claimed meditation can beat pain and depression. I’m living proof…

  • William Bankes-Jones had horrific para-gliding accident in Norfolk
  • Was in terrible pain for weeks afterwards – until he tried meditation
  • His suffering reduced by around 90 per cent after only 20 minutes
  • Meditation gaining recognition as a way of treating pain and depression

William Bankes-Jones had spent the entire morning para-gliding above the Norfolk countryside. At one point he’d reached 1,000ft, held aloft by nothing more than powerful currents of rising air, but now he was sinking slowly back to earth. Anxious to fly for a little longer, he tried to catch a thermal rising from a nearby field, hoping it would lift him back towards  the clouds. But as William turned towards it, he noticed a line of tall trees blocking his path. Too late. He smashed into the tallest tree, hung in mid-air for a few agonising moments, then plummeted to earth.

‘The pain was excruciating,’ says William. ‘It was so intense that I blacked out. Every time I regained consciousness, the pain would knock me out again. It was horrific.’

Doctors soon discovered that William had broken his back in three places and one of his vertebrae had burst wide open. But this was just the start of the 55-year-old’s ordeal.

‘In the weeks that followed, I was highly stressed and in severe pain. I was facing the possibility of paralysis,’ he recalls. ‘I couldn’t feed myself or go to the toilet without help. I knew I was going to spend the rest of my days in constant pain and my career as an NHS physiotherapist was probably over. It felt like my life was in ruins.

‘The hospital had given me a morphine drip to help me cope with the intense pain, but it had unpleasant side-effects, so I decided to try what’s called mindfulness meditation instead. I’d learned how to meditate many years before, but never expected to use it under such extreme circumstances.

‘After I started, within a few minutes the pain had reduced by about half. After about 20  minutes, it had reduced by around 90 per cent.’

Treating pain with meditation may seem like a desperate — and unlikely — measure but it is gaining widespread acceptance. A study published online this week in the prestigious online medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine claimed meditation can indeed be a powerful painkiller. Not only that, it also said that practising mindfulness for just half an hour a day can offer people with depression as much relief as popping a pill. This review of previous studies found regular meditation could alleviate symptoms of depression as well as conventional anti-depressants.

The same study also highlighted its power to help people cope with the after-effects of cancer treatment, such as exhaustion, nausea and systemic pain. It does this by dissolving anxiety and stress while also boosting the immune system.

Dr Madhav Goyal, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who led the team carrying out the research, says: ‘It was surprising to see that with so little training we were still seeing consistent effects.’

Another study published recently in the journal Neuroscience suggests mindfulness can reduce the ‘unpleasantness’ of pain by around 60 per cent. Experienced meditators can reduce it by 90 percent.

Dr Fadel Zeidan, lead researcher of the study, carried out at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, says: ‘Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs.’

A typical meditation used in the studies involved focusing on the  sensations the breath makes as it flows into and out of the body. This allows you to ‘see’ your mind in action, to observe difficult thoughts and painful sensations as they arise, and to let go of your struggles with them. This creates a relaxed state of mind that reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body. Such deep relaxation enhances healing and boosts mental and physical health. In the case of pain, it encourages the brain to turn down the  ‘volume’ control on its suffering.

Don’t believe it? I can personally vouch for its effectiveness as a pain and stress reliever. Seven years ago, I also had a  terrible paragliding accident that shattered my right leg. The impact drove the lower half of my leg up through the knee and into my thigh. I needed three major operations and intensive physiotherapy to repair the damage.

Throughout my ordeal, I used mindfulness to help me cope with the intense pain and stress, which was accompanied by more than a little anxiety. And it worked to an astonishing degree. My pain gradually subsided and I was able to reduce my intake of painkillers by two-thirds. I also developed a more contented outlook, seeing my injuries as temporary problems that would gradually subside, rather than as limb-threatening ones that might confine me to a wheelchair. Equally, it gave me the mental  stamina and clarity of purpose to persevere with the more conventional treatments such as physiotherapy.

Mindfulness meditation is, I’m convinced, why I recovered in double-quick time. My leg actually healed in six months rather than the predicted 18. I became so convinced by the power of the technique that I began to train as a meditation teacher, and then  co-wrote the bestselling book  Mindfulness, with Professor Mark Williams of Oxford University.

This has now sold almost 200,000 copies in 19 languages and is  currently America’s bestselling meditation book. One of the reasons for the book’s popularity is, I believe, because of its focus on sound science and medicine, rather than spirituality. Although mindfulness meditation has its origins in ancient Buddhism, it is now an entirely secular practice. It is no more religious than yoga. This allows people of all faiths, and atheists, to follow the simple practices with a clear conscience.

