Ed Halliwell

Breathe easy to combat anxiety: The mind tricks that can alleviate symptoms

The Mindful Manifesto, by Dr Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell: available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

More than 870,000 Britons suffer from anxiety, a condition that triggers unnecessary feelings of uneasiness and worry.
Increasingly, mindfulness – a psychological therapy with roots in Buddhist meditation – is being used by the NHS to help alleviate the symptoms.

Here, in the final extract from his book The Mindful Manifesto, co-written with Ed Halliwell, Dr Jonty Heaversedge explains how it can help.

  • Before directing your mind towards the anxiety you are experiencing, focus on your breathing – the sensation of air slowly flowing into your nostrils, streaming down the back of your throat and into your lungs. Feel the beating of your heart and imagine how it pumps oxygenated blood around your body. Continue until you’re ready to meditate.
  • Now, shift your attention to your anxious thoughts. What thoughts are present in your mind right now? Are there many moving quickly or does each one remain for a while? Consider the thoughts objectively rather than reacting to them emotionally.
  • There’s a myth that when you meditate, you should have a blank mind. But thoughts are  not the enemy and trying to stop them will only lead to more struggle. Treat the thoughts during meditation like having a radio on in the background – you can hear it, but your main focus is elsewhere. In mindfulness, you’re paying attention to the fact that you have a thought but you are not buying into what it is saying. Try not to judge the thought  as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Cultivate an attitude of equanimity to whatever goes through your mind. Watch your thoughts with curiosity and kindness and they will become easier to bear.
  • Whenever you notice  your mind is wandering, acknowledge that it has meandered and gently bring your attention back to observing your thoughts.
  • Continue working with your worries in this way for the period of time you have chosen. Working mindfully can be challenging, so it’s good to practise for short periods at first.
  • You may feel dizzy when you start but that’s because you’ve suddenly stopped spinning around in circles. In the stillness of meditation, it can also seem as if you have more thoughts than usual but this is not so: it is just that you are becoming more aware of them. The more you practise, the more your mind can deal with worries in a less panicked way.
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The simple way to get peace of mind

Don’t think meditation is just for new-age hippies. Scientists have found genuine benefits in ‘mindfulness’ – a combination of psychotherapy and meditation increasingly used by the NHS to treat disorders ranging from addiction to insomnia.

Regular practice of a few simple exercises can help to alleviate conditions by calming mind and body and breaking unhelpful thought patterns.

Here, in the first extract from his book, Dr Jonty Heaversedge describes an exercise that can help manage pain …


Experience the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils, streaming down the back of your throat and into your lungs.

Notice the rising of your chest and the expansion of your abdomen as breath flows into your body. Feel the beating of your heart; visualise how it pumps oxygenated blood around your body.

Continue this awareness as you exhale, observing your breath as it merges with the air around you. Repeat until you feel ready to move on to the next stage.


Gently bring your awareness to your pain, even if your instinct is to recoil. Try to experience it fully: what kind of pain is it? Is it a long, dull ache or a sharp throbbing?

Investigate the shape and behaviour of your discomfort, without getting caught up in how it makes you feel emotionally.

When you are able to think about the sensation of your pain without strong emotions, slowly bring yourself back to how you feel towards it.

Are you trying to ignore it? Are you feeling hostile to it or desperately wanting it to stop? Notice these emotions in as friendly and compassionate way as possible.


Next, explore whether the pain in one place is causing tension elsewhere in your body, such as your shoulders, jaw or legs.

Release the tension if you’re holding it consciously but don’t struggle. If it seems stuck, accept it with as much compassion as you can.


Every time you breathe in, visualise your breath flowing into the painful part. With each exhalation, imagine the air flowing out of it, as if you are softly bathing the region with attention.

If this feels overwhelming, focus your mind back on simple breathing and allow the discomfort to exist at the fringes of your awareness.

Focus on other bodily sensations, such as where your body meets the ground or how your clothes feel against your skin.


There is no right or wrong experience in mindfulness. Whether you find it scary, boring, frustrating or enjoyable, the practice is simply to notice the reactions themselves – to be with them and accept them as they are.

But this is not resignation. We are not giving up on our bodies, and we can continue to follow any sensible steps that are recommended by doctors.

We may still take medication, have surgery, or try some other form of therapy.


During pain-free periods, try this experiment. Place a few ice cubes in a bowl. Take a few moments practising mindful breathing.

When you feel ready, place a cube in your hand, curl it into a fist and remember it is fine to put the ice back in the bowl at any time.

Now focus on your hand. Do the sensations change over time? Immerse yourself in the quality of the experience and notice how you automatically react.

