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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.

 

 

 

Attitude is as important as your actions

A traveller to a small Greek island once watched as a young boy tried to persuade the family donkey to move. The boy had vegetables to deliver and he’d carefully loaded up the animal’s panniers. But the donkey wasn’t in the mood for moving. The boy became more and more agitated and started to shout at the donkey, standing in front of him and pulling hard on the rope. The donkey dug in his hooves firmly. Very firmly.

This tug of war might have gone on a long time if it wasn’t for the boy’s grandfather. Hearing the commotion, he came out of the house and took in the familiar scene at a glance – the unequal battle between donkey and boy. Gently, he took the rope from his grandson. Smiling, he said, ‘When he’s in this mood, try it this way: take the rope loosely in your hand like this, then stand very close beside him, and look down the track in the direction you want to go. Then wait.’

The boy did as his grandfather had bade him, and after a few moments, the donkey started to walk forward. The boy giggled with delight, and the traveller watched as animal and boy trotted off happily, side by side, down the track and round the far bend.

How often in your life have you behaved like the small boy tugging on the donkey’s bridle? When things aren’t working out as you’d like them to, it’s tempting to try a little harder, to keep pushing and pulling in the direction you want to go. But is it always sensible to keep mindlessly pushing in one direction? Or should you follow the advice of the old man in the story and pause, before simply waiting for things to pan out as they will, spotting opportunities as they arise?

For most of us, this attitude is almost a cardinal sin because it suggests passivity – and yet, often as not, it might be the best course of action. Pushing too hard at a problem, at a stubborn donkey, might just make things far worse. It can close down the mind and prevent you from thinking creatively, all the while driving you round in ever-decreasing and exhausting circles.

For many years, psychologists have known that:

The spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself

So today, why not try approaching your difficulties at work or at home in a different way by adopting a different spirit?

Before you face your difficulties, pause, breathe deeply, and try our Three Minute Breathing Space Mindfulness meditation.

You can download it from HERE.

The Seven Mindful Steps to Enhancing Your Life Expectancy

Last summer I went to a ‘life extension’ conference at Cambridge University in the UK. Scientists from around the world had descended on this small English city to discuss ways of making immortality a reality.

Some claimed that we could be genetically engineered to make us live forever while others insisted that progressively replacing worn-out body parts with new ones grown in a lab was the way forward. Dr Aubrey De Grey, the organizer of the conference, even claimed that science was advancing at such a pace that some children born today might live for several centuries.

Although the field of human ‘life extension’ is making rapid progress, it struck me that the scientists at the conference had missed one of the most obvious ways of extending human life – Mindfulness meditation.

Although Mindfulness extends human life by reducing anxiety, stress and depression, it also lengthens subjective life span. That is, because Mindfulness helps us ‘live in the moment’ rather than being trapped inside a foggy daydream, we fully experience more of life, and therefore our lifespan is effectively increased.

Let me explain. Without realizing it, most of us spend much of our time trapped inside the ‘busyness’ of daily life. We are effectively unconscious to the world and sleepwalk through our days. Being locked inside such busyness can erode a vast chunk of our life by stealing our time. Take a moment to look at your own life:

• Do you find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present?

•Does it seem as if you are ‘running on automatic’, without much awareness of what you’re doing?

•Do you rush through activities without being really attentive to them?

• Do you get so focused on the goal you want to achieve that you lose touch with what you are doing right now to get there?

• Do you find yourself preoccupied with the future or the past?

In other words, are you driven by the daily routines that force you to live in your head rather than in your life?

Now extrapolate this to the life you have left to you. If you are thirty years old, then with a life expectancy of around eighty, you have fifty years left. But if you are only truly conscious and aware of every moment for perhaps two out of sixteen hours a day (which is not unreasonable), your life expectancy is only another six years and three months. You’ll probably spend more time in meetings with your boss!

If a friend told you that they had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease that will kill them in six years, you would be filled with grief and try to comfort them. Yet without realizing it, you may be daydreaming along such a path yourself.

