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The Art of Breathing: The Secret to Living Mindfully

Dissolve anxiety, stress and unhappiness, enhance your mind and unleash your creativity with these simple breathing exercises.

 

A flock of paragliders are soaring like eagles on powerful currents of rising air. Far below, a group of children watch in amazement as the pilots practise their aerobatics silently above their heads.

Then, suddenly, something starts to go wrong. One of the pilots loses control of his wing and starts spiralling like a leaf towards the earth.

After what seems like an age, the young man smashes into the hillside. He lies face down on the hillside. Broken.

But he is alive. After a moment of stunned silence, he begins screaming in agony. It will be at least 30 minutes before the paramedics arrive and another hour to reach hospital. Alone, he knows that he cannot afford to lose consciousness in case he never again awakens. So he begins forcing himself to breathe.

Slowly. Deeply. With a supreme effort of will, he focuses his mind away from his broken body and onto his breath. In. Out.

Inch by inch, the agony recedes. Before, finally, he reaches a state of calm tranquillity. Of pure mindfulness.

I was the young man who crashed his paraglider.

And the art of mindful breathing saved my life.

For thousands of years, people have used the art of breathing for equally profound effects on the mind and body. Some have used it for relief from chronic pain. Many more to cope with anxiety, stress and depression. Some claim it led to spiritual enlightenment.

But I’m as spiritual as a housebrick…. so I use it to help me stay calm in a chaotic world and to better appreciate the bittersweet beauty of everyday life.

Breathing seems so ordinary that its true significance can easily pass us by. It is so mundane that many of us have even forgotten how to breathe correctly – and this, as I found out after my paragliding accident, has huge implications for overall health and happiness.

Correct breathing enhances the immune system and helps rid the body of toxins and pollutants. It calms the mind and wards off anxiety, stress and unhappiness. And focusing on the breath with the mind’s eye is the heart of mindfulness meditation, which has been clinically proven to beat depression, and enhance overall happiness, wellbeing, clarity of thought – and even decision-making and creativity.

To gain a sense of its power for yourself, try this little exercise with me: Lie flat on the ground with a cushion under your head. Place your hands on your stomach. Spend a minute or so feeling them rise and fall as you breathe in . . . and out. Submit to the natural rhythm of the breath. Feel the air as it flows in and out of your body. Allow yourself to relax into the breath’s fluidity.

As the breath waxes and wanes, oxygen and nutrient-rich fluids are pumped through the abdomen, flushing out toxins. The physical movement of the breath in the body also massages the liver, kidneys, intestines, joints of the spine, indeed everything, so they’re kept healthy, supple, and well lubricated.

But there’s also a hidden – and equally important side to breathing. Your breath actually reflects and amplifies your emotions. So incorrect breathing can cause anxiety, stress and even depression.

It works like this: momentary stress causes the body to tense and you begin to breathe a little more shallowly. A shallow breath lowers oxygen levels in the blood, which the brain senses as stress. Breathing then becomes a little quicker and shallower. Oxygen levels fall a little more. The heart begins to race. The brain feels a little more stressed.

It’s a vicious cycle….

But there is an alternative. A gently rising and falling breath stimulates the parts of the brain and nervous system responsible for creating a sense of calm tranquillity. Soothing hormones flow through the body. These calm negative thoughts, feelings and emotions so you begin to breathe a little more slowly and deeply. You begin to relax.

It’s a virtuous cycle….

Unfortunately, most of us breathe incorrectly. This is especially true in the modern world where we often sit slumped at desks for far too long each day while being bombarded with work, emails, calls and messages. This can become even more of a problem if we are under any kind of stress. This disturbs our natural breathing patterns which in turn creates even more stress. It works like this.

Breathing relies on the big, powerful muscles of the diaphragm, the abdomen and the intercostal muscles that lie between the ribs. It is helped along by the smaller secondary muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper ribs.

When you are upset, anxious or stressed, or spend too much time sitting in one position, the abdomen tenses and prevents the big primary muscles from working. Instead, they begin tugging against each other, leaving the secondary muscles to do all the work. But the secondary muscles are only designed to shoulder 20 per cent of the burden, so they become stressed.

If this continues, it can lead to chronic tension in the shoulders and neck, to headaches and fatigue, and to increasingly shallower breathing.

Thankfully, to breathe correctly, all you need do is relearn the art of breathing.

The art of breathing lies in paying attention to your breath in a very special way. It’s the heart of mindfulness and as old as meditation itself. You can learn the basics in just a few minutes. Mastering it takes somewhat longer.

Breathing meditations are actually very simple but people often make them unnecessarily difficult and complicated. Firstly, meditating cross-legged in the lotus position is very uncomfortable. You can’t meditate if you’re not comfortable. Take a deep breath . . . and ask why the chair was invented.

