The Best Mindfulness Books of 2020

The Mindful editors look back on their favourite books from this year, covering diverse topics such as mindful eating, the truth of belonging, and emotional resilience.

Throughout this turbulent year, one of our enduring sources of hope and inspiration has been curling up with a good book. Fortunately, when the going got tough, these new titles were there to keep us going. From the books that expanded our knowledge about the brain and the body, to those that helped us ride the waves of emotion and reconnect with compassion, here are the Mindful editors’ favorites. 

1. Permission to Feel

Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

Marc Brackett • Celadon Books

Brackett—founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence—came to this work with a mission born from his own experience of bullying and sexual assault, which he discusses poignantly in Permission to Feel. Before we learn his story, however, Brackett paints a vivid picture of why emotions matter so much for public health and education. Incidents of bullying and harassment in US K-12 schools doubled each year between 2015 and 2017; 46% of teachers report high daily stress; from 2016-2017, one in three students across 196 US colleges reported diagnosed mental health conditions; a quarter of US children between 13 and 18 suffer from anxiety disorders; and by 2030, mental health problems could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion. When our children learn unhealthy responses to emotion, tangible results ripple through families, schools, communities, and society. That’s the diagnosis.

Brackett’s prescription—as researched, taught, and advocated for at the Yale center—begins with a very simple question: How are you feeling? If the response is avoidance or lying, if no one is interested in our genuine answer, we’re almost certain to suffer, and that suffering will spread. Instead, Brackett recommends the RULER method: Recognizing emotions in oneself and others; Understanding the causes and consequences; Labeling emotions precisely; Expressing emotions, taking context and culture into consideration; and Regulating effectively. The book expands on this method and how it’s used for both adults and children. (In schools, RULER works with the adults before taking it to students.) Permission to Feel is an inspiring book with a timely message, not only for each of us, but for the organizations and institutions that model how we are supposed to carry ourselves. —BB

2. Stay Woke

A Meditation Guide for the Rest of Us

Justin Michael WIlliams • Sounds True

Many “spiritual” writings give only incidental mention of the social and material struggles people face. They imply, “Inequality, marginalization? That’s an out-there problem. Ignore it and meditate.” Having reckoned with homophobia, personal trauma, and stress rooted in poverty and domestic violence, Justin Michael Williams has no time for that: “You need a different type of meditation. One that doesn’t pretend the struggle doesn’t exist.” He demonstrates real strength through the honesty and vulnerability of his first book. With “Freedom Meditation,” he offers you 10 steps to create a meditation (and life) practice that’s about fearlessly embracing all of who you are, to explore both your inner and outer worlds: “Meditation is not about relaxing. Meditation is about becoming more alive.”—AT

3. The Monkey Mind Meditation Deck

30 Fun Ways for Kids to Chill Out, Tune In, and Open Up

Carolyn Kanjuro • Shambhala

With exquisite illustrations by Alexander Vidal, this pack of 30 cards mixes many images: We find weather (rainbow, gentle breeze, hurricane), natural features (tree, mountain, rushing river), and anthropomorphized animals (cranky crab, burrowing bunny, loyal dog) on one side, and simple, playful meditation practices on the other side. The result is a stunning variety of short, insightful practices that can be, according to the accompanying guide, “a source of invention and play, a safe way to reflect on difficult topics, and a form of nourishment and support for children navigating an increasingly complex world.” The instructions are very clearly expressed, and (best of all) the teachings embodied here avoid the extreme earnestness that can ruin meditation for people of all ages. —BB

4. Mindful Movement in Psychotherapy

Paul Salmon • Guilford Press

How many movies or TV series have you seen depicting psychotherapy? Every time it’s the same scene. The therapist in a comfortable chair, their hands nested beneath their chin, listening intently or speaking wisely. Across from them sits the client on a chair or couch, usually a little more anxious. Salmon, a clinical psychologist teaching in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville, asks us: Is anything missing from this picture?

Movement. Because movement is, he says, traditionally “viewed as outside the realm of ‘talk therapy.’” Salmon—who is also a certified exercise physiologist, registered yoga teacher, personal trainer, and mindfulness teacher—encourages clinicians to consider incorporating “purposeful, mindful movement” in their interventions. He is not talking simply about exercise but about movement infused with awareness of what’s going on in body and mind, which can “provide a way to rekindle appreciation for our ability to move and be physically active.” Moving, he emphasizes, is baked into our DNA, but our lifestyles have greatly reduced it. Physical activity itself can create tangible experience that helps us be more than sedentary bodies with overactive brains, providing “an anchor to moment-to-mome