“People forget that meditation is supposed to be more play than work,” says Dr. Greg Sazima, a board-certified psychiatrist and psychotherapist living and practicing in Northern California. But he aims to change this outlook with the publication of his new meditation manual, Practical Mindfulness. “Meditation works best when you do it for the experience and just see what comes from it. Sometimes there will be days of insight and calm,” he explains. “And some days there won’t.”

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, to a family full of health care workers and dentists, Sazima has a long history of studying meditation as a tool for stress management. What he discovered along the way was that many of his chronically ill patients who proved resistant to traditional psychiatric care were able to strengthen both their coping mechanisms and their overall sense of autonomy through mindfulness meditation.

This experience, along with his own yearslong battle with bone cancer, spurred Sazima to write Practical Mindfulness as a referral resource for both physicians and teachers. Avoiding the mystical and often opaque language used in many other meditation guides, Sazima uses analogies that are easy to grasp even while invoking complex internal processes:

Events and interactions boil endlessly and scream for our (top-down) attention—especially thoughts linked to a physical/emotional soundtrack. We tend to identify with these linkages as an aspect “self,” as me—or at least as a new bauble to be mesmerized by, like shiny keys shaken in front of the baby. Meditation helps us train our “top-down” attention to see them as momentary events on the horizon of a field of broader, “bottom-up” awareness. That top-down attention training…also gives us the opportunity to uncover, recover, or perhaps discover the “bottom-up” attention path—the always-on sense of immersion, separate from the top-down specifics of “me and it” to just “this.”

Sazima pulls off the tricky task of incorporating a sense of lightness into what, in less skilled hands, could otherwise become an arduous and at times tedious practice. Unique word mashups help guide readers through some rather complex ideas. For example, the term “wavicle” combines wave and particle to describe “the complexity of deeper, nondual states of consciousness”—in other words, the experiences that come and go in every moment. This unique approach, coupled with an undeniable sense of warmth and charm, guides readers from the most basic sitting techniques to more complex techniques of breathing and expansiveness. As Sazima mentions in his book, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a conversation with a friend in a noisy cafe or a quiet rest while sitting at home, each of these moments both belong to “you” but also to others. Each moment is a “shared event” that belongs to the more universal “ours.” 

Whatever the practical applications being taught at the moment, this sense of togetherness, of humanness, permeates the book. And that feeling of “we’re all in this together” is part of what fuels Sazima’s approach. “I find that people have difficulty remembering that it’s really supposed to be about not judging whether you had a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ meditation session, but rather doing it for the experience and seeing what comes of it,” he says. “We can get so outcome-driven about it, just like we do with everything else in our lives, that we forget that mindfulness is supposed to help us cope and adapt to experiences off the cushion as well as on it.”

Sazima has plenty of experience using these techniques “off the cushion” in his own life. Describing mindfulness practice as a “lifeline” during his recurring bouts of cancer, he ultimately embraces meditation as a “doorway to self-understanding, a shift in how ones sees reality.” And while meditation itself didn’t affect his cancer, he credits it with helping him manage the stress of juggling a bleak prognosis and chronic pain with being present as a husband to his wife of thirty years, as a father to his three sons, and as a doctor to his patients.

Readers will find plenty of tips to apply to their daily lives. Kirkus Reviews praises Practical Mindfulness, noting, “In addition to general approaches, Sazima also provides a steady thread of simple encouragements aimed specifically at beginners who might be frustrated by minimal initial progress….The combination of Sazima’s expertise and upbeat spirit make his book an inviting reading experience.” 

It also makes it an ideal resource for both patients and students. Calling himself allergic to the “guess what I’m thinking” writing style, Sazima aims to avoid both the New Age lingo and the medical psychobabble that can make the practice of meditation off-putting to those just getting started. “I think there’s room for a practical, informal guide—one that physicians, therapists, and educators would be happy to recommend. And, of course, read themselves,” he explains.

Sazima is currently in the midst of recalibrating his schedule of practicing and teaching in order to make more time for other projects, including a series of podcasts on brief meditative tactics (Practically Mindful Moments), mindful eating for kids (123 Focus: Good Dog, Scarfy!), and general mental health issues (shrink/EXPAND). 

He is also hard at work on two more writing projects. The first involves converting to book form a meditation program he created for elementary school students over 12 years ago. Still being used in his local California school district to this day, the curriculum (“123 Focus”) aims to help teachers introduce the benefits of mindfulness to the younger generation. His book version, which includes scripts and exercises, will serve as a guide for both parents and teachers on how best to incorporate meditation into children’s lives.

The second writing project that he has in the works delves deeper into “applied meditation,” or the application of meditation to the processes of living. “As people grieve, change, and grow, how can you use mindfulness and meditation in a more fluid and long form way?” Sazima asks. “That’s the kind of mindful change that I want to explore.” 

Andrea Moran is a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books.