Secondly, you don’t need any equipment, mantras, incense, fancy bells, apps, or even a quiet room. In fact, all you need is: a chair, your body, some air, your mind – and that’s it.

Try this little mindfulness exercise with me.

1) Sit on a straight-backed chair. Place your feet flat on the floor (with your spine one inch from the back of the chair). Be comfortable (with a relaxed but straight back). Place your hands loosely in your lap. Close your eyes.

2) Focus your mind on the breath as it flows in and out. Feel the sensations the air makes as it flows in through your mouth or nose and into your lungs. Feel the rising & falling of your chest and stomach.

3) Where are the strongest feelings? Nose, mouth, throat, stomach, chest, shoulders? Pay attention and explore the feelings, especially the way they rise and fall. Don’t try to alter them in any way or expect anything special to happen.

4) When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Be kind to yourself. Minds wander. It’s what they do. Realising that your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the breath IS the meditation. It’s a little moment of mindfulness.

5) Your mind may eventually become calm for a little while…. or filled with thoughts or feelings such as anger, stress, or love. These may be fleeting. See them as clouds in the sky (simply watch them drift past). Try not to change anything. Gently return your awareness back to the sensations of the breath again and again.

6) After five minutes (or longer if you can manage) gently open your eyes and take in what you can see, hear, feel and smell…

7) Repeat twice a day.

You can stream this Breathing Meditation here.

As that short meditation will have begun to reveal, your breath is the greatest asset you have. It’s naturally meditative and always with you. It reflects your most powerful emotions and allows you to either soothe or harness them. It helps you to feel solid, whole, and in complete control of your life while grounding you in the present moment, clarifying the mind, and unshackling your instincts.

The art of breathing kindles a sense of wonder, of awe, and curiosity — the very foundations of a happier and more meaningful life. It grants you the courage to accept yourself with all of your faults and failings. To treat yourself with the kindness, empathy and compassion that you truly need, and helps you to look outwards and embrace the world.

And when you do this, you’ll discover the secret to living mindfully.

You can find out more in my new book The Art Breathing: The secret to living mindfully. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as ‘A marvellously beautiful and sensitive book.’

‘This book is inspiring.  Against a backdrop of beautiful art, Danny Penman’s gentle words explain clearly how breathing, known since ancient times as the foundation for living mindfully, can become, for any of us, a way to reclaim our lives.’ Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.

Download a sample of The Art Of Breathing.

Buy now from Amazon US.

Buy now from Amazon.

Is Empathy Our Most Dangerous and Self-Indulgent Emotion?

Compassion is becoming a word so widely misused that it is rapidly losing its true meaning. Many people (and organisations) appear to profess ‘compassion’ in the same way that they support eliminating poverty and protecting the environment, that is, they’re in favour so long as they don’t have to do too much about it.

At first glance, this is a little disheartening….. However, true heart-felt compassion remains intrinsically human and easily stirred. Compassion is so deeply embedded in human nature that few people are incapable of experiencing it. That fact that we get angry when we see people behaving thoughtlessly, unfairly, or callously, is a testament to humanity’s intrinsically compassionate nature. We are angered by sexism, racism, and inequality precisely because we are caring compassionate creatures. If we were not, then we simply would not care about such things, let alone become angry about them. We even wage war out of the compassion we feel for others, however misguided that may prove to be. Compassion is human. And strange as it may seem, it is also good for us.

Dr Barbara Fredrickson, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and one of the world’s leading researchers on human emotion, says that cultivating positive emotions such as compassion helps to build the four key resources that progressively enhance success and overall happiness in life. Firstly, it helps to build cognitive resources, such as the ability to mindfully attend to the present moment. This, in turn, enhances concentration, creativity and focus. Secondly, it helps to build psychological resources, such as the ability to maintain a sense of mastery over life. This can help ward off anxiety, stress, depression and feelings of being trapped or exhausted. Thirdly, it builds social resources, such as the ability to give and receive emotional support. This helps to build and maintain family ties and friendships. And fourthly, it helps build physical resources by, for example, boosting the immune system so that you are healthier and more energised by life. Enhancing these four resources will help you to meet life’s challenges more effectively and to take advantage of its opportunities.

In short, says Dr Barbara Fredrickson: ‘When people open their hearts to positive emotions, they seed their own growth in ways that transform them for the better.’

Mindfulness is a highly effective way of enhancing such positive emotions. It does this on many levels simultaneously, but it primarily works by helping people reconnect with their previously suppressed emotions (there are also specific practices such as ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation that directly enhance compassion). It also helps people tease apart, and sense, the many different ‘flavours’ of their emotions so that they cease to be over-whelmed by the intensity of their feelings.

