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Danny wins another prestigious journalism award

I’ve just learned that I’ve won this year’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) ‘Special Investigation Award’. It’s for my investigation into Halal slaughter in the UK for the Daily Mail newspaper (you can read about it here).

For those of you who don’t know, Halal slaughter involves cutting an animal’s throat while it is still fully conscious. It is, apparently, important in Islam that an animal be fully aware of its own death so that it can hear the prayers of the Imam. Well, that’s the official line anyway. In fact, Mohammed meant Halal slaughter to be an improvement over the existing norms that were around in the Arabian Peninsula 1400 years ago. His aim was to reduce cruelty as far as possible. This fact seems to be lost on some.

I spent six weeks secretly ‘infiltrating’ the slaughterhouse during which I needed every inch of my Mindfulness training. One slip up and I would have been in a great deal of trouble indeed! It was such a horrific story to cover that I needed to spend extra time meditating each day to stop myself feeling chronically cynical and downright miserable. I hate cruelty in all of it’s forms so watching such barbarism right in front of my eyes was very tough indeed. Again, Mindfulness helped me cope.

The RSPCA award is presented in September. It follows hot on the heels of the Humane Society of the United States’ Brigitte Bardot Print Journalism Award that I received in Hollywood in March. It’s been a good year so far! The awarding committee included 100 showbiz folk such as “Twilight” star Peter Facinelli, Sheryl Crow, Ellen DeGeneres, Harrison Ford, Moby, and Viggo Mortensen. And yes, I did have a great time!

Here’s the story.

Publication day (what is Mindfulness anyway?)

Publication day and Amazon can’t meet demand….

We are often asked ‘what is Mindfulness meditation?’ I became so wrapped up in thinking about the best way of expressing the answer that I became completely unmindful. My thoughts took on a life of their own, hopping from one thought chain to the next, and the next, and the next…. After a while I realised that I’d just burnt the bread I’d put in the oven twenty minutes previously…. My autopilot had seized control again! Four hours of mixing, kneading and proving gone to waste. Except it hadn’t gone to waste because it brought home to me (again) just how clever the mind is. It wants to think and it will always find a way of doing so. This is marvelous, most of the time.

Sometimes we need to focus our mind on just one thing – or to be fully aware of our mind in action. In essence this is what Mindfulness is – full and pure awareness of how our minds work. It’s a space in which to watch and sense the mind and body. To hold it in a space that’s greater than thinking, wiser than thinking.

I love thinking, but sometimes it’s good to just pause for a while and instead become fully conscious and aware. It’s a different state of being. Not better or worse, just different.

I’m off now to bake another loaf from some dough from the freezer. Baking shall be my meditation for today. I shall be fully aware of the aroma as the bread begins to bake. Smell it as it swirls through my nostrils and into my lungs. Perhaps I’ll hear little popping sounds as the trays in the oven begin to expand with heat. Or maybe I’ll hear nothing at all.

Life could be like a box of chocolates

Mindfulness therapy fights stress and depression by teaching you how to ‘own’ the present, says Genevieve Fox of the Daily Telegraph.

Genevieve recently spent a day with Mark Williams to discover some of the meditations at the heart of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. She especially loved our ‘Chocolate Meditation’ (see below).


By Genevieve Fox 7:00AM BST 02 May 2011-05-02

Mindfulness is hip. It’s as trendy as yoga or zone-eating. No surprises, then, that when I enter the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC), I see dawn-red soft furnishings, green plants, rubber mats and kneeling stools. Wellbeing gurus would feel right at home.

So would chocolate lovers. Mark Williams, clinical psychologist and the Centre’s director, suggests the best way to understand mindfulness is to try it and invites me to join him in a “chocolate meditation”.

Mindfulness, he says, is about being present in the moment, being aware of our thoughts and feelings – so that instead of being overwhelmed by them we are better able to manage them. Using meditation and other techniques such as breathing and yoga-based exercises, it helps us think about ourselves, and in turn others, with kindness and an overriding sense of acceptance. It’s about finding our innate joie de vivre and feeling able to cope just when we think we’re going under. It’s as irresistible as chocolate.

Prof Williams has created a series of mindfulness meditations, designed to steer us to an inner place of calm, no matter how frantic and demanding our lives. They form the basis of his new book on the topic, co-authored with journalist Danny Penman. The book offers an eight-week programme of exercises, supported by a CD and is aimed at anyone who feels depressed, unhappy or overwrought.

We start the chocolate meditation.… Read the rest of the article HERE:

Time management using Mindfulness meditation

Although it’s still two weeks to publication, Best Magazine asked me to give them a little sneak preview of our book.

They loved the idea of finding peace in a frantic world using Mindfulness meditation and asked me to write a short piece on ‘mindful time management’. This was more difficult than it sounds. Although Mindfulness meditation isn’t complex, some of the concepts can be very subtle and tricky to get across in just 300 words.

Still, this is what I wrote for Best (it was published a couple of days ago). Hopefully the readers found it useful enough to consider taking up Mindfulness meditation.

If you find it useful, please consider Tweeting about it.


How to manage your time

When you’re really up against the wall and time is slipping through your fingers, get everything back on track by grabbing a moment for yourself. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Feel the air as it swirls through your nose and gently fills your lungs. Feel it once again as it flows out.

The secret of time management is accepting that you’ll never have enough of it. There’s always too much to do and you’ll never be able to achieve everything you want. So, prioritise.

The second secret is the humble ‘To Do’ list. Never write down more than half a dozen points. And when you cross them off, try to do it mindfully by feeling the satisfaction as it flows through your body.