Can you separate this reaction from the experience of the ice? If your attention strays from the sensation, gently bring it back. If the ice melts completely before you decide to stop, take another cube to see if the experience is any different.

Via the Daily Mail.

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Meditation is an emotional rollercoaster.

wildmind meditation news

Ed Halliwell: About four days into my first meditation retreat, I started crying. Not little droplets of tears, but great, big, uncontrolled sobs – it felt like I was throwing up wave after wave of stale sadness. I’d expected the long days of sitting to be boring, annoying, physically demanding and (with a bit of luck) illuminating, so to find myself repeatedly breaking down into a noisy heap of grief came as a shock. These spontaneous outbursts of wailing continued throughout the month-long programme – it says much for the teachers’ equanimity that they didn’t chuck me out.

So when would-be practitioners ask about the benefits of meditation, I tend not to give a straight answer. Will it help you be less stressed? Reduce your pain? Make you think more clearly? Stop you from eating too much? Well, maybe it will help with all of those things, but there’s no guarantee, and even if it does, you might find there are other effects too, like finding yourself questioning Read the rest of this article…

your career and relationships, or feeling increasingly unwilling to fit in with whatever herd you usually hang out with. You might discover that meditation opens you up to powerful surges of rage, disappointment, doubt, yearning or regret that you didn’t know existed. Of course, none of these things are certain either, but they do happen. Most of them have to me, at some point over the last 10 years.

A lot of people now come to meditation having read reports on the virtues of mindfulness. Last week there was one claiming it can ward off ageing, and one suggesting meditators make more rational decisions. A month ago mindfulness was declared more effective for pain relief than morphine (maybe, but I still wouldn’t fancy the dentist’s drill without an injection), while it’s also being said to increase grey matter in the brain, ease the fear of dying, and help US army troops operate effectively in a war zone, as well as protecting them from post-traumatic stress. Two new books are out in May, offering meditation plans as a proven path to wellbeing.

Such reports and regimes are genuinely helpful – I’ve written and enthused about similar ones myself – but collectively they can start to give the impression that meditation is the cure for all life’s ills, and that if we could just sit down and follow the breath, problems and pain will fall away. Ten or 20 years ago, meditation suffered from an undeserved association with flaky new-ageism; today there’s a danger of another unhelpful image – mindfulness as hassle-free, quick fix.

As anyone who’s actually sat down to practise knows, this is a consumer fantasy. Mindfulness has a great many benefits, but they tend to come as a by-product of getting up close to unpleasant experiences like pain, turmoil, and “negative” thought patterns. Striving to avoid unwanted aspects of ourselves and our lives creates stress – by facing them openly in meditation, we give ourselves a chance to relate to suffering more skilfully, with confidence and compassion.

This means we have to experience and befriend our sadness, anger, physical pain and so on. When we omit to mention this, and fixate only the “positive” results of meditation, we risk passing on a partial description of the path, which involves being present to every aspect of life – what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls, after Zorba the Greek, “Full Catastrophe Living”.

When mindfulness meditation first came to the west, its Buddhist context offered a counter-balance for the tendency to turn it into a goal-achieving mental workout. The Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi used to instruct his students to “die over and over again” as they sat still in zazen, until their desire for enlightenment began to dissipate and they could begin to appreciate a taste of it. If you thought you were going to get something from meditation, then you weren’t getting it.

As mindfulness teaching expands beyond these lineages, there’s an ongoing risk that a rich and challenging spiritual practice will be reduced to a lightweight lifestyle add-on that’s more palatable to our cultural taste – ironically, this would probably negate the benefits that everyone’s getting so excited about. Meditation is deep work with an uncertain outcome. It’s worth it, but it isn’t always comfortable.

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Stressed out? Try mindfulness meditation (Toronto Globe & Mail)

Zindel Segal was in a Toronto bookstore a few weeks ago, when a title caught his eye. The book, The Mindful Investor, caused him a moment of shock and panic.

“I turned to someone and said, ‘This is the beginning of the end,’ ” recalls Dr. Segal, who heads the cognitive behaviour therapy clinic at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The book, which purports to explain how a calm mind can help a person achieve financial security, is a sign that the concept of mindfulness is making a leap into mass popularity. But that doesn’t mean people actually understand it, he says.

Mindfulness is a technique for slowing down and examining one’s thought processes, and learning to be in the moment. Based on Buddhist principles, it became popular in the United States in the 1970s, and was taken up by celebs such as Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn. Today, researchers are studying its benefits for everything from depression to stress.

In a multi-year study, whose results were published last month in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Segal and a group of colleagues found that mindfulness meditation – the term they use is “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” – was just as effective as antidepressants when it came to preventing depression relapse.