A good example is the way that people misunderstand (and feel) compassion and empathy. Empathy is the sharing of another person’s state of mind and their emotions whereas compassion actively seeks to relieve another’s suffering. Therein lies the crucial difference: compassion is active whereas empathy is passive. Empathy is, in some ways, a necessary precursor to compassion. It provides the motivational force to actually relieve another’s distress. But it can also be a ‘negative’ or even a coercive emotion because it is ethically neutral.

People often confuse compassion with empathy. A rather brutal analogy highlights the difference: A torturer will put a gun to your head. An empathic torturer will put the gun to your child’s head. A compassionate one will put the gun down…. Same situation. Same tools. Only the interpretation of the raw emotional data differs.

So empathy alone can be quite dangerous (and arguably a little self-indulgent). To my mind, empathy carries with it a slight tinge of entertainment or even voyeurism. It is stoked by the news media, who ironically, often have the best of intentions. Empathy in the Twenty-First century can also be highly damaging to mental health and well-being. We are all bombarded with disturbing images from war-torn parts of the world. Talented journalists, photographers and broadcasters all compete to get the most harrowing stories and images. Empathy then ensures that they eat their way into our soul and corrode our mental wellbeing.

Dark political and economic forces can also use our natural sense of empathy to drag us into interminable wars over which we can have no long term influence. It is one thing sending off young men and women to die if they can banish an evil dictator and bring peace. It is quite another to send them off to be blown apart because people have been manipulated into believing that ‘something must be done’. Quite simply, most western interventions over the past few decades have served only to enrich the arms industry, satisfy our desire ‘to do something’, and provide news channels with exciting footage. And to what end? Can we influence the course of a civil war? A more compassionate approach would be to accept that terrible things can happen, and that we have absolutely no control or influence over them. In such scenarios, the best course of action is to adopt the first principle of medicine. That is: ‘First, do no harm’. And that may mean doing nothing at all.

We can counteract the tendency to substitute empathy for compassion by actively cultivating the growth of positive emotions. Recent work has shown that it is possible to do this using a specific type of meditation known as Metta (or Loving Kindness). In a landmark study, Dr Fredrickson and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina found that practicing this meditation increased the pleasure and intensity of feelings as diverse as curiosity, amusement, hope, joy, awe, and love.[i] In turn, these positive emotions built the four key personal resources necessary for a happy and creative life, namely; cognitive, psychological, social and physical. This meant that those who practised the meditation found themselves with an increased purpose in life, had more friends, were happier and healthier, and were consequently more satisfied with their lives. And over time, such feelings lead to enhanced creativity, clarity of thought, cognitive flexibility and compassion. It’s a virtuous circle too; happiness leads to success – and success to greater happiness. These aren’t just welcome outcomes in themselves. Recent work has discovered that such positive moods also directly enhance divergent thinking, the type of thinking which underpins creativity.[ii]

Perhaps then, if we can collectively learn to think and act more creatively, we might just be able to deal with the world’s problems more effectively. We might learn to deal with them with intelligence and compassion, rather than risk making them worse with empathy.

 

Try these simple practices to enhance compassion and wellbeing

Try this Resilience Meditation (a type of Metta meditation) led by Dr Danny Penman. You can listen, stream or download it from here. Try doing it for at least 5 days.

You can also try this simple Breathing Meditation to ground yourself in the present moment and clarify the mind.

the-art-of-breathing-coverjpgNew Book: The Art of Breathing – The secret to living mindfully. Just don’t breathe a word of it… 

You breathe 22,000 times every day. How many are you really aware of? 

My latest book provides a concise guide to letting go and finding peace in a messy world, simply by taking the time to breathe. Known side effects: You will start to smile more. You will worry less. Life won’t bother you so much. 

Dissolve anxiety, stress and unhappiness, enhance your mind and unleash your creativity with these simple exercises. And with each little moment of mindfulness, discover a happier, calmer you. It really is as easy as breathing…

‘A marvellously beautiful and sensitive book.’ Jon Kabat-Zinn

‘This book is inspiring.  Against a backdrop of beautiful art, Danny Penman’s gentle words explain clearly how breathing, known since ancient times as the foundation for living mindfully, can become, for any of us, a way to reclaim our lives.’ Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.

Download a sample of The Art Of Breathing.

Buy now from Amazon US.

Buy now from Amazon.

 

References

[i] Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J. & 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.

[ii] Lorenza S. Colzato & Ayca Szapora & Dominique Lippelt & Bernhard Hommel (2012). Prior Meditation Practice Modulates Performance and Strategy Use in Convergent- and Divergent-Thinking Problems. Mindfulness
DOI 10.1007/s12671-014-0352-9.

