With all its unprecedented ups and downs, 2021 has still been a wonderful year for books about mindfulness. They range from the cutting-edge science of meditation to deep contemplative insights, with more than a little humor, kindness, self-care, and practical guidance thrown in to enrich your mind—and your daily life. Here are the Mindful editors’ favorite new titles.
The Best Mindfulness Books of 2021
Judson Brewer, MD, PhD – Penguin Random House
“I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that one of the reasons so many people fail to see that they have anxiety is the way it hides in bad habits,” writes psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher Judson Brewer. You might expect that a book about the anxiety that permeates our lives right down to our habits—and why much of the conventional advice for dealing with it doesn’t work—is unlikely to be a rollicking good time.
Unwinding Anxiety defies that expectation. It’s richly pragmatic, down-to-earth, and (truly) fun to read, while making leading-edge neuroscience on habits and anxiety easy to grasp. Drawing from his own clinical practice, research, and personal experience, Brewer guides readers from identifying our anxiety triggers to understanding why we get trapped in fretful thought-loops. The result is an accessible guide to uncovering what you may unconsciously be doing that perpetuates your anxiety, and breaking the cycle through awareness and curiosity. – Amber Tucker
Jessamyn Stanley – Workman Publishing
Jessamyn Stanley lets it all hang out in this collection of essays, her follow-up to the wildly successful Every Body Yoga. Stanley came to prominence on Instagram, and that might make some discount her out of hand. But, through her Instagram and in the pages of Yoke, Stanley reveals herself to be deeply authentic as both a student and a teacher of yoga. Where Every Body Yoga primarily offered richly illustrated suggestions for practicing physical yoga along with some personal stories and dips into the history and spirituality of yoga, Yoke concerns itself with every aspect of yoga, and Stanley’s life in it: “I call it the yoga of everyday life,” she writes. She shares candidly about living her yoga in a fat, Black body under a white supremacist system. She tackles her own uneasiness about cultural appropriation, as a Black southern practitioner who has learned to read and write some Sanskrit words, but does not find her place in classical yoga lineages. She writes movingly about her journey to self-acceptance, and self-love, and the many roadblocks along the way.
If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong on a yoga mat or meditation cushion, Stanley’s honest writing, fresh insights, and unabashedly fun approach ought to make you feel right at home, wherever you are.
If you require your books about yoga and meditation to be primarily reverential, Yoke is not the read for you. Here, Stanley gets extremely real about the trials and tribulations of yoga on and off the mat, with writing that is friendly and familiar, peppered with swears and slang and moments of hilarity, a dash of spirituality, and the occasional side order of astrology. If you like Stanley on Instagram, you’ll love her in Yoke—and if you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong on a yoga mat or meditation cushion, Stanley’s honest writing, fresh insights, and unabashedly fun approach ought to make you feel right at home, wherever you are. – Stephanie Domet
3) Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines
Jen Fisher and Anh Phillips – McGraw Hill Education
Work has always been hard. That’s why they call it work. It’s also caused untold suffering over the centuries. In the modern era, though, we like to think work is much safer and saner. While that may be true in many ways, we’ve also been facing more insidious forms of workplace injury. Technologies supposed to ease work’s burden have created more strain and pain than flexibility and freedom. In a Deloitte Consulting survey mentioned in Work Better Together, “three out of four respondents said they have experienced burnout.”
As Deloitte’s Chief Well-Being Officer in the US and host of the WorkWell podcast, Jen Fisher focuses on building a workplace culture of well-being. Anh Phillips, a leading researcher at Deloitte, and coauthor of The Technology Fallacy, promotes the understanding that for technologies to deliver on their transformational promises, cultures must be developed that foster sound human interactions with technology and with each other. That is, we need to make “our interaction with technology benefit our individual and collective well-being as much as our productivity.” And while we are more connected than ever digitally, we’re “actually connecting less.” Phillips shares a poignant story of bringing her daughter to a family dinner, excited that she would have lots of time to hang out with her cousins, but the children spent all their time on devices, leaving Phillips’s daughter bored and sad.