Dr. Segal, who was one of the developers of the therapy, teaches it at CAMH in group treatment sessions with patients who have…

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recovered from depression and are “trying to stay well.”

“We’re seeing a demand as people feel that it’s more and more legitimate,” Dr. Segal says. He defines mindfulness meditation as “a way of training yourself to pay attention in the present moment without judgment [as] to what your experience is.”

Thanks to a similar U.K. study, which found the technique reduces the risk of depression relapse by 50 per cent, Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends mindfulness meditation in cases of chronic depression. The Mental Health Foundation, a U.K.-based charity, has recentlylaunched a campaign called Be Mindful, and offers an online program intended to make mindfulness more widely available.

“It’s growing exponentially almost, in terms of there now being an evidence base,” says Ed Halliwell, a British mindfulness teacher and co-author of The Mindfulness Manifesto: How Doing Less and Noticing More Can help Us Thrive in a Stressed-out World. While the field is still relatively new, some 300 to 400 studies are published each year, Mr. Halliwell estimates.

The studies show benefits for many conditions, including anxiety and stress. A study published last year in the journal Neurology found that mindfulness could be used to help people with multiple sclerosis.

And just as it is becoming more popular among researchers, it is also increasingly being sought out by busy professionals.

“Life these days is these days so full of stress … so I think this offers some way of simplifying our life,” says Marian Smith, founder of Mindful Living, a Vancouver-based clinic. Many clients, says Ms. Smith, are dealing with “the challenge of juggling full-time work, having a family, trying to make life meaningful to themselves and to be grounded.”

Doug MacLean, a mindfulness meditation instructor and owner of Practical Wellbeing in Calgary, says there has been an “explosion” in interest, in large part because of the research being published on the topic.

But some experts worry that some people may think all they need to do to solve their problems is close their eyes and pay attention to what’s going on in their heads.

“That can be a real danger, because people can go, ‘All I need to do is be mindful.’ And then perhaps they try meditation and discover it’s not easy – it’s simple, but it’s not easy – and then that can create another level of beating yourself up,” Mr. Halliwell says.

Dr. Segal says that people need to understand that mindfulness is much different than the popular idea of meditation.

“You think of the Beatles, you think of TM [transcendental meditation], you think of people achieving some kind of bliss state. And it’s really different from what people who are going through mindfulness-based cognitive therapy get,” he says. “If anything, what the meditation does is provide them with a way of staying grounded in the midst of very difficult emotions.”

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Stars’ meditation technique gains mental health experts’ approval

National Health Service departments are now offering the Buddhism-inspired method of ‘mindfulness meditation’ which is favoured by celebrities such as Goldie Hawn.

A form of meditation practised by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars is becoming a major growth area within British psychology, as evidence grows of its effectiveness in dealing with anxiety and depression.

“Mindfulness meditation” was pioneered in the United States during the 1970s as a tool for alleviating stress and is practised, among others, by Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn, who acts as an advocate for the technique. Drawing on ancient Buddhist principles to combat mental suffering, the technique encourages practitioners to slow down, “inhabit the moment” and become more accepting of their feelings. According to Ryan, “by simply refocusing our awareness, we reshape our experience”.

Although initially regarded with scepticism by mainstream psychologists, the practice has gained respectability thanks to…

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research indicating its clinical effectiveness. A new study in the American journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that the mindfulness technique was as effective as the use of anti-depressants among a controlled group in remission from major depression.

A study by researchers in Wales, Toronto and Cambridge found that in cases of recurring depression it reduced the risk of relapse by 50%. As a result, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) adopted it in its guidelines as a recommended intervention in cases of chronic depression. Recent studies have shown that the technique can have other significant benefits, including boosting the immune system and encouraging left-field brain activity – the side most associated with feelings of wellbeing.

The impressive experimental results have led to a surge in interest and increasing demand that the practice be made more widely available. Research centres have sprung up across the country and there has been an explosion of mindfulness courses in non-clinical settings.

The School of Life in central London offers a variety of classes applying mindfulness techniques, including “How to Face Death” and “How to Stay Calm”. The Mental Health Foundation has launched Be Mindful, a campaign geared to making the technique available to “everyone who wants it”, while the Mindfulness in Schools campaign has been established to encourage its adoption in classrooms.

Ed Halliwell, a teacher on mindfulness and co-author of a recent book, The Mindfulness Manifesto, attributed the popularity to the technique’s blending of age-old spirituality with modern convenience: “It’s based on thousands of years of wisdom. It is simple but not always easy to do. You don’t need any special equipment. It’s not expensive. And it seems to connect with a lot of people’s intuitive sense that slowing down, practising stillness, learning how to be with our body and mind are good things. These are ancient ways of working to develop wellbeing, but what’s happened now is that the science is catching up and showing us that this does actually work. It’s become very of the moment.”

