It is a very sad fact that 10 per cent of the elderly, and 7 per cent of all adults, will be lonely this Christmas, and this is as harmful to their health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

In a society where we are so virtually 'connected' in many ways, it is a crying shame that 800,000 of us feel lonely all or most of the time, as loneliness creates the bleakest and saddest of feelings, that are detrimental for both our mental and physical health.

The practicalities of creating more meaningful contact with others cannot always be quickly fixed, however, we can learn to manage our reaction to feeling lonely and to stop ourselves spiralling further down.

Loneliness comes into my life when I am incapacitated and isolated by the pain of my spinal injuries and mindfulness is what helps me deal with it. By teaching our mind to focus on the present, not ruminating on the past, or the uncertainties of the future, we can turn the fearful patterns of loneliness around and reduce our distress.

Mindfulness also has an academic record for helping people with loneliness. Researchers at American university, Carnegie Mellon, found evidence that not only did an eight week course of the mindfulness meditation training decrease participants' loneliness; it also lowered inflammation levels, which are thought to contribute to a wide variety of health threats including cancer, heart and neurodegenerative diseases.

All types of meditation create feelings of acceptance and compassion towards ourselves, and this helps with our reactions to others. We don't have to punish ourselves for feeling lonely, through mindful meditation we can sit with loneliness in an understanding and non-judgemental way and recognise that our feelings are part of the common experience of being human.

Vidyamala's mindful meditation for loneliness

  • Meditation can be simple and does not require any special equipment, the meditation below takes just a few minutes and will leave you profoundly relaxed.

  • If your condition allows it sit erect, but relaxed in a straight backed chair with your feet flat on the ground. If you cannot sit then lie on a blanket or mattress. Allow your arms and hands to be as relaxed as possible.Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Feel the sensations the air makes as it flows in through your mouth or nose, down your throat and into your lungs. Feel the expanding and subsiding of your chest and belly as you breathe. Focus your awareness on where your sensations are strongest. Stay in contact with each in-breath and each out-breath. Observe it without trying to alter it in anyway or expecting anything special to happen.

  • When your mind wanders gently shepherd it back to the breath. Try not to criticise yourself. The act of realising that your mind has wandered – and encouraging it refocus on the breath – is central to the practice of mindfulness

  • Your mind may eventually become calm – or it may not. If it becomes calm then this may only be short-lived. Your mind may become filled again with feelings of loneliness and ruminations on the past and future. Whatever is happening, try not to change anything, simply observe as best you can. Gently return your attention back to your breath, again, and again, and again.

  • After a few minutes, or longer if you prefer, open your eyes and gently bring your awareness back to your surroundings.