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?

5 tips for getting the most from your Mindfulness course

Congratulations! If you’re reading this then you’ve already taken an important first step towards greater health and happiness by signing up for a Mindfulness course. You’ve made a commitment to prioritise your own wellbeing for the next eight weeks, and to learn tools and techniques to help you thrive long-term.

These tips will help you get as much as possible from your course. They are drawn from my experience of teaching Mindfulness to dozens of students over the last few years, in all kinds of settings; mental health charities, community groups, big companies. I hope you’ll find them helpful and reassuring.

1. Keep an open mind

You’ll be learning a whole range of practices on your course – from mindful movement to breath-based exercises and compassion meditations. The idea is to get a taste of all the different facets of Mindfulness and to test out what works for you (and what doesn’t). You’ll find some practices come naturally to you and are really enjoyable, while others might take a while to get used to or take a bit of perseverance.

If you don’t take to a particular practice straight away, don’t worry. I’ve had students who can’t bear to sit still, but find it really easy to do mindful movement. That’s fine! There’s more than one way to be mindful, and you won’t know what works best for you until you try. If you keep an open mind you might even surprise yourself – a practice you start off hating can sometimes turn into a favourite.

2. Don’t expect results straight away

When you’ve invested time and money in a course, it’s natural that you’ll want to get some serious benefits from it; to feel calmer, more relaxed, less stressed. All of these are perfectly achievable goals, and will come with time. But it can be helpful to put your goals to one side initially, to take the pressure off and allow yourself to focus on the process rather than the outcome. There’s a reason why Mindfulness is traditionally taught over eight weeks rather than one day. It takes time to absorb the key principles and embed the practices in your daily life.

I often tell my students that it’s like starting a new exercise programme. You wouldn’t expect to be fitter and stronger after just one visit to the gym! Similarly, Mindfulness is a training for the mind and it’s only once you’ve made it a regular part of your daily routine that the ‘muscles’ of awareness, wisdom and self-compassion will really start to strengthen and you’ll reap the rewards.

3. Commit to daily practice (at least for the eight weeks you’re on the course!)

You won’t be giving it a fair shot if you don’t. It’s always hard to fit an extra activity into our already busy lives and many people worry that they won’t be able to stick to the recommended daily home practice. Before you start it’s good to ask yourself; will I realistically be able to carve out 10 minutes, twice a day, to practice these new skills? If you can’t honestly answer yes to that question then maybe it’s not the right time for you to start learning Mindfulness just now.

Most people, however, can manage to find the time if they take a good look at their daily routine. For example, how long do you spend scrolling on your phone? Or watching TV? Most of us spend a LOT longer than 10 minutes on our screens every day, and often not on productive or fruitful activities. If you can spend just 10 minutes less on your screens, then voila! You have time to practice. And if you don’t manage to practice every day…

4. Try not to judge yourself

We all have off days (yes, even Mindfulness teachers) and sometimes life just gets in the way despite our best intentions. If you don’t manage to practice one day, try not to berate yourself or feel too guilty, you will have another chance tomorrow. Remember it’s never too late to start again. Even if you haven’t practiced all week, next week you can start again. You can rest assured that you won’t be the only person in the group who hasn’t managed to practice every day, and your teacher will be able to offer tips and advice to help get your practice back on track.

5. Make the most of your teacher

One of the bonuses of doing a Mindfulness course (as opposed to learning from an app or book), is that you have an expert on hand to answer your questions and offer personalised advice. Their whole raison d’etre is to support and encourage you, so take advantage of their expertise! Keep falling asleep? Getting distracted? Your teacher can help you reflect on any challenges you’re facing, and give you helpful pointers. That said, we’re not mind-readers, so we can only offer support if you ask for it. So please don’t be shy, reach out and make the most of your personal Mindfulness expert for the eight weeks you have them.

With these tips you have everything you need to get the most from your Mindfulness course and take your next steps towards a fuller, healthier, happier life. I wish you well in your course, and your journey towards a more mindful way of being.

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