However, some psychologists are cautious about overselling the benefits or applying mindfulness too zealously outside a clinical setting. Florian Ruths, who runs a mindfulness meditation programme at the Maudsley Hospital in south London, argues that the technique’s very success in becoming part of the psychological mainstream could lead people to view it as a quick-fix solution.

“I think we need to be cautious,” he said. “At the moment the enthusiasm is much higher than the evidence. Those who practise mindfulness meditation know it makes a huge difference to people’s lives. But there is a danger of saying it works in psychology so why not use it for almost anything in life? And suddenly having a bit of pleasure, or seeing something beautiful, becomes an act of mindfulness.

“We need to be careful that we don’t create an impression that we’ve got something proven to be effective for almost everything when we haven’t actually done the scientific work.”

According to Ruths, when practised properly in a clinical setting, mindfulness meditation has three key benefits. First, “it teaches us to immerse ourselves deeper in the present rather than worry about things we can’t control in the future – will I have a job? Will I be OK in five years’ time? – or dwell on something in the past that we can’t change either.”

Second, it “teaches us something about the validity of thoughts and emotions. When we are in a difficult state we believe several things: it will never end, it says something about us being flawed, and we need to get out of it now. Mindfulness helps us to see that emotions change and that if I have a thought, it is not necessarily the reality, it is just a thought.”

Third, he says, “mindfulness itself is an act of kindness, of compassion. It teaches us about directing the capacity for compassion that we all have at ourselves. That in itself is something new.”

One 37-year-old woman who attended a group course at the Maudsley last summer said she was encouraged to try the technique after more than 20 years of suffering acute depression, anxiety and fatigue, and more recently panic attacks. After experiencing the “recurrent corruptions of medication”, she was not hopeful that this technique would be any different. “I expected it to be merely another variation on the theme of cognitive hygiene. But I was wrong. There was no feeling of ideological imposition or the energetic tidying of my psyche. It felt respectful, gentle, patient, almost companionable.”

With time and regular practice, the techniques she learned started to make a difference. Her panic attacks ceased and she was able to cope without medication for the first time in more than two decades. One of the technique’s benefits, she said, is the ease with which she had been able to incorporate it within her busy life. “Since doing the course, I have tried to continue regularly with the various meditation practices I learned. It has made waiting, even on rowdy buses, a prized opportunity, for such practices do not rely on a quiet without, but a quiet within.”

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Footballers’ wives, prime ministers, lawsuits, and spiritual meditation

Every so often a new celebrity turns to meditation in a time of crisis. It’s Cheryl Cole’s turn apparently, according to numerous news sources, who all appear to be recycling an interview in Vogue. Now Magazine, for example, quotes Cole as saying:

‘Recently I’ve been trying meditation,’ she tells Vogue, ‘but I can’t really seem to get it. My mother does it, and I really think that actually may be the way forward for me, but the thoughts keep coming in. Always. How do you stop them coming in?’

It’s a common problem.

Who is Cheryl Cole? Apparently she’s married to a football player and has been on TV. We’ve never heard of her, but wish her well, and hope she sticks at her practice in the same way Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has. He’s quoted as saying:

I started [meditation] about two, three years ago when Ng Kok Song, the Chief Investment Officer of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, I knew he was doing meditation. His wife had died but he was completely serene. So, I said, how do you achieve this? He said I meditate everyday and so did my wife and when she was dying of cancer, she was totally serene because she meditated everyday and he gave me a video of her in her last few weeks completely composed completely relaxed and she and him had been meditating for years. Well, I said to him, you teach me.

The meditation practice Lee Kuan Yew was taught is a form of Christian Mantra (maranatha).

With all this interest brewing, you’d think meditation would be welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately the Justice Department has had to file suit against the town of Walnut, California, because of the town’s six-year long obstruction of the building of a Zen Center over technicalities, while it simultaneously allowed other religious and secular groups to go ahead with building projects, overriding the same technicalities.

Meanwhile, Ed Halliwell in The Guardian gives a much-needed reminder that meditation is not just a “therapy” to help us deal with traumatic emotional events or to promote health. He notes that he has “become more content because meditation has enriched [his] life through opening [him] up to a sense of deepened meaning.” He doesn’t disparage the more secular applications of meditation. In fact he has written about them extensively, and he rightly sees them as a “way in” to a more spiritual perspective: “While some people may be drawn to practise through the scientific promise of betterment, they may end up finding that once they’ve got started, the path is far more interesting than that.”

Let’s ask Cheryl Cole in a few years…

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