There are umpteen books on mindfulness but often they feel dry and a bit like ‘homework’, adding to your mental overload rather than clearing it. The Art of Breathing is probably the prettiest, most accessible and most beautifully laid-out book on mindfulness I’ve ever seen; it looks and feels just like the calming experience it is describes.
Woodcut-style botanical illustrations and clever typography in eau de nil (surely the most restful colour) convey a sense of nature, space and simplicity – the very thing you want from mindfulness. Plus, there really aren’t all that many words, but you can spend hours simply dipping in, reflecting and trying a few of the exercises he suggests.
Breathing is the first and last thing we do in life and is our unsung hero in calming the mind. By focusing consciously on the breath, we bring our awareness away from all those unhelpful, overloading thoughts and into the present moment and; after all, you can’t breathe in the future or in the past.
Danny explains how, from a scientific standpoint, our breath both reflects and amplifies our emotions. A vicious cycle forms when stress makes us tense, our breathing becomes shallow, we receive less oxygen so our heart begins to race. The brain registers this as more stress and so the cycle continues. But the breath can also support a virtuous cycle – a gentle rising and falling breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (our relaxation response) causing soothing hormones to flow through the body.
But the book is not just about breathing; it’s full of upbeat quotes and suggestions as to how become more mindfully curious. My favourite is the scavenger meditation where you go for a walk with a shoebox to your nearest park or waste ground. You fill your box with objects – fading flowers, interesting stones, anything that you are drawn to, examining the look, feel and smell of them, just as you might have done as a child. When you are done, you take each one out of the box and think how they might have got to where you found them – what’s their story, which wildlife might have relied on them for food? You then close your eyes and imagine the web of connection binding us all together.
I keep this book in my handbag at all times and try to remember to reach for it, rather than my phone in idle moments. A true delight for the mind and the sense, this is my gift book of 2016.
The Art of Breathing by Dr Danny Penman is published by HQ on 3rd November 2016. Order it here.
Download breathing meditations by Danny’s website www.franticworld.com/resources/breathing/
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