I was excited to read this book and I need to let you know up front that I actually did all the exercises in the book over a six-week period just as the author instructs. I thought that if I read the book without actually doing the activities I wouldn’t be able to give an accurate review. I will say that all that time was well spent. This is one self-help book that does what it says on the tin.
Ms. Sciandra provides a great explanation of how habits work so the reader can understand both how to change old ones and how to create new, better ones. She takes the reader step by step through the process of building a mindfulness practice, including helping the reader reflect on their experiences by writing in a journal over the course of the six weeks. She encourages the reader to focus more on the journey than the destination; daily practice is not just helpful but is really the goal– to incorporate the practice as a normal part of your life.
I love Ms. Sciandra’s take on the concept of time. She describes it as a function of our perception, an imposed structure that we can circumvent with mindfulness. In very practical terms she explains how we can use ‘dead time’ (waiting in line or at the doctor’s office, for instance) to practice the techniques in the book. I tried this out and it really does work so it seems like I’m not actually using up any time to practice her mindfulness techniques. And she really is telling the truth when she says this six-week program won’t take up much of your time. Between doing the mindfulness activities and writing in my journal as she instructs, I never spent more than about 20 minutes per day, but I felt the benefits were noticeable within the first week. You certainly could devote more time to it than that but it’s not necessary.
Many of the activities, such as Square Breathing and the Mountain Pose, were familiar to me from yoga and other pursuits I’ve been involved in over the years, but Ms. Sciandra puts a mindfulness spin on them that adds an extra dimension. Her instructions on how to pay attention to what you’re doing are priceless; that’s the part that is often missing from yoga and martial arts instruction that not only provides deeper meaning but also has pleasant physical and mental ‘side effects’ like reduced stress and a calmer mind. I found Ms. Sciandra’s version of the Body Scan technique to be more effective and helpful than other versions I’ve used before. And I love that she uses all the senses as natural tools. We all have ready access to our senses all the time and they’re a great way to get grounded and bring focus to the techniques.
Ms. Sciandra makes it clear that mindfulness is a process and not a goal-oriented project; that concept can be hard for modern western people to embrace. She points out that goals focus on the future while mindfulness is all about being in the present. She is especially good at anticipating ways we get off track and sabotage ourselves; I identified with a lot of the ones she points out. Fortunately, she also offers effective ways to work past those roadblocks, and I think that aspect really sets her book apart from many other similar works. She also gives the reader permission to stop judging themselves and just be in the journey. We often make things harder than they need to be, and she is generous and honest enough to share many of her own mistakes and show how she overcame them. One subject that really hit home with me was her discussion of how we use mental chatter to distract ourselves from unpleasant thoughts. She warns that mindfulness can still the chatter enough for that unpleasantness to surface; this happened to me during the course of the six weeks. Ms. Sciandra offers effective ways to deal with this situation and I have to say, I feel like I’ve healed a lot of old issues using her method.
In short, I strongly recommend this book. It’s the kind of work I wish all self-help books were: practical and effective but also compassionate and understanding. It’s well worth the purchase price and it’s also well worth your time to follow her six-week program.
~review by Laura Perry
Author: Kate Sciandra
Llewellyn Publications, 2015
pp. 202, $16.99