Mindfulness has become a popular self-help technique for coping with the overwhelming 'always on' culture we live in today. It's defined as paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way – living in the moment is one way of putting it.
A recent review of 20 scientific studies showed that when you train your mind to be present in the moment, instead of worrying about the past or future, and simply observe your thoughts in a neutral way, grey matter grows in areas of the brain that help with focus, calmness, emotional resilience, memory, mental flexibility and creativity.
To make it easy to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life, we've chosen our top five books on the topic.
1. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman, (£13.99, Piatkus)
This bestselling book reveals how by just investing a few minutes each day you can learn simple mindfulness meditations. It's based on an approach called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is taught over an eight-week course by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. This method is recommended by the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a treatment for preventing depression in people who have suffered from three or more bouts of the illness. It's helpful in breaking the cycle of anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion that many of us suffer from. You'll be surprised by how quickly you can be back in control and able to enjoy your life again.
2. Mindfulness for Parents, Amber Hatch, (£9.99, Watkins)
Parenting can be an amazing experience, but there's no getting away from the fact it's intense. Mindfulness can give us a little bit of distance – a sense of perspective, so we don't get so easily overwhelmed. If we learn to be curious about our reaction when a child rubs us up the wrong way or disturbs our calm, hold it and examine it mindfully, rather than just acting it out, then we begin to understand ourselves better. This book is a practical, accessible and humorous guide to managing difficult behaviour with tips on how to make time to do formal, 'sitting', mindful meditation. Hatch includes inspirational tips and a summary of key points at the end of each chapter.
3. The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming: Reflections for Zen Seekers, Tessa Wardley, (£8.99, Leaping Hare Press)
Tessa Wardley busts the myth that mindfulness needs to be practised sitting on a mat. The global environmental consultant and adventurer explains that instead of mindfulness being a blissed-out state where your mind is blank, in fact you should be fully engaged in the present moment. The exhilaration of swimming outdoors in open water is what she is passionate about and she explains that it's the ultimate form of Zen meditation.
Wardley notes research that shows that regular swimmers are biologically younger, as it's the perfect exercise to work your whole body. But in this book, she's even more focused on sharing the benefits of immersing yourself in water for psychological and emotional well-being. She shows you how to explore awakening your senses and your mind by swimming outdoors in rivers, lakes and the sea, and suggests exercises on mindful swimming to promote reflection, and lift your mood.
4. The Power of Off: the Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, Nancy Colier, (£16.50, Sounds True)
Have you ever found yourself checking your phone while you're driving, even though you know it's dangerous? And does the bleep signalling that you've got a text message cause you to interrupt the conversation you're having with the person sitting in front of you? If so, you too are being drawn into the compelling world of technology, which both enhances our lives and distracts us.
Colier, a psychotherapist, sounds the call for wakefulness, by helping us to be present in the moment rather than being constantly distracted by work emails, texts from friends and social media. Her exercises encourage readers to tune into their senses and follow the breath. There are also mindfulness strategies for controlling screen time and reconnecting with the people around us. It also includes a 30-day digital detox programme to kick-start a healthier relationship with technology, so we can stay in touch with what's important to us.
5. RHS Gardening for Mindfulness, Holly Farrell, (£14.99, Mitchell Beazley)
Gardening, like mindfulness, is a way of finding a sense of healing calm. In this book, the author explores how to combine meditative mindfulness and connecting with nature. In this beautifully-illustrated guide, written in association with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), horticulturalist and mindfulness practitioner Holly Farrell provides a blueprint for a more contemplative way to garden, showing how mindfulness can inform routine tasks like pruning and digging. There are also projects for the mindful gardener, including growing tomatoes from seed, and planting a tree, to put the theory of mindfulness into practice.
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