This secular approach was begun in the late Seventies by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. He saw the potential healing power of meditation and was determined to bring it into the medical mainstream. Professor Williams, and his colleagues in Cambridge and Toronto, then turned it into a powerful  treatment for depression known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive  Therapy (MBCT). This is at least as effective as drugs or counselling for severe depression. It is so powerful that it’s now one of the preferred treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Professor Williams says: ‘Scientific studies have now shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability. This means that when distressing thoughts arise, they dissolve away again more easily.

‘Other studies have shown that regular meditators see their doctors less often and spend fewer days in hospital. Memory improves,  creativity increases and reaction times become faster.’

Nor do you need to meditate for hours each day to gain these  benefits. According to Professor Williams: ‘Just 10 to 20 minutes per day of mindfulness meditation can have a significant benefit on overall mental health and wellbeing.’

Perhaps the most surprising thing about these benefits is that you can actually see them taking root in the brain. Imaging studies show that the brain lays down extra connections and tissue in areas associated with attention, memory and empathy in proportion to the hours of meditation practised. You can also see stress reactions in the brain dissolve once people begin to meditate.

Variants of MBCT are proving to be effective for treating a wide range of other mental and physical health problems. Hospitals have now started prescribing it to help patients cope with the suffering arising from a wide range of diseases such as cancer (and the side-effects of chemotherapy), heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

It is also now used for back  problems, migraine, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and even multiple sclerosis. Mindfulness appears to help IBS sufferers by reducing inflammation. With MS, meditation seems to promote healing while reducing such distressing symptoms as pain, pins and needles, balance problems, anxiety and depression.

Professor Lance McCraken, clinical psychologist at King’s College, London, says: ‘It has now become a vital part of our treatment  programme at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals. Mindfulness infuses everything we do.

‘Our patients tend to become very keen on it. When they have a little taste of mindfulness, and see how it can transform their lives for the better, they become very committed to meditation.’

It’s not just beneficial to adults; when applied in schools, mindfulness increases both children’s self-esteem and performance in class. This is largely because it reduces stress and enhances clarity of thought.

With all of these benefits, it’s hardly surprising that many businesses have begun offering in-house mindfulness classes. Apple and Google are the most prominent. Apple’s co-founder the late Steve Jobs was a Zen Buddhist who encouraged his employees to take up meditation.

Google offers its employees a mindfulness-based training programme called Search Inside Yourself, that aims to enhance kindness, integrity and compassion. And it’s not all about the individual: the programme’s founder says these qualities are also beneficial to the corporate bottom line.

William Bankes-Jones has experienced  all of these benefits first hand. He made a surprisingly good recovery from his 2010 para-gliding accident. When he returned to work, he began to teach mindfulness to his physiotherapy patients.

‘It can help them heal faster,’ he says simply. ‘The more at ease you are within yourself the better you heal.’


 Meditation can be simple and does not require any special equipment. This meditation demonstrates the basic technique and takes just a few minutes. It should leave you profoundly relaxed.

1 – Sit erect but relaxed in a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor. Or you can lie on a mat or blanket on the floor, or on your bed. Allow your arms and hands to be as relaxed as possible.

2 – Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on the breath as it flows into and out of your body. Feel the sensations the air makes as it flows through your mouth or nose, down your throat and into your lungs. Feel the expansion and subsiding of your chest and belly as you breathe. Focus your awareness on where the sensations are strongest. Stay in contact with each in-breath and out-breath. Observe them without trying to alter them in any way or expecting anything special to happen.

3 – When your mind wanders, gently shepherd it back to the breath. Try not to criticise yourself. Minds wander. It’s what they do. The act of realising that your mind has wandered — and encouraging it to return to focus on the breath — is central to the practice of mindfulness.

4 – Your mind may or may not become calm. If it does, this may only be short-lived. It may become filled with thoughts or powerful emotions such as fear, anger, stress or love. These may also be fleeting. Whatever happens, observe without reacting or trying to change anything. Gently return your awareness back to the sensations of the breath again and again.

5 – After a few minutes, or longer if you prefer, gently open your eyes and take in your surroundings.

You can download or listen to this and other free meditations at

Dr Danny Penman’s book Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide To Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress And Restoring Wellbeing is published by Piatkus.


Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress and Restore Wellbeing With Week Three of Our Mindfulness Meditation Course

Pain, illness and stress walk hand in hand together. They feed off each other in a vicious cycle that leads to ever greater suffering and disability.

