10 of the best Mindfulness books

Want to delve deeper into the world of Mindfulness? There are some fantastic books out there to offer inspiration, information, comfort and wisdom. Below I share a few of my very favourites. They are all tried and trusted volumes that I’ve returned to time and again over the years. I hope you enjoy them!

Before we get started, just a quick reminder that Mindfulness is a way of life and a daily practice. Books are wonderful, wonderful things, but just reading about Mindfulness will only get you so far and is no replacement for actually practising Mindfulness!

1. ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn

We’re starting with a classic! Jon Kabat-Zinn is widely recognised as one of the founders of the secular Mindfulness movement in the West and in this book he explores what it means to live mindfully in terms of values, attitudes and actions both on and off the mediation cushion. I find his writing deeply grounding – his formidable intellect and discipline come across strongly but there is so much here that is also deeply humane.

The ultimate message is straightforward and simple: don’t miss the richness, beauty and possibility of each moment, otherwise you’ll end up missing out on your life. Like all the great teachers he also draws on his own life with humility and humour (one of my favourite chapters is called ‘Cat Food Lessons’ and starts with him getting angry about his family leaving dirty cat food bowls for him to deal with!) Also recommended from Jon Kabat-Zinn; ‘Full Catastrophe Living’.

2. ‘Self-compassion’ by Kristin Neff, PhD

I’m a big fan of psychologist Dr Kristin Neff. I often use her guided meditations in my own practice (she has a wonderful soft Texan accent) and regularly sign-post people to her website which has some great free exercises to try. In this book she outlines the concept of mindful self-compassion – the practice of relating to our own suffering with kindness and care, the same way we would to a good friend who was struggling.

Given that she’s a researcher as well as a meditation teacher her claims are all backed up with interesting data and examples. What I responded to most in this book though were the brutally honest and highly relatable accounts of her own struggles with work, relationships and parenting which she uses to illustrate how mindful self-compassion can work in the real world.

Other great titles on self-compassion: ‘The mindful path to self-compassion’ by Christopher Germer (who co-founded the Mindful Self-Compassion programme), and Kristin Neff’s second book ‘Fierce Self-compassion’ (which I’m half way through at the moment!)

3. ‘The Little Mindfulness Workbook‘ by Gary Hennessey

Short, accessible, and down to earth; if you’re new to Mindfulness this is a great place to start. This little gem of a book will give you a straightforward introduction to the concept of Mindfulness in bite-sized chapters. This is the book included on my Mindfulness for Stress courses so I refer to it all the time. I like the fact that the chapters are so short, and interspersed with interesting questions to ponder, exercises to try and space to record your own observations. Bonus: includes a range of audio downloads of guided meditations so you can even use the book as a self-guided eight-week course if you like.

4. ‘The Mindful Way through Depression’ by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal & Jon Kabat-Zinn

If you’ve experienced depression and want to learn how to avoid relapse, this book is for you. Combining models from cognitive behavioural therapy alongside mindfulness techniques this book explores the reasons why low mood can take root and offers hopeful techniques to avoid the rumination and self-blame that so often fuel it. A trust-worthy, highly respected and ultimately optimistic book from four experts in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and mindfulness. Bonus: Includes CDs/audio downloads of guided meditations, templates for individual reflective practices and guides for using the book as a self-guided eight-week course.

5. ‘Right here with you’ Edited by Andrea Miller & the editors of Shambhala Sun (now known as ‘Lion’s Roar’)

I love this eclectic collection, which covers every aspect of building mindful relationships including self-love, marriage, break-ups, bereavement, community and more. It features chapters from spiritual leaders, therapists and meditation teachers from many traditions and none, including Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.

A rich and reassuring companion no matter what stage of life you’re at (I’ve dipped into it at so many different points in or in between relationships and have a feeling I’ll keep returning to it). The chapters range from practical advice to more off-beat musings; one of my favourites is ‘Let it Bee’ by Jennifer Lauk, writing about her attitude towards an infestation of bees after going through a divorce.

6. ‘When things fall apart’ by Pema Chödrön

I was first drawn to this book by its title and I still appreciate that Pema Chödrön never shies away from the bleaker side of human experience. Going through a period of despair, chaos, suffering or fear? This book offers a compassionate, reassuring and clear-seeing guide to bravely staying with and fully feeling our difficult experiences, even when our first instinct may be to run away. 