What exactly is mindfulness? Hint: it’s probably NOT what you think it is…

In 2010, when Mark and I were trying to come up with a title for our book ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, we were met with blank incomprehension. Almost everyone would say: ‘Mindfulness? What the hell is that? You can’t call a book Mindfulness, nobody knows what it is… Nobody will read it.’

The world has moved on a little since then and mindfulness has become mainstream. But the concept often remains equally misunderstood. Many people feel that they haven’t quite grasped the idea because it seems so deceptively simple (this might be because the concept itself is easy to understand but the actual state of mind is difficult to cultivate for more than a few seconds at a time).

Mindfulness is, quite simply, full conscious awareness. It is paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body and breath without judging or criticising them in any way. It is being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment without being trapped in the past or worrying about the future. It is living in the moment not for the moment.

Mindfulness can also be understood by what it is not. It is not a religion. Nor is it inherently mystical or spiritual. Prominent atheists, such as Sam Harris, are quite happy to meditate because of the clarity of mind it engenders. It is simply a tool for reconnecting with life, for embracing the ebb and flow of the world, and for coming to a greater understanding and acceptance of life’s eternal flux. Although people through the ages have used meditation for spiritual purposes, the main thrust of my work is to help people gain relief from anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and physical pain. It is said that ‘all life is suffering’ but I think that is far too bleak. All life can be suffering, if you allow it to be, but it certainly need not be this way. Life can be broadly happy and meaningful but only if you first get out of your own way and allow it to naturally unfold before your feet.

Another misconception is that mindfulness is in some way ‘opting out’ or detaching yourself from the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually about connecting and embracing life with all of its chaotic beauty, with all of your faults and failings. Many people also mistakenly believe that the aim of mindfulness is to intentionally clear the mind of thoughts. Rather, it is about understanding how the mind works. To see how it unwittingly ties itself in knots to create anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion. It teaches you to observe how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions rise and fall like waves on the sea. And in the calm spaces in between, lie moments of piercing insight.

Although meditation is extremely powerful, it is not the only way of becoming more mindful. Every aspect of life can be used to enhance mindfulness. Every one of your senses can become gateways to this delightful state of being. Eating and drinking, and even such simple things as walking through a park and smelling the flowers, can all become mindfulness practices. The work of Dr Ellen Langer at Harvard University is instructive. She has dedicated her life to finding novel ways of enhancing mindfulness and has rediscovered what many accomplished meditators have said for centuries: the key to mindfulness is to actively engage with life. There’s one little problem though: ‘mindlessness’ is all pervasive. We are all naturally mindless. If we are left with ourselves for more than a few moments, we can easily lapse into mindlessness. And we are generally not aware when we lapse into such a state. So we are unaware that we are unaware. We live on autopilot. Fortunately, there is a simple antidote: pay full conscious attention to whatever you are doing. Paying attention is the key to becoming present, to becoming grounded in the present moment, neither living in the past nor worrying about the future, but simply living life as it was meant to be lived. And when you once again begin paying attention, you kick-start profound changes that ripple across your whole life. You begin to see the world with all of the excitement, freshness, and joy that you did as a child. Anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion simply melt away in the face of such awareness.

Although meditation is profoundly important, it is but one way of cultivating mindfulness.

In many ways, the real meditation is your life.

 

Try these simple practices:

*****

The next time you catch sight of your partner or a close friend, notice five new things about them. Pay attention to the way they move, their facial expressions, and the way their voice rises and falls, with its pitch and timbre. Can you sense their aroma? And their hair? Is it the same as you expected? Do they look tired or energised? Are they wearing their normal clothes? Pay attention to what they are wearing and the way the clothes follow or hide their contours. Try not to judge them in any way but instead accept them for who they are. The aim is not to judge but to observe. You find what you find. Do they become newly alive to you?

*****

When eating or drinking, pay attention to all of its textures, flavours and aromas. Tease them apart and focus on each one in turn. Then pay attention to the flavour, aroma and texture of the food in its entirety. Tea and coffee contain many different flavours and chocolate has over 300. See if you can sense some of them, and then see how they combine to produce the overall flavour of ‘tea’, ‘coffee’ or ‘chocolate’.