Nothing creates stress with such brutal efficiency as the feeling of being trapped by illness. Painful questions can begin nagging at your soul: Is it getting worse? Maybe they’ve missed something? Perhaps it’s terminal and they won’t tell me…

Such negative thoughts are incredibly powerful and almost impossible to stop. One thought triggers the next, and the next, in a vicious cycle that can leave you burnt-out and broken.

But it’s often far worse than this because such thoughts create tension in the body, aggravating illnesses and injuries. Stress also dampens the immune system and shuts down the body’s self-repair mechanisms. Stress isn’t just a miserable experience, it erodes physical health too.

Although it’s impossible to prevent stress from arising, you can change what happens next. You can stop the spiral from feeding off itself and triggering the cycle of negative thoughts that makes suffering far worse.

Mindfulness helps you step outside such vicious cycles by teaching you a different way of dealing with stress. With practice you come to realise that stress (like pain) is a ‘message’ that tends to melt away of its own accord once it has been ‘delivered’, or felt with full mindful awareness. When this occurs, an extraordinary thing can happen: a profound sense of happiness and peace fills the void.

Such bone-deep contentment isn’t just pleasant, it also boosts the immune system and restarts the body’s self-repair mechanisms. Even if you have an incurable condition, it will substantially improve your quality of life.

In previous weeks I taught you how to reduce pain using the Body Scan and Mindful Movement meditations. These were taken from our book Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing. This week you will learn to reduce stress with the Tension Release Meditation. Follow the instructions opposite or download the audio track from

You’ll find Week One of the course HERE.

And Week Two of the course is HERE.


Tension Release Meditation

The aim of this meditation is to move your awareness around the body, paying special attention to areas of tension and discomfort, and then to gently breathe ‘into’ them.

If sitting, choose a straight-backed chair and adopt an erect but relaxed posture. If lying, allow your legs to gently fall away from each other, arms at your sides.

Close your eyes. Allow your shoulders, neck, back, and face to soften. Feel the points of contact between your body and the floor or chair.

Gather your awareness around the sensations of breathing. Can you feel it in the chest, the stomach, the back? Feel the whole body expand and contract as you breathe.

Guide your awareness to the first area of tension. Allow the breath to soothe and massage it for a few minutes. Saturate the breath with kindness. If it feels too intense, broaden your awareness to include the whole body.

Focus your awareness on the next area of tension. Follow your breath into it for a few minutes… Then focus on the next area…

Open your eyes and gently move your body.

Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce Physical Pain by 90 Percent, Week Two of Our Course Shows You How

Three American psychologists once asked a group of students to watch cartoons and rate how funny they were.

Some were asked to hold a pencil between their lips, forcing them to mimic a scowl. Others watched the cartoons with the pencil between their teeth, simulating a smile. The results were striking: those forced to smile found the cartoons funnier than those compelled to frown. Smiling had actually made them happier.

The process works in reverse too. Frowning makes you unhappy. And a tense neck, back, or shoulders can trigger anxiety and stress. But it’s not just emotions that are driven by such vicious cycles. Pain is too.

Pain creates tension in the body, which feeds back into the brain, which responds by turning up the ‘volume’ on its pain amplifiers, creating even more suffering.

As I explain in our book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing, meditation is a powerful way of halting such vicious cycles. Clinical trials show that it can reduce pain by around 90 percent. With practice, you can watch as your pain and suffering evaporate like the mist on a spring morning.

Last week’s Body Scan meditation began this process but you also need to work with the body on a more physical level too. Your body needs to ‘unlearn’ its tension and this is what you’ll begin this week with the Mindful Movement meditation.

This meditation should be carried out once per day. Follow the instructions opposite, or download the audio track (which contains extra exercises) from It’s best if you also continue with last week’s Body Scan.

You’ll find Week One of the course HERE.

Dr Danny Penman is the co-author of the bestselling Mindfulness. His latest book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing is published by Piatkus.

Mindful Movement Meditation
The aim of this meditation is to ‘tune into’ your body and breath as you move. This will help release any pent up tension.

Wrist rotations
Relax the shoulders and breathe as naturally as you can. Gently hold and support your right elbow with your left hand. Smoothly rotate your right hand around the wrist in a circle for 30 seconds. Keep the breath soft and even. Turn your wrist in the other direction for another 30 seconds. Relax your arms.

Notice the effects of the movement on your right hand and arm. Does this side feel different from the left? More alive, perhaps?

Repeat the movements for the other hand. Then relax your arms so they hang loosely at your sides. Close your eyes. Gently shake your hands and arms. What sensations do you feel?