For those who don’t know her already Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist nun so her writing tends to have a more overtly Buddhist flavour to it, but there is so much comfort here for absolutely everyone. (She has many other excellent books; I sometimes carry a copy of ‘The pocket Pema Chodron’ – a tiny little book which you can literally fit in your pocket! – it’s great to have at hand for a quick dose of inspiration).

7. ‘Buddha’s Brain’ by Dr Rick Hanson

Dr Rick Hanson has a real knack for communicating complicated neuroscience in a digestible and down-to-earth way. For those who are curious to start learning about HOW Mindfulness works this book is a great place to start. Bringing together the latest research from the worlds of psychology, neurology and meditation this book is unashamedly positive about the human potential for change and growth. Rick Hanson has written several excellent books on this topic, and his website is full of fascinating articles and videos if you prefer to digest your neuroscience in smaller portions!

8. ‘How to relax’ by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh has published so many beautiful and accessible books over the years it’s hard to know which one to pick. Beautifully illustrated with simple line drawings, this slim book is written in his trademark clean, clear and simple style. A tonic for all you over-achievers and do-ers out there, it’s less a book and more a gentle series of reflections or reminders to live simply and take time for rest. One to pick up for instant relief whenever life is getting busy. I often open at a random page and use it as a starting point for a moment of reflection.

9. ‘Living well with pain and illness’ by Vidyamala Burch

This book was a HUGE deal for me when I was struggling with chronic pain. I remember feeling a huge wave of relief wash over me as I read it. Vidyamala’s personal experience of using Mindfulness to manage a debilitating health condition underpins the writing, and her wise, reassuring, clear-thinking voice rings through loud and clear.

I found the many case studies of people finding ways to live well with their pain particularly reassuring. It gave me hope that it was possible to live WITH my body as it was, rather than always fighting against it or wishing my experience was different. Includes helpful illustrations, and fascinating explorations of what happens to the breath when we live with psychical pain and discomfort.

(Also recommended for people living with pain or health conditions: ‘Mindfulness for Health’ by Vidyamala Burch and Dr Danny Penman. This is the book my students use on Mindfulness for Health courses and it was awarded First Prize in the ‘Popular Medicine’ category of the British Medical Association Awards in 2014)

10. ‘Lovingkindness: the revolutionary art of happiness’ by Sharon Salzberg

Another of my favourite teachers, Sharon Salzberg was part of the first wave of westerners bringing Buddhist teaching back to the USA, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. I regularly meditate using Sharon’s guided recordings so when I read this it felt like receiving advice from an old and trusted friend. Sharon is a wonderful storyteller and draws on her own life, as well as Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions to explore what it means to cultivate kindness and well-wishing for ourselves and others, including the common barriers people experience (many people don’t like or ‘get’ this meditation straight away). A wonderful guide to living with an open heart.

What are your favourite Mindfulness books?

A simple trick to balance out your Negativity Bias

Gosh it’s been a tough week, hasn’t it? The gathering darkness, a second lockdown fast approaching and a long winter stretching ahead.. Like many people I’ve definitely noticed a dip in my mood, so I’ve been trying to practice what I preach and started making a conscious effort to tune into small everyday pleasures in my life.

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Our brains are wired to be really good at noticing threats and problems, which is great for our survival, but not so helpful for our happiness! (it’s what neuro-psychologist Rick Hanson calls the Negativity Bias). To balance this natural tendency towards the negative we have to allow ourselves to fully experience and dwell on any pleasant experiences we may have. You don’t have to create special experiences – just normal everyday things like a warming mug of tea, a really good hug, birdsong, a cosy jumper, the sound of rain on the window, a beautiful sunset – ordinary experiences which we might not normally notice. So rather than just glancing at the sunset, we choose to stay with it for a little longer (say 20-30 seconds) and really allow ourselves to take it in fully; the shifting colours, the shapes of the clouds, the silhouettes of the trees…

It may feel trivial to ‘stop and smell the roses’ at a time like this but every time you do so you’ll be strengthening new neural pathways in your brain, training yourself to be someone who notices and appreciates small pleasures even when times are really really hard.

What everyday pleasures have you been savouring lately?