*****

The next time you are in a queue (or line) notice how your body reacts. Does it take on a mind of its own? Do your arms and legs want to move of their own accord? Are the impulses surprisingly powerful? Do you feel compelled to walk to the front? Is your mind swirling with annoyance or impatient thoughts? Pay attention to all of the different sensations in your body, the ground beneath your feet, the way your chest rises and falls with each breath. Close your eyes if that helps. After a while, begin to pay attention to the world around you. What can you see? Do the people around you look angry, stressed, unhappy or perhaps serene? Pay attention to their faces and to their body language. After a while, begin to broaden your awareness to encompass the whole scene. What can you see? Pay attention. What can you hear? Chattering, the sound of machinery or a keyboard being tapped? Pay attention to the whole soundscape. What can you smell? What can you feel? Can you gain a sense of the air flowing over your skin or hair? Breathe. Pay attention to whatever surrounds you.

the-art-of-breathing-coverjpgNew Book: The Art of Breathing – The secret to living mindfully. Just don’t breathe a word of it… 

You breathe 22,000 times every day. How many are you really aware of? 

My latest book provides a concise guide to letting go and finding peace in a messy world, simply by taking the time to breathe. Known side effects: You will start to smile more. You will worry less. Life won’t bother you so much. 

Dissolve anxiety, stress and unhappiness, enhance your mind and unleash your creativity with these simple exercises. And with each little moment of mindfulness, discover a happier, calmer you. It really is as easy as breathing…

‘This book is inspiring.  Against a backdrop of beautiful art, Danny Penman’s gentle words explain clearly how breathing, known since ancient times as the foundation for living mindfully, can become, for any of us, a way to reclaim our lives.’ Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.

Download a sample of The Art Of Breathing.

Buy now from Amazon US.

Buy now from Amazon.

 

 

Keep calm… and carry on breathing: The simple exercises that can alleviate pain and help sufferers cope with anxiety, stress and depression

First appeared in the Mail on Sunday

  • Breathing is so ordinary – but many of us forgot how to breathe correctly
  • But this can have huge implications on our overall health and happiness
  • Mindfulness can beat depression, enhance happiness and creativity
  • And correct breathing techniques are the cornerstone of mindfulness

 

Breathing is so ordinary that its true significance can easily pass us by. But many of us have forgotten how to breathe correctly.

And this has huge implications for overall health and happiness.

For thousands of years, people have used simple breathing exercises that, ultimately, can have profound effects on the mind and body: they can relieve chronic pain and help sufferers cope with anxiety, stress and depression.

Some even claim these practices lead to spiritual enlightenment.

But I am as spiritual as a housebrick. Instead, I use breathing exercises to stay positive, focused and appreciative in a crazy world (and especially when I’m stressed out by a looming deadline).

DON’T BREATHE ‘BADLY’

I first discovered the art of breathing as part of my research into mindfulness meditation, about which I have written three books, including the international bestseller Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

Mindfulness – the modern take on the ancient practice of meditation – has been clinically proven to beat depression and enhance happiness, clarity of thought and even decision-making and creativity. And correct breathing is its cornerstone.

My latest book, The Art Of Breathing, gathers a range of mindful breathing techniques in one little volume that will allow anyone to incorporate some mindfulness into their life.

These techniques work because of the way your breath reflects and amplifies emotions. Incorrect breathing can cause anxiety, stress and even depression.

It works like this: momentary stress causes the body to tense and you begin to breathe a little more shallowly. A shallow breath lowers oxygen levels in the blood, which the brain senses as stress.

Breathing then becomes a little faster and shallower. Oxygen levels fall a little more. The heart begins to race. The brain feels a little more stressed…

It is a vicious circle.

But there is an alternative….

A gently rising and falling breath stimulates the parts of the brain and nervous system responsible for creating a sense of calm. Soothing hormones flow, calming negative thoughts so you begin to breathe a little more slowly and deeply.

You begin to relax. To gain a sense of its power for yourself, try this simple exercise:

  • Lie flat on the ground with a cushion under your head. Close your eyes.
  • Place your hands on your stomach. Feel them rise and fall as you breathe in, and out.
  • Submit to the natural rhythm of the breath. Feel the air as it flows in and out of your body. Relax into the breath’s fluidity.
  • Within a few breaths your heart will begin to slow and beat more effectively. Your breath will start to become deeper and more rhythmic. You will begin to relax and think more clearly.

EASE ACHES AND PAINS

Most of us breathe incorrectly, especially when we’re sitting slumped at desks for far too long each day. Breathing relies on the big, powerful muscles of the diaphragm, the abdomen and the intercostal muscles between the ribs. It is helped along by the smaller secondary muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper ribs.

When you are upset, anxious or stressed, or spend too much time sitting in one position, the abdomen tenses and prevents the big primary muscles from working, leaving the secondary muscles to do all the work.

But the secondary muscles are designed to shoulder only 20 per cent of the burden, so they become stressed. If this continues, it can lead to chronic tension in the shoulders and neck, to headaches and fatigue, and to increasingly shallower breathing.