If you could double the number of hours that you were truly alive each day then, in effect, you would be doubling your life expectancy. It would be like living to 130. Now imagine tripling or quadrupling the time you are truly alive. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars – literally – on expensive drugs and unproven vitamin cocktails to gain an extra few years of life; others are funding research in universities to try to extend the human lifespan. But you can achieve the same effect by learning to live mindfully – waking up to your life.

Quantity isn’t everything, of course. But those who practice mindfulness are also less anxious and stressed, as well as more relaxed, fulfilled and energized, so life does not only seem longer as it slows down and you begin to ‘show up for it’, but happier too.

In our book Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Professor Mark Williams and I map out a path to living a happier and more harmonious life using mindfulness meditation. It’s based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which was developed by Professor Williams at Oxford University in the UK and his colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto. It’s built on the foundations of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s research at the UMass Medical Center. The technique is now endorsed by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and numerous American doctors and health bodies. In other words, it works.

Although the full program lasts eight weeks, here’s seven steps that will help get you started:

1) Go for a walk: Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever and mood booster. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. If you really want to feel alive, go for a walk in the wind or rain!

2) Take a Three Minute Breathing Space whenever you feel tired, angry, stressed, anxious or unhappy. It acts as a bridge between the longer formal meditations in our book and the demands of daily life. See it as a breath of fresh air. You can download it from HERE:

3) Change chairs: Stress tends to drive us in ever-decreasing circles. It’s easy to end up like a hamster trapped in its wheel, forever running but never getting anywhere. You can step outside such stressful cycles by consciously breaking some of your most ingrained habits. So why not see if you can notice which chairs you normally sit on at home, in a café or bar or at work (during meetings, for example). Make a deliberate choice to try another chair, or alter the position of the chair you use. You’ll be surprised by how different the world looks and feels.

4) Appreciate the here and now

Happiness is looking at the same things with different eyes. Life only happens here – at this very moment. Tomorrow and yesterday are no more than thoughts. So make the best of it.

Which activities, things or people in your life make you feel good? Can you give additional appreciative attention and time to these activities? Consciously write them down and gently resolve to pay them more attention. Can you pause for a moment when pleasant moments occur? Help yourself pause by noticing:

• what body sensations you feel at these moments?

• what thoughts are around?

• what feelings are here?

5) Set up a mindfulness bell

Pick a few ordinary activities from your daily life that you can turn into ‘mindfulness bells’, that is, reminders to stop and pay attention to things in great detail. Here’s a list of things you might like to turn into bells;

• Preparing food: Any food preparation is a great opportunity for mindfulness – vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Focus on the feel of the knife as it slices through vegetables of different texture, or the smell released as each vegetable is chopped.

• Become a model citizen! When crossing the street, use the pedestrian signals as an opportunity to stand quietly and focus on your breath, rather than an opportunity to try to beat the lights.

• Listening: When you are listening, notice when you are not listening – when you start to think of something else, what you are going to say in response, etc. Come back to actually listening.

6) Do the sounds and thoughts meditation

Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation. For this reason, the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation is my personal favorite as it elegantly reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray. Once you realize this – deep in your heart – then a great many of your stresses and troubles will simply evaporate before your eyes.

You can download it from HERE:

7) Visit the movies

Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies – but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only when you get there. 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 see a film when there’s something specific we want to watch. If you turn up at a set time and then choose what to see, you may discover that the experience will be totally different. You might end up watching (and loving) a film you’d never normally have considered. This act alone opens your eyes and enhances awareness and choice.

And when you watch the film, forget about all this and simply enjoy yourself!

Buy Mindfulness from Amazon US HERE or from Amazon UK HERE.

 

A ten day guide to de-stressing your life

The gloomy days of February can be the most miserable and stressful of the year, but it doesn’t have to be this way… If you follow this ten step guide to ‘de-stressing’ your life, then the next few weeks just might become the most serene and fulfilling ones of the year.

One step should to be carried out on each of the next 10 days. They’re based on the ideas found in our bestselling book ‘Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. The book uses a unique program based on mindfulness meditation developed by us at Oxford University in the UK to relieve anxiety, stress, exhaustion and depression. It’s been proven by countless clinical trials to be at least as effective as drugs or counseling for dealing with these conditions.

