According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 18 million US adults meditated regularly, with estimates placing total worldwide meditation numbers at around 300 million. It’s a number you feel will only grow as people search to combat feelings of stress and anxiety brought on by turbulent times.
This general anxiety can trigger a cascade of stress hormones from cortisol to epinephrine that produces a shopping list of well-known physiological changes. Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increase blood pressure and raise the risk of heart attacks or strokes. But the deep rest of meditation allows this system to move away from that stress state and release all the stress building up in the system.
While meditation is the most researched when it comes to tackling these stress hormones, other mindfulness techniques have also been explored. Long walks in nature, drawing, and therapeutic baking, have all been shown to be effective in some way.
But as with any new habits, it’s hard to just jump into a brand new schedule of worthwhile meditation and mindful practices. If you’re anything like us, you might find it easier to read about the topic first which is why we’ve rounded up our favourite meditation and mindfulness books to get you going.
One of the ‘Four Horseman’, along with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who led the New Atheism movement in the late ’00s, writer and commentator Sam Harris is outspoken and often confrontational. But he’s also one of the deepest thinkers of our time, as showcased in his magnum opus Waking Up, a meditation if you will, on finding spirituality in these increasingly secular times.
Part memoir, part scientific thesis, it’s not for everyone, but there’s plenty who have connected with Harris, as exemplified by the roaring success of his podcast and meditation app.
When set in the wrong hands, 300 pagers on mindfulness can be as dry as toast. Luckily as far as How To Be Human is concerned, the topic is in the right mitts, mainly those of neuroscientist Ash Ranpura, Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten and the book’s author, brash comedian turned nuanced mental health campaigner Ruby Wax, who peppers this exploration into the mindfulness topic with insightful witticisms that will have you guffawing all over your meditation space.
First published in 1994 as Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners, this pioneering text by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical professor and the creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts, opened the floodgates on meditation’s consequent proliferation in the West over the following three decades.
It can be difficult to digest in one sitting, but for anyone looking to start meditating this is an important mindfulness book to have on the shelf.
One of the most renowned living Buddhists today after the Dalai Lama, Vietnamese monk and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hạnh has published over 130 books on mindfulness.
Peace Is Every Step, written in 1992, is an earlier work and arguably his best, with Nhat Hạnh beautifully sharing personal anecdotes and stories from his experiences as a peace activist and teacher, along with exercises to help bring about an increased awareness of your mind and body.
Another big hitter in the world of modern mindfulness, Eckhart Tolle’s manifesto is a blend of ancient and modern mysticism (with a little bit of Buddhism and Christianity added to the mix).
But even if you’re not spiritually inclined, the main message at the heart of this self-help book is a really important one, mainly that worry is rooted in our ego, and in order to get rid of our anxieties we need to take more care in acknowledging the present moment.
The average person breathes between six to 10 million breaths per year. And yet as a general populace, there is still little understanding about this essential act of living. Why do we breathe then?
It’s a question breathwork specialist Richie Bostock tackles with scientific rigour, explaining the myriad of benefits that can come from controlling our breath before digesting it all into practical tips that will have a significant impact on your mental and physical wellbeing.
With the pandemic and subsequent lockdown pushing people further out of city centres (just as they had been pushed in previously), our relationship with the countryside around us has changed dramatically. Nature has become a source of mindful relief then, albeit one that it’s quite hard to put into words as eloquently as writer and celebrated floral stylist Willow Crossley.
In the Wild Journal, Crossley guides us through creative practical projects and therapeutic seasonal reflections, all paired with gorgeous illustrations. It’s a serene read, one that requires a peaceful Sunday afternoon beside the fire to enjoy properly.
A regular on reading lists here at Form (we’ve already shouted it out twice), it’s hard not to include this tome again simply for the influence it has had on the mindfulness world since its release in 2016. A former director of marketing at American Apparel, lead author Ryan Holiday is a dab hand at selling an idea, the one here being centuries old as The Daily Stoic takes the ancient philosophical concept and rewrites it for the 21st century.
The book is intended to be read one page per day with each page featuring a quote from a stoic philosopher along with co-authors Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman’s commentary. The mindful takeaway from it all? Stop trying to control what you can’t control.