You can counteract such tension by using a simple breath-based meditation. All you need is a chair, your body, some air, your mind – and that’s it.

HERE’S HOW…

Sit erect in a straight-backed chair with your hands in your lap. Close your eyes.

  • Focus your attention on your breath as it flows in and out. Stay in touch with the sensations of each in-breath and out-breath.
  • When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the sensations of breathing.
  • Shepherding your awareness back to the breath is central to mindfulness.
  • After a few minutes, or longer if you can manage, open your eyes and soak up your surroundings.

After this, you’ll probably be feeling less tense. Maybe any aches and pains you have will be less bothersome. Hopefully, you’ll have gained a bit of clarity and started to realise that your breath is one of your greatest assets.

The Art Of Breathing: The Secret To Living Mindfully, by Dr Danny Penman, is published by HQ, rrp £7.99.

How to Embrace Life’s Difficulties at Christmas and the New Year

First appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Christmas and New Year may be the most stressful times of the year but they also offer countless opportunities to become more mindful. So use these ideas from my new book Mindfulness for Creativity to embrace life’s difficulties and become more adaptable, creative and resilient. And when you do so, you will gain as much peace and contentment as any number of weeks spent in a meditation retreat.

 

Drink a glass of wine (or beer) mindfully: At this time of year it’s easy to drink too much while barely tasting a drop. So try drinking a glass of wine or beer with mindful awareness by following these steps:

1) When you ask for your drink (or pour it yourself), briefly ask yourself why you chose it. Is it your genuine favourite or was it out of habit?

2) Take a few moments to soak up the smell of the drink. Close your eyes if that helps. Flick through the aromas, noticing as many as you can without trying too hard. Connect with them and soak them up. Reconnecting with your senses is the heart of mindfulness.

3) Take a sip. What’s the first taste that you notice? And the second. The third…. Wine has scores of different flavours. Other drinks can be similarly complex. Try to gain a sense of the different flavours washing over you. How many of them do you normally taste? When you drink without paying attention you miss out on so many wonderful flavours, textures and aromas.

4) When your taste is saturated, swallow and take another sip when you feel ready.

5) You may feel the need to drink the whole glass, or you might feel satisfied part way through. Either way, tune into the thoughts, feelings and emotions that may be pushing you one way or the other. Notice how compulsive they feel.

6) Carry on repeating steps two to five for about five minutes or until you’ve finished your drink. Did it taste different to normal?

 

Go to the cinema with a friend at precisely 7pm: Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected – the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these. Most of us only go to the cinema when there’s something specific we want to watch. However, if you turn up at a set time and date and only then choose a film you will discover that the experience is totally different. You might end up watching (and loving) a film you’d never normally consider. This act alone opens your eyes and enhances awareness. Once you’re inside the cinema, just forget about all this and be consumed by the film.

 

Only give gifts to children: Everyone else can be given a card where you explain your rationale and how much you appreciate them. You could even make your own cards and write the greetings with a calligraphy pen. And while you are writing, feel the pen gliding over the paper. Try not to make anyone feel guilty about giving gifts but simply explain why you have chosen to focus your energies on children and on making and writing the cards. How does this make you feel? Creative, stingy or relieved?

 

Watch adverts: Research carried out by former ‘Mad Man’ Dr Robert Heath at the University of Bath suggests that the best way of evading the influence of advertising is to pay it full conscious attention. If you try to ignore it, your deep subconscious will latch on to the adverts and soak up their seductive emotional messages. Paying full mindful attention undermines this and helps you to spot the tricks that are played upon you. So one day this week actually watch the adverts on TV and pay attention to the ones in newspapers and magazines. Notice the sounds and images used. Pay attention to each element of the advert. Deconstruct it. What emotions are aroused? Can you notice any flickerings of sexual desire, humour, or perhaps wonderment and awe? Some latent fear? Fear that you might miss out, or that you are not young or attractive enough? Shame even. Can you notice the overwhelming pull of these emotions? Now pay attention to your body. Can you notice how each emotion is localised in different parts of the body? Fear or shame might be found in the tightness of your stomach. Desire in your hands or face. The precise location isn’t important. Each time you become aware of your emotions, return to paying attention to the adverts. Do you feel immune to them or a little annoyed that they influence you at such a deep and visceral level?

 

If you’re a party animal – don’t go to ANY parties over the coming week. If you’re normally shy and retiring, or simply hate parties, go to one (or even arrange an impromptu one). Any disturbance to our normal social life can feel unsettling. So pay attention to how you feel when you are ‘deprived’ of your normal social life – or thrust into the centre of a new one. Do you feel a little nervous or relieved? Disappointed or uplifted? Remember this isn’t a permanent change, just a taste of a different way of approaching the world.