Are we doing any better at work? Each day the average knowledge worker, the authors report, gets 100 emails and is interrupted over 50 times. New tech forces rapid change, as if a carpenter had to learn how to use a new-fangled hammer every month. The “workism” lifestyle is rampant—eat at desk, work late in-office and at home, check messages anywhere anytime, earn your merit badge—leading to strain on “today’s most important work skills, like empathy, communication, and focus.” This is not a bad-news book, however. It’s filled with lots of personal stories, helpful prescriptions, illustrations, and wisdom about how to develop teams that “put people first, systems second.” – Barry Boyce
Christiane Wolf, MD, PhD – The Experiment
In the foreword, Dan Siegel writes, “The sensation of pain, when coupled with the resistance of the mind to accepting it fully as part of your life, leads to a magnification of your distress, which we can simply call ‘suffering.’” Our physical pain is “amplified” by resistance; we can learn to recognize and defuse a lot of its power using mindfulness. Physician and meditation teacher Christiane Wolf has taught mindfulness for people with chronic disease and pain since 2005. Here, she shares her wealth of knowledge and wisdom. Outsmart Your Pain features stories from patients, 10- to 15-minute guided practices designed for those coping with pain, and straightforward, research-supported advice to shift how we experience chronic pain—from battling it toward accepting it, tuning in to the body with self-compassion. “When pain is intense, it’s often hard to be aware of anything outside of the pain,” writes Wolf. “With increased awareness, though, the world starts to open up again.” – AT
Lynn Rossy – New Harbinger
The relationship a person has with food is an intimate one. As a toddler, you might look at food as a plaything—but as we grow older our relationship with food can become complicated, as it begins to influence how we view ourselves and our self-worth. Lynn Rossy’s Savor Every Bite is a compassionate response to a culture with extremely strict beauty standards, a culture that often makes a lot of us feel like outsiders. It’s a book that attempts to cut through the external noise and invites us to simply listen to our body and heart. Rossy breaks down a journey of self-love and discovery into five chapters including short mindful practices, with a clear and distinct goal: to love your whole self, rather than picking it apart. – Oyinda Lagunju
6) Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety: A Workbook for Overcoming Anxiety at Home, at School, and Everywhere Else (2nd edition)
Christopher Willard, PsyD – New Harbinger
In the seven years since the first edition of this practical, approachable workbook, the number of teens who report living with anxiety has doubled, from one in six to one in three. So this revised and updated edition is welcome, with new material on social media, school anxiety, bullying, and more. Christopher Willard brings years of experience with young people to bear in this clear, simple, deep but never clinical examination of what anxiety is and feels like, what might trigger it, and how mindfulness can help ease it. The workbook is addressed directly to teens and it takes them seriously, neither trying to seem cool, nor talking down to them. The workbook exercises are thorough and helpful, without being overwhelming, and additional resources are available for download. – SD
Kristin Neff – Harper Wave
If the term “self-compassion” brings to mind a sort of soft, solo wellness journey for increased self-kindness, expect this image to be vastly expanded upon finishing the first page of this book. Kristin Neff skillfully conveys just how powerful self-compassion can be, painting the picture of a movement that begins with each of us, is guided by awareness and empathy, and leads to liberation. But Neff doesn’t just tell us how it could be, she guides us there with research, mindfulness practices, and opportunities to reflect.
Neff is a professor of educational psychology, cofounder of the Mindfulness-Based Self-Compassion program, and author previously of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Now, self-compassion is certainly for everyone, but this book is all about women. Neff presents self-compassion as a framework for women’s collective liberation from the limiting societal pressure to be always soft, nurturing, and tender. This is where fierceness comes in.
“Compassion is aimed at alleviating suffering—it’s the impulse to help, an active feeling of concern, the palpable instinct to care for those who are struggling.”
“Compassion is aimed at alleviating suffering—it’s the impulse to help, an active feeling of concern, the palpable instinct to care for those who are struggling,” she writes, and it has two sides: tender and fierce. The former harnesses that widely-accepted sense of nurturing while fierce compassion is all about action. When we practice both and turn them inward, these compassionate impulses can help us “protect ourselves, meet our needs, motivate change, and engage in the work of justice,” she writes. Neff guides us in an exploration of the full range of our experiences, paying special attention to anger and how we can learn to welcome it with kindness, mindfulness, and a sense of our shared humanity.
This book lands on shelves in the midst of a global pandemic that has disproportionately forced women out of jobs and into household labor, while our world faces crises like systemic racism, climate change, and struggling healthcare systems. Fierce Self-Compassion meets the moment by bridging the individual and the interconnected. The book offers us a rich journey of inward investigation and acceptance, while laying the groundwork for meaningful empowerment. –Ava Whitney-Coulter
Amishi Jha, PhD – HarperCollins
This long-awaited book from the leading neuroscientist studying the effects of contemplative practices on our attention system doesn’t disappoint. It’s an intricate subject, so it would be easy to get lost in the weeds. Not so here. You can read a chapter and turn to a ten-year old and explain what you just learned. It’s not simplistic, however. It’s simply clearly written and organized, as befits an expert in how our attention can remain focused (or go all to hell).
Peak Mind is one of those books written by a leader in the field that’s wrapped in the kind of self-help package publishers hold dear but that delivers so much more. It does offer help, but it also educates. It invites you to contemplate how something so innately part of who we are functions and malfunctions. In the early pages, I was taken by the explanatory power of this simple summation of ways attention breaks down: depleted attention, hijacked attention, fragmented attention, disconnected attention. Yikes! Has Amishi Jha been shadowing me? Because that sure sounds like the description of an average day.