 

Day 1 Eat some chocolate

At this time of year, it’s easy to eat too much chocolate and other high-carb ‘comfort foods’. At first, all that lovely rich food is packed with flavor and totally irresistible… but after a while, you hardly notice it at all. And if you are in a rush, it tends to be wolfed down by the handful.

When you eat without thinking you miss out on so many wonderful flavors, textures and aromas. A single bar of chocolate, for example, has over 300 different flavors. How many of them do you normally taste?

Reconnecting with your senses is the heart of mindfulness so why not try this chocolate meditation to help you enjoy your food again?

 

You can listen to it here:

 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is quite simply paying full whole-hearted attention. A typical meditation involves paying full attention to the breath as it flows in and out of the body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them. You come to the profound understanding that thoughts and feelings (including negative ones) are transient. They come and they go, and ultimately, you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.

Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself. When unhappiness or stress hover overhead, rather than taking it all personally, you learn to treat them as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift past.

Scientific studies have 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 so that when they 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.

 

Day 2 Go for a short walk

Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. It’s the ideal way of taking a break from all of that work that built up while you were away over Christmas.

So today, why not go for a 15-30 minute walk? You don’t have to go anywhere special. A walk around your neighborhood, taken in an open frame of mind, can be just as interesting as a hike through the mountains.

There’s no need to feel that you have to rush anywhere; the aim is to walk as mindfully as you can, focusing your awareness on your feet as they land on the ground, and feeling the fluid movements of all the muscles and tendons in your feet and legs.

Pay attention to all of the sights, sounds and smells. You might see the deep red color of the berries on the trees and bushes – or perhaps the inky greyness of slushy ice and snow. See if it is possible to be open to all your senses: smell the mustiness of the winter leaves; feel the rain on your head; the breeze on your face; watch how the patterns of light and shade shift unexpectedly.

 

Day 3 Take a Three Minute Breathing Space

When you’re becoming angry, exhausted, anxious or stressed, it’s difficult to remember why you should remain calm. And at such times, it can feel as if the whole world was created just to bait you.

The Three-minute Breathing Space was created to deal with such feelings. Its impact is twofold. Firstly, it’s a meditation that’s used to punctuate the day, so that it dissolves negative thought patterns before they gain control over your life. Secondly, it’s an emergency meditation that helps ‘ground’ you when your thoughts threaten to spiral out of control.

When you are carrying out the meditation you may find that your mind repeatedly runs away with itself. This is entirely natural. It’s what minds do. They leap around and offer up thoughts to your conscious self, much as a child hold’s up its toys to an approving adult. When you find that your mind has wandered, gently escort it back to full awareness and continue following the instructions on the track as best you can.

 

You can listen to the meditation here:

 

Day 4 Do something pleasurable

At this time of year, exhaustion, stress and unhappiness can easily dominate our lives. You can start to experience ‘anhedonia’ – that is, you can’t find pleasure in life. The things you used to enjoy now leave you ‘cold’ – you feel as if a thick fog has put a barrier between you and simple pleasures, and few things seem rewarding any more.

You can counteract this by taking baby-steps towards the things that you used to like doing but have since forgotten about. You can make a start by choosing one or two of the following things to do (or perhaps come up with your own ideas):

• Be kind to your body. Have a nice hot bath; have a nap for thirty minutes (or perhaps a little less); treat yourself to your favorite food without feeling guilty; have your favorite hot drink.

• Do something you enjoy. Visit or phone a friend (particularly if you’ve been out of contact for a while); get together what you need so you can do your favorite hobby; take some exercise; bake a cake; read something that gives you pleasure (not ‘serious’ reading); listen to some music that you have not listened to in a long while.

 

Day 5 The Intensely Frustrating Line Meditation

Sometimes life can seem like one big long line… You have to line up to buy gas, to pay for the food in the supermarket, and all of the bars and restaurants are crammed with people waiting to order.

Next time you feel like screaming ‘why don’t they just get on with it!’ try carrying out our Intensely Frustrating Line Meditation instead.