 

Watch the traffic for 15 minutes whilst driving: Begin by broadening your awareness and paying close attention to the vehicles around you. Do they travel in straight lines or weave slowly from side to side, speed up or slow down without rhyme or reason? Do some push in aggressively while others passively give way?

 

After a few minutes of watching the traffic, take a moment to ask yourself:

What is going through my mind?

What sensations are there in my body?

What reactions and emotions am I aware of?

 

If you are feeling angry, stressed or frustrated then your mind has switched on its emotional autopilot. You can defuse these unpleasant emotions by teasing apart the two major flavours of suffering – primary and secondary. Primary suffering is the initial stressor, such as being stuck in traffic. Secondary suffering is the emotional turbulence that follows in its wake, such as anger and frustration. You have no control over primary suffering but you need not make the situation worse by reacting to it and creating secondary suffering. It’s akin to being stuck in quicksand. The more you struggle to be free, the deeper you sink. If you instead pay attention to your frustration, by accepting its unpleasantness rather than struggling against it, then it will tend to melt away of its own accord.

 

Continue paying attention to your reactions to the traffic for another ten minutes. In this way, you can learn to respond rather than react.

 

Go on a Creative Date: this is a block of time for you to nurture your inner spirit or creative flame. It can be a visit to a museum, art gallery, or perhaps a trip to the theatre. You might like to climb a hill, visit a castle or perhaps watch a murky sunrise or sunset… or perhaps learn how to be a fire-eater, a circus clown or how to ride a unicycle. If you can’t think of anything to do, think back to a time when you were half your current age, what did you enjoy the most? Why not do that? Try to approach this Creative Date with a spirit of open-hearted playfulness. Set aside the time to do it now, otherwise it will get squeezed out by seemingly higher priorities.

 

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:

You can download free meditations from ‘Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World’ from here:

Can Mindfulness Really Enhance Problem Solving and Decision making?

‘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

Mindfulness has become such a buzzword in the fields of health and wellbeing that it’s easy to forget it has many other benefits too. For example, recent research shows that it also helps with decision making by clarifying the mind and enhancing creativity. According to Dr Natalia Karelaia, Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences at the INSEAD Business School in Paris, mindfulness is being incorporated into ‘every area of business where strong decisions are required’.1

Mindfulness enhances creativity largely by encouraging divergent thinking. But the benefits run much deeper. According to Dr Karelaia mindfulness not only helps decision makers reach conclusions, it also impacts the way decisions are identified, made, implemented and assessed.

There are four main stages to making an effective decision and mindfulness helps with all of them:

  1. Framing the decision: sometimes, the best course of action is to not make a decision at all, but instead simply to observe while events take their course. Mindfulness gives you the insight, courage and patience to follow this course of action (when it’s the most appropriate one). If a decision is required, then mindfulness can help you clarify your objectives, generate options and avoid irrationally aggravating a previously flawed decision. Mindfulness is extremely effective for avoiding the so-called ‘sunk-cost bias’.2 This is the irrational tendency to continue with a course of action simply because you have already made an investment of time, effort or money. A classic example is the refusal to sell a failing company’s shares simply because you hope the price will recover. In other words, it’s when you throw good money after bad. Mindfulness can also help you make more strategic decisions too – those that are more in keeping with your long-term goals and underlying ethics.
  2. Gathering ideas and information: mindfulness can help you avoid information overload by enhancing working memory and cognition.3 It can also help you to focus your efforts on gathering the most relevant information available; that which is more likely to be in accordance with a correctly framed decision and your long-term aims. It helps you to avoid habitual search patterns too. This will increase the likelihood of discovering new or unexpected ideas. In addition, mindfulness can help put information in context by enhancing your overall perspective. According to Dr Karelaia: ‘Mindful decision makers are also more likely to recognise the limits of their knowledge and to objectively assess uncertainty. In fact, research has found that people who are more mindful have a greater tolerance of uncertainty and are more decisive when faced with making a choice despite many unknowns.’
  3. Coming to a conclusion: mindfulness reduces ‘cognitive rigidity’ – the tendency to make decisions using habitual thought patterns.4 Such cognitive rigidity can seriously impair decision making and force you to ‘think inside the box’. Mindfulness also helps you to make more rational – and less emotionally biased – decisions. It does this by helping you to sense your emotional landscape and to gauge when it is beginning to bias your decisions.5 Mindful people also tend to be more intuitive. Intuition arises from unconscious thought processes and can be very effective in helping you to deal with complexity and ambiguity. It often lies behind creative ‘Aha!’ moments.6 But equally importantly, mindfulness enhances the courage and resilience necessary to implement decisions.
  4. Learning from experience: the final stage of decision making is arguably the most important – learning from experience. Accepting mistakes can be particularly difficult. Mindfulness can make this process a little easier because it reduces defensiveness and promotes courage and resilience.