Avoid being side-tracked by ‘Time Stealers’ such as emails, Facebook posts and tweets by only checking your accounts two or three times a day. Time Stealers trigger endless streams of thoughts. Before you know it, half the morning’s gone.

Become fully aware of the gaps in the day. It’s easy to mindlessly rush from one thing to the next, and then the next… and not notice the gaps in between. The mind often fills these spaces with stress and anxiety. And before you know it, you’ve been side-tracked again.

Instead, use the gaps to cultivate mindful awareness. Pay full attention to the beauty (or ugliness) of the world around you. Or try savouring a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Focus on every single taste, aroma, and sensation. Mindfulness can be enjoyable as well as productive!

Three Step Solution

1) Use ‘Mindfulness Bells’. These remind you to snap back into full awareness and can include putting on make-up, chopping vegetables or standing in a queue. Do these mindfully by paying full attention to sights, smells, sounds and sensations.

2) Meditate. Mindfulness meditation can help liberate you from the pressures of time. This is partly because it helps you deal with tasks more skillfully and creatively. It makes you happier, less stressed and anxious too.

3) Make a start. Research has shown that when people are stressed then the motivation to do something arrives after they’ve begun a task. So make a start, and then you’ll discover the impetus to carry on.

Mindfulness climbing the sales charts….

Funny how ideas spread… Our book on Mindfulness has been merrily climbing the Amazon sales charts over the past couple of months. There’s been no publicity at all and yet, so far at least, it’s been climbing day by day. And it hasn’t even been published yet.

Today it entered Amazon’s ‘Top 100 Practical and Motivational Books’ chart. Again, there’s been no publicity at all.

Someone once said that ‘nothing can beat an idea whose time has come’. Only time will tell whether this is true for Mindfulness meditation. So far all we can say is that it’s been proven to help treat anxiety, stress, depression and exhaustion. Given the ever growing prevalence of these problems in our society, it’s probably no surprise that people are searching for books on Mindfulness. Such books must be chiming with the restlessness in all our souls.

Curing depression with Mindfulness Meditation

Imagine if you could cure depression with a therapy that was more effective and long-lasting than expensive drugs, and which did not have any side effects. These are the claims being made for a form of Buddhist meditation.

Psychologists from the University of Exeter recently published a study into “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” (MBCT), finding it to be better than drugs or counselling for depression. Four months after starting, three quarters of the patients felt well enough to stop taking antidepressants.

MBCT marries Eastern meditation with Western cognitive therapy. Patients are taught the simple technique over eight sessions and then practise it at home for 30 minutes a day. Professor Willem Kuyken, whose team at the Mood Disorders Centre of the University of Exeter carried out the research, says: “Anti-depressants are widely used by people who suffer from depression and that’s because they tend to work. While they’re very effective in helping reduce the symptoms of depression, when people come off them they are particularly vulnerable to relapse. For many people, MBCT seems to prevent that relapse. It could be an alternative to long-term antidepressant medication.”

MBCT was developed in the mid-Nineties by psychologists at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Toronto to help stabilise patients’ moods during and after use of antidepressants. About half of patients relapse into depression – even if they continue taking the medication. One common reason for a relapse is when a normal period of sadness turns into obsessive brooding.

“Brooding is a key feature of depression,” says Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford and leader of the team that developed MBCT. “In mentally healthy people, sad thoughts pass quite quickly but in people who suffer from depression they don’t. MBCT tackles brooding and teaches people to be more compassionate to themselves and others.”

The MBCT technique is simple, and revolves around ”mindfulness meditation”. In this, you sit with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. (See box for details). Concentrating on the rhythm of the breath helps produce a feeling of detachment. The idea is that you come to realise that thoughts come and go of their own accord, and that your conscious self is distinct from your thoughts. This realisation is encouraged by gentle question-and-answer sessions modelled on those in cognitive therapy.

In the University of Exeter study, funded by the Medical Research Council, 47 per cent of patients with long-term depression suffered a relapse; the figure was 60 per cent among those taking medication alone. Other studies, including two published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, had comparable outcomes. As a result, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended MBCT since 2004. But NHS availability is still patchy. Many sufferers seek private treatment, with courses at Buddhist centres costing around £120.

“One of the key features of depression is that it hijacks your attention,” says Prof Williams. “We all tend to bring to the forefront of our minds the thoughts and feelings that reflect our current mood. If you are sad, depressed or anxious, then you tend to remember the bad things that have happened to you and not the good. This drives you into a downward spiral that leads from sadness into a deeper depression. MBCT prevents and breaks that spiral.”

A Typical Meditation

1. Sit upright in a straight-backed chair, with your spine about an inch from the back of the chair, and your feet flat on the floor.

2. Close your eyes. Use your mind to watch your breath as it flows in and out. Observe your sensations without judgement. Do not try to alter your breathing.

3. After a while your mind will wander. Gently bring your attention back to your breath. The act of realising that your mind has wandered – and bringing your attention back – is the key thing.

4. Your mind will eventually become calm.

5. Repeat every day for 20–30 minutes.

Publication Date – 5th May 2011


a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world

due to be published on 5th May 2011


Jon Kabat-Zinn

‘This is an inspiring programme for anyone caring about his or her own health and sanity,’ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Goldie Hawn

“Peace can’t be achieved in the outside world unless we have peace on the inside. Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book gives us this peace,” Goldie Hawn.

Ruby Wax

“If you want to free yourself from anxiety and depression, and feel truly at ease with yourself, then read this book, ’Ruby Wax.