When you are in a line, see if you can become aware of your reactions when something holds up your progress. Perhaps you joined the ‘wrong’ line, and are obsessing about whether to make a dash for another one that seems shorter? At such times, it is helpful to ‘check in’ with what’s going on in your mind. Taking a moment to ask yourself:

– What is going through my mind?

– What sensations are there in my body?

– What emotions and impulses am I aware of?

 

Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant. Mindfulness will, however, help by allowing you to tease apart the two major flavors of suffering—primary and secondary. Primary suffering is the initial stressor, such as the frustration of being in a long line. You can acknowledge that it is not pleasant; it’s OK not to like it. Secondary suffering is all of the emotional turbulence that follows in its wake, such as anger and frustration, as well as any ensuing thoughts and feelings that often arise in tandem. See if you can see these clearly as well. See if it’s possible to allow the frustration to be here without trying to make it go away.

 

Day 6 Set up a mindfulness bell

Pick a few ordinary activities from daily life that you can turn into ‘mindfulness bells’, that is, reminders to stop and pay attention to things in great detail. There’s a list below of things you might like to turn into bells. You don’t have to turn them all into ‘mindfulness bells’ – they are just suggestions.

• Preparing food: Food offers a host of opportunities to become more mindful. If you’re preparing food, particularly if they are rich in flavors, smells and textures, then try and pay full mindful attention to all that you are doing.

• Washing the dishes: This is a great opportunity for exploring physical sensations. If you normally use a dishwasher, do them by hand for a change. When your mind wanders, shepherd it back to the present moment. Pay attention to the texture of the dishes, the temperature of the water, the smell of the detergent etc.

• Listening to friends: If you are planning to meet a friend, or bump into one unexpectedly, it’s easy to lapse into the same tired-old conversations. So why not turn a friend’s voice into a ‘bell’ that’s a signal to pay full attention to what they are saying? Notice when you are not listening – when you start to think of something else, what you are going to say in response etc. Come back to actually listening.

 

Day 7 The ten-finger gratitude exercise

To come to a positive appreciation for the small things in your life, you can try the gratitude exercise. It simply means that once a day you should bring to mind ten things that you are grateful for, counting them on your fingers. It is important to get to ten things, even when it becomes increasingly harder after three or four! This is exactly what the exercise is for – intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day.

 

Day 8 Do the sounds and thoughts meditation

Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation. Certain songs might cheer you up – or send you into an emotional tailspin. Sensing the power of sound – and its relationship to thoughts and emotion – is central to mindfulness and to becoming a happier, more relaxed and centered person.

Today, why not try our sounds and thoughts meditation? This elegantly reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray. Once you realize this – deep in your heart – then a great many of your stresses and troubles will simply evaporate before your eyes.

The Sounds and Thoughts meditation gradually reveals the similarities between sound and thought. Both appear as if from nowhere and we have no control over their arising. They can easily trigger powerful emotions that run away with us leaving us feeling fragile and broken.

 

You can download the meditation from here:

 

Day 9 Reclaim your life

Think back to a time in your life when things seemed less frantic, before the time when some tragedy or increase in workload took over your daily existence. Or it might be more recent than that, before the run-up to Christmas say, or perhaps a relaxing break in the summer. Recall in as much detail as you can some of the activities that you used to do at that time. These may be things you did by yourself (reading your favorite magazines or taking time to listen to a track from a favorite piece of music, going out for walks or bike rides) or together with friends or family (from playing board games to going to the theatre).

Choose one of these activities and plan to do it today or over this weekend. It may take five minutes or five hours, it might be important or trivial, it might involve others or it could be by yourself. It is only important that it should be something that puts you back in touch with a part of your life that you had forgotten – a part of you that you may have been telling yourself was lost somehow, that you could not get back to. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it; do it anyway and see what happens. It’s time to reclaim your life!

 

Day 10 Visit the movies

Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies – but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only when you get there. Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected – the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these.

Before you go, notice any thoughts that may arise such as, ‘I haven’t got time for pleasure’, or, ‘What if there is nothing on that I’ll enjoy?’ They undermine your enthusiasm for taking action and discourage your intention to do something that might nourish your life in important ways. Once you’re inside the cinema, just forget about all this and be consumed by the film!