Warm, hugging arms
Start with your arms hanging loosely at the sides of your body. Tune into the breath for a few moments.

On the in-breath, extend both arms outwards to shoulder level, palms facing forwards. As you breathe out, very gently draw both arms across your chest, cross the arms and give yourself a light hug. As you do so, feel the upper back broadening and opening. Imagine the hug is saturated with warmth and kindness.

On the in-breath, open your arms until they are fully extended. As they open, feel a corresponding opening in the chest, with the shoulder blades gently drawing together.
Repeat this movement for one minute (or for as long as you feel able). Let the hands hang loosely at your sides and give them a little shake. Feel the breath in your whole body and the sensations of being alive.

You’ll find more mindful movement exercises at

Can Mindfulness Meditation Really Reduce Pain and Suffering by 90 percent? This Three Week Course Shows You How To Begin.

Living with chronic pain and illness can be intolerable. Even after taking the maximum dose of painkillers, the aching soon returns with a vengeance. You want to do something, anything, to stop the pain, but whatever you try seems to fail. Moving hurts. Doing nothing hurts. Ignoring it hurts.

But it’s not just the pain that hurts; your mind can start to suffer as you desperately try to find a way of escaping. Pointed and bitter questions can begin nagging at your soul: What will happen if I don’t recover? What if it gets worse? I can’t cope with this . . . Please, I just want it to stop …

It’s only natural to want to fight back against pain and illness in times such as these, but what if this struggle actually made your suffering worse? What if it was more effective to explore the sensations of pain and illness as they rose and fell in your body? This may seem like the worst thing imaginable, but the latest medical advances show that it can be more powerful than the most commonly prescribed painkillers.

Such an approach forms the core of a new treatment for chronic pain and illness that is based on an ancient form of meditation known as ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. Accomplished meditators can reduce it by over 90 percent.

Imaging studies show that mindfulness soothes the brain patterns underlying pain and, over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself, so that patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity. Many say that they barely notice it at all.

Hospital pain clinics now prescribe mindfulness meditation to help patients cope with the suffering arising from a wide range of diseases such as cancer (and the side effects of chemotherapy), heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. It is also used for back problems, migraine, fibromyalgia, coeliac disease, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and even multiple sclerosis.

As I explain in our book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing, meditation achieves these remarkable results because it turns down the ‘volume’ control on pain.

A typical meditation involves focusing on different parts of the body and simply observing with the mind’s eye what you find (see box below). This allows you to see your mind and body in action, to observe painful sensations as they arise, and to let go of struggling with them. When you do this, something remarkable happens: your suffering begins to melt away of its own accord.

After a while you come to the profound realisation that pain comes in two forms: Primary and Secondary. Each of these has very different causes – and understanding this gives you far greater control over your suffering.

Primary pain arises from illness, injury or damage to the body or nervous system. You could see it as the raw information sent by the body to the brain. Secondary pain is the mind’s reaction to Primary pain but is often far more intense and long lasting. Crucially, it is controlled by an ‘amplifier’ in the brain that governs the overall intensity of suffering.

In recent years, scientists have begun to work out how the mind’s pain amplifier is controlled, but more importantly they have discovered ways of turning down the ‘volume’ control on suffering.

It turns out, the human mind does not simply feel pain, it also processes the information that it contains. It teases apart all of the different sensations to try to find their underlying causes so that you can avoid further pain or damage to the body. In effect, the mind zooms in on your pain for a closer look as it tries to find a solution to your suffering. This ‘zooming-in’ amplifies pain.

As your mind analyses the pain, it also sifts through memories for occasions when you have suffered similarly in the past. It is searching for a pattern, some clues, that will lead to a solution. Trouble is, if you have suffered from pain or illness for months or years, then the mind will have a rich tapestry of painful memories on which to draw – but very few solutions.

So before you know it, your mind can become flooded with unsettling memories. You can become enmeshed in thoughts about your suffering. It can seem as if you’ve always been ill and in pain, that you’ve never found a solution and that you never will. You can end up being consumed by future anxieties, stresses and worries as well as physical pain: What will happen if I can’t stop this pain? Am I going to spend my life suffering like this? Is it going to keep on getting worse?

This process happens in an instant, before you’re consciously aware of it. Each thought builds on the last and quickly turns into a vicious cycle that ends up further amplifying your pain. And it can be worse than this because such stresses and fears feed back into the body to create even more tension and stress. This can aggravate illnesses and injuries, leading to even more pain. It also dampens down the immune system, so impairing healing. So you can all too easily become trapped in a vicious downward spiral that leads to ever greater suffering.