The (mostly) good news follows, in equally succinct terms: Attention is powerful, fragile, and trainable. The book delivers on those first two with a thorough roadmap to what we know today about the brain’s complex attention system and why it’s like any high-performance vehicle: delicate and finicky. It needs care and feeding. That’s where the trainable part comes in, which includes mindfulness meditation—which Jha has studied extensively—identifying and counteracting bias, and strengthening meta-awareness. It’s an uplifting read that makes a good case that taking care of our attention not only makes us more attentive, but less stressed out as well. –BB
Renda Dionne Madrigal, PhD – Sounds True
A Turtle Mountain Chippewa clinical psychologist and UCLA-certified mindfulness facilitator, Renda Dionne Madrigal draws from both ancestral knowledge and Western science in this remarkable book. Written to a parent who yearns to strengthen their family’s connections—to each other, to their shared values, to their roots—this guidebook points to how they can employ mindfulness for that purpose. Activities include child-friendly guided meditation practices, as well as storytelling, cultivating awareness and gratitude for one’s ancestors, and creating a Circle ritual together (an intentional space to nurture communication, learning, and kindness). The ways in which Dionne Madrigal shares the qualities of mindfulness embodied in Native American stories and practices convey vividly how we can all cultivate more joy, strength, integrity, and respect for ourselves and all others. –AT
Patricia A. Jennings – W.W. Norton
It took a global pandemic to highlight the burden essential workers carry for us, and when children had to be taught remotely, the plight of teachers literally came home to us. Tish Jennings—a true education pioneer who is cofounder of CARE, a well-researched mindfulness-based professional development program, and codeveloper of The Compassionate Schools Project—traces the sources of teacher burnout to a “factory farm model…designed to produce uniform students, assessed by a standard that stigmatizes, rather than celebrates, differences,” where teachers are asked to “teach twenty-first century skills in a nineteenth century system.” Part 1 expands on this diagnosis. Part 2 explores thinking differently about schools, using systems and design thinking, less linear approaches to achieving big aims. Part 3 provides a path forward, where students take charge of their learning and teachers find the resilience and renewal needed to lead a life devoted to fostering others’ discoveries. – BB
Shelly Tygielski – New World Library
Sit Down to Rise Up opens with Shelly Tygielski’s retelling of a life-changing ordeal that her family—new immigrants to the United States from Jerusalem—went through when she was just two years old. This experience, she says, became the foundation for her deep understanding of the ties of interconnectedness we all share: A selfless act of caring between strangers may ripple out to have more profound impacts than anyone can predict.
But isn’t this book about self-care? As Tygielski explains, authentic self-care requires great inner strength. “Courage is cultivated through our need for connection. Connection is cultivated due to the basic human need for love. And love encourages us to be more courageous. It’s a cycle, and every single one of us has this same blueprint in our DNA,” she says.
“Courage is cultivated through our need for connection. Connection is cultivated due to the basic human need for love. And love encourages us to be more courageous. It’s a cycle, and every single one of us has this same blueprint in our DNA.”
Alongside sharing her own fascinating, but certainly rocky, journey—the clash of differing cultural and generational expectations, chronic illness, divorce, an unfulfilling career, and single parenthood—Tygielski offers a plethora of tools for us all to rekindle our sense of responsibility to one another, and live from that place of courageous connection. Organized in sections subtitled The Inner Journey to Me, The Outer Journey to We, and The Movement to Us, the book explores how we can examine and accept our own strengths and foibles; we then learn the tools to weave sustainable, habitual rhythms of self-care into our lives. This doesn’t mean just ensuring we can lock down the resources we need to stay healthy, although that’s certainly included. It also means allowing trusted community members—our “self-care squad”—to support us, and to be supported by us. It means radically recognizing our circle of influence to positively impact others, as Tygielski has done in leading trauma-informed meditations for the survivors and families of the Parkland shooting, and by starting (“accidentally”) a thriving, global mutual-aid movement, Pandemic of Love. It’s hard to think of a more compassionate and innovative example of showing up.
Throughout, we find the same truth expressed in many ways: that the choices we make in the face of our own struggles are what define us, heal us, and affirm our belonging to one another. The great warmth, confidence, humor, and vulnerability of Tygielski’s voice inspires a renewed vision of self-care for all—one that’s expansive and deeply necessary today: “We are interconnected, so when one of us heals, we all heal. The journey to healing doesn’t stop where the inner borders end and the external ones begin.” – AT
Managing editor Stephanie Domet is joined by founding editor Barry Boyce for a personal conversation about stories and storytelling—a topic that has always been a pillar in both of their careers.