In addition, says Dr Karelaia: ‘Heightened awareness ensures that mindful individuals may be more likely to learn the right lessons from experience. It’s a well-known phenomenon in psychology that we often attribute our past success to our own skill and our past failures to some external circumstance. This can lead to overconfidence, which can be quite disastrous in organisational or entrepreneurial situations. More mindful individuals are more likely to disengage from their ego, making them more open to negative feedback. So mindfulness helps decision makers learn in an unbiased way.’

 

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:

 

References

1  Karelaia, N. (2014), ‘Why mindful individuals make better deci- sions’, INSEAD Knowledge, 23 July, at http://knowledge.insead. edu/leadership-management/why-mindful-individuals-make-better- decisions-3479.

2  Hafenbrack, A. C., Kinias, Z. and Barsade, S. G. (2014), ‘Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias’, Psychological Science, 25(2), pp. 369–76.

3  Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B. and Schooler, J. W. (2013), ‘Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering’, Psychological Science, 24, pp. 776–81; Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L. and Gelfand, L. (2010), ‘Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience’, Emotion, 10, pp. 54–64; Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J. and Baime, M. J. (2007), ‘Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention’, Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, pp. 109–19; Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z. and Goolkasian, P. (2010), ‘Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training’, Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), pp. 597–605.

4   Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z. and Goolkasian, P. (2010), ‘Mindfulness meditation improves cogni- tion: evidence of brief mental training’, Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), pp. 597–605; Greenberg, J., Reiner, K. and Meiran, N. (2012), ‘“Mind the trap”: mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity’, PLoS One, 7(5): e36206, doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0036206

5   Hafenbrack, A. C., Kinias, Z. and Barsade, S. G. (2014), ‘Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias’, Psychological Science, 25(2), p. 369; Kirk, U., Downar, J. and Montague, P. R. (2011), ‘Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ulti- matum game’, Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49, doi: 10.3389/ fnins.2011.00049.

Ostafin, B. and Kassman, K. (2012), ‘Stepping out of history: mindfulness improves insight problem solving’, Consciousness and Cognition, 21(2), pp. 1031–6.

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:

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.’

HOW TO DO IT IN FIVE EASY STEPS

 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 franticworld.com/dailymail

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

Buy now from Amazon US (Sold as You are Not Your Pain)

 

Mindfulness and Stammering

Sometimes you receive one single message that makes writing a book worthwhile. This is just such a message:

“Good Morning Dr. Williams and Dr. Penman

I feel like your programme was designed specifically for me. You couldn’t have made a more accurate treatment designed specifically for me and the predicament which I found myself in.

See, I am a stutterer. And thus meaning every speaking situation used to be a feared and dreadful situation, until I finally retreated to within my shell and enclosed myself from the world. I escaped from speaking situations like an ostrich would stick his head into the ground, in this way I retreated into my thoughts whilst I would be talking to someone. The anxiety became unbearable.

It became so bad that it crept into my private life and when I was on my own as well. I was stuck in this closed loop of ever repeating self-criticism and negative thoughts for what seemed like an eternity. I was jealous of people being able to talk fluently which would lead to further self-criticism. There was no escape.

But then I started your MBCT course. During the first week of starting your course one of my friends was sick in hospital and asked me to come and visit him. When I returned to work after seeing him, I had an overwhelming feeling of sympathy. Out of nowhere and for the first time in my life I could feel someone else’s pain. The reason being that I was no longer in my head, I was no longer enmeshed in my own problems. I suddenly started to cry. It was the most wonderful feeling I have ever had.

Since then I have discovered that I am an extremely creative person. I have started to write poems for no apparent reason, just because I want to. I love being creative! And what’s more my stutter is starting to dissolve. I no longer feel anxiety when I speak to people and my stammer is improving each day. I have truly discovered a jounevoire for life.

I cannot thank you enough. If it wasn’t for your amazing scientific discoveries I would still be hiding away in my room stuck in a negative, self-defeating closed loop of thoughts. You have saved my life in more ways than one.

May all the good things that possibly can, come to you

Many, many good wishes

Willem”

What can I say other than we’re truly delighted to have helped?

Mindfulness featured on BBC Breakfast programme

In case you missed this first time around, here’s the BBC Breakfast ‘special’ on mindfulness meditation. BBC Culture Correspondent David Sillito tries out a mindfulness course and finds it transformative. He even has his brain scanned before and after the course to see if it made an objective difference. And it did. I appear after about 7 mins. Very interesting programme.