But even worse, such negative spirals can begin wearing tracks in the mind so that you become primed to suffer. Your brain begins fine-tuning itself to sense pain more quickly – and with greater intensity – in a futile bid to try to avoid the worst of it.

Over time, the brain actually becomes better at sensing pain. Brain scans confirm that people who suffer from chronic pain have more brain tissue dedicated to feeling the conscious sensations of pain. It’s almost as if the brain has turned up the volume to maximum and doesn’t know how to turn it down again.

It’s important to emphasise that Secondary pain is real. You do genuinely feel it. It’s only called Secondary pain because it is the mind’s reaction to Primary pain and has been heavily processed before you consciously feel it. But this same processing also offers a way out; it means you can learn to gain control over pain.

It is possible to learn to step aside from suffering and begin to handle pain very differently indeed. In effect, mindfulness hands back to you the volume control for your pain.

Brain scans confirm this. Mindfulness soothes the circuits that amplify Secondary pain and you can see this process happening in a brain scanner. In effect, mindfulness teaches you how to turn down the volume control on your pain. And as you do so, any anxiety, stress and depression that you may be feeling begins to melt away too. Your body can then relax and begin to heal.

On top of these benefits, hundreds of scientific trials have now shown that mindfulness meditation is extremely good at relieving anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability. Memory improves, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase. In short, regular meditators are happier and more contented than average, while being far less likely to suffer from psychological distress.

Over the next three weeks I’ll lead you through three meditations from our book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing. They are based on solid science as well as our own experience.

I used mindfulness to cope with the extreme pain of a paragliding accident. Seven years ago I fell 30 feet onto a rocky hillside. The resulting impact drove the lower half of my right leg several inches through the knee and into my thigh. The injury required three major operations and two years of physiotherapy to correct. I found mindfulness to be an extremely powerul painkiller and I’m convinced it also accelerated my healing.

The aftermath of Danny’s paragliding accident.

The programme in the book was developed by my co-author Vidyamala Burch following two serious spinal injuries that left her in continuous pain. This programme has helped tens of thousands of people worldwide cope with pain, suffering and stress.

This week I will lead you through the ten minute Body Scan meditation. Carry it out twice each day. Follow the instructions below, or preferably download the free audio track from

Next week I will lead you through another pain reduction exercise. The following week I will teach you a meditation to dissolve stress and speed recovery.

Dr Danny Penman is the co-author of the bestselling Mindfulness. His latest book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing is published by Piatkus.

Body Scan Meditation
This is best carried out in quiet surroundings. The idea is to hold each region of the body in the mind’s eye, observe – or ‘feel’ – what you find, and then move on to the next area.

You will realise that your mind repeatedly wanders. It’s what mind’s do, so try not to criticise yourself. When it happens, simply bring your awareness back to the region of the body from where it wandered. Try not to judge what you find. Simply observe. Or perhaps smile inwardly to yourself.

The Scan
Lie on the floor and allow your legs to gently fall away from each other. Place your hands loosely on your stomach. Close your eyes. Sink into the floor. Focus on the natural breath as it flows in and out of the body. Is it deep or shallow? Smooth or ‘ragged’? Spend a few minutes feeling the rhythm of the breath in as much detail as you can.

Does the breath ‘echo’ in the groin? The lower back? What do you find in these regions? Are they warm or cold? Do they ache? Is it sharp or tingly pain? Gently probe the edges, then move closer. Spend a couple of minutes exploring the rhythm of the breath. Do you notice that discomfort is more ‘fluid’ than you thought? Does it feel more distant and less ‘personal’ than you expected?

Move your awareness to the middle back and observe what you find for a minute… Then the upper back…

Observe the whole back as one for a few minutes… And the shoulders… The neck… The face… The arms… hands.

Move your awareness through your legs and ‘feel’ what you find. Do your hips ache? Is it sharp or dull? Gently probe the edges and move inwards. If it begins to feel too intense, gently broaden the focus of your awareness so that you hold the discomfort in a wider space. Does that make it less intense?

And finally, spend a couple of minutes observing the whole body breathing as one.

Gently open your eyes and soak in the world around you. Can you carry this flavour awareness with you as you continue with your day?

You can download the free audio track of this meditation from


Chronic Pain, Chronic Pain, Chronic Pain, Meditation, Mindfulness, Sleep, The Third Metric, Anxiety, Depression, Irritability, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Stress, Wellbeing, UK Lifestyle News