Mindfulness has been a big part of my training and my work as a psychologist. I created mindfulness groups for adolescents on inpatient units, did my dissertation research on mindfulness groups for juvenile delinquent boys in lock-ups, and did my post-doctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at the Center for Mindfulness as UMASS Medical Center. So I am often asked what books I recommend when you want to know more about mindfulness. The three I always recommend are Mindsight by Dan Siegel, Heal Thyself: Lessons in Mindfulness by Saki Santorelli and of course the classic, Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat Zinn.
Truth be told, Dan Siegel, MD could have stopped on page 15 with the handbrain (watch his video here) and still have given people more of an understanding of their brain and their own stress response than most psychology or self help books. After reading this in his book I have made it a point of teaching this to every group I can—and to universal “aha-s” and self-knowing laughs. This book is truly an owner’s manual of your brain –it’s cognitive, emotional, and self-regulation systems from knowing to feeling to understanding time. He uses various case examples to describe and help you understand how your brain comes to have the capacity of mindfulness and understanding—and by breaking it down into systems, it is easier to figure out where to pay attention to strengthening them in your client or yourself.
Heal Thyself and Full Catastrophe Living
Heal Thyself and Full Catastrophe Living are in some ways bookends—they tell the story of the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at UMASS Medical Center from the vantage point of both the instructor and the student. The MBSR program was famously started by Kabat-Zinn. Heal Thyself is the description of the course as its instructor (Santorelli took over as the director of the program from Kabat-ZInn) and his own journey of mindfulness. As a clinician I found the book the language and the line of learning in the book immensely supportive of my own learning journey of being able to sit with difficult feelings. As an instructor in psychology I often required this book as reading in my courses because it helps clinicians learn how to learn their trade. But I think it is helpful for anyone who is learning to practice mindfulness.
While Kabat-Zinn has many more recent books out, Full Catastrophe Living is the classic. It is both the nuts and bolts of the MBSR 8 week program so you can essentially experience it on your own (though it is much better in person—google MBSR and your city and find a program near you! Or go to the original source and try their program). Full Catastrophe Living covers a range of topics: healing, pain, anxiety, stress and dealing with the medical system. Kabat-Zinn’s writing is accessible and thoughtful and once again, reading it can help you find language and practices for your own healing.