Mindfulness for Health – A Course Review

 

 

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I embarked on Breathworks’ ‘Mindfulness for Health’ course with high hopes.  I was already familiar with the wonderful work of Breathworks and I was eager to bring more of their techniques into my practice.  I wasn’t disappointed.  In fact, my expectations were exceeded as I deepened my practice in a supportive and inspiring community.

A Little Background

‘Breathworks’ mission is to bring mindfulness as a tool for reducing suffering to people worldwide; regardless of their situation.’  The organisation was founded in 2001 by three experienced meditators; Vidyamala Burch, Gary Hennessy and Sona Fricker.  They combined their extensive practice with the life changing skills Vidyamala has learnt whilst managing the ongoing pain and disability of a spinal cord injury, to create a number of courses and an international community.

The Course

‘Mindfulness for Health’ is based on the award winning book of the same name, by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman.  It follows the typical model of an eight week mindfulness programme and is aimed at every level, from complete beginner to experienced meditator.  Each week has a different theme as new ideas are explored and meditations are introduced.  Participants practise two ten minute guided meditations each day for six days of the week.  These include body scans, breathing anchors, mindful movement, kindly awareness and the treasure of pleasure.  There are also mindfulness in daily life exercises, essential for bringing mindfulness into day to day living.  Vidyamala is a shining example of how to live a good life, whatever difficulties you may be experiencing.  Her wisdom, insight and kindness ripple through the course, giving students the tools to live a more fulfilled life, rather than one dominated by pain and suffering.

The course is offered in groups around the UK and further afield, but I took part in an online group, designed to be accessible to all.  We were guided through the course on an online portal, the contents of which I can now access for life, and we used Voice Thread, a ‘virtual classroom’, where group members could share messages by text, audio and video.  This was all overseen by a wonderfully kind and supportive online tutor.  Despite the remoteness of taking the course online, there were moments of real connection with the other participants.  The most moving of these were the two conference calls.  Each person spoke in what was an incredibly supportive and contained environment.  It was inspiring to listen to and humbling to experience.

Witnessing Transformation

‘Be kinder to myself’ was the intention I set at the outset of the course.  Kindness became a recurring theme as group members began to share their practice, their struggles and their joys.  It was easier to notice the transformation of others, but during the final week my own journey became clear.  We returned to the opening meditation; a perfect time for reflection.

As I look back on the weeks that have passed, there are some noticeable changes.  Many of my habits and behaviours have changed for the better.  I feel more relaxed.  I’m taking less medication.  I feel a deeper sense of connection to the world I live in, even on the days when it’s just me and the kitties in our little home.  I’m more aware of the choices I have and more able to respond rather than react.  Having reviewed my pacing to create a mindful rhythm to my day, my symptoms have become more stable and I’m getting more done.  Perhaps most notable of all is the dramatic reduction in my seizures throughout the course.  It has been a startling reminder of just how much mindfulness helps me to manage and live with my FND.

It wasn’t always easy.  The course required commitment and motivation.  Completing meditation and activity diaries took time and discipline. There were times when feelings that arose in meditation were heartbreaking, or when every ounce of my being seemed to resist the practice.  I know I wasn’t alone in experiencing these difficulties.  In fact, they became an integral part of the insights we made and the techniques we learnt as our relationship with pain and suffering changed. It was a rewarding experience. Taking the course has added new dimensions to my meditation practice and day to day life.  I feel more inspired than ever to share mindfulness with others and to help people live a better life, whatever difficulties they may face.

 

I’ve added a mindfulness page in ‘My Toolbox’ full of practical tips and reminders to help scatter mindfulness throughout your day.  You can find it here.

You can find out more about Breathworks and the courses they offer here.

Mindfulness Toolbox

Mindfulness Toolbox

Last week I completed Breathworks’ ‘Mindfulness for Health’ course.  Over ten weeks I was able to deepen my practice, be part of a supportive community and witness transformation in myself and others.  I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with you next week.  In the meantime, I’ve created a mindfulness toolbox to remind myself and others of the practice in an easy and accessible way.  Some of the ideas are so simple and take such little time, yet they can have a truly profound effect on your day to day life, whatever your situation.  You can find the toolbox here.

Crochet Therapy

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I’m sitting on the bed.  I’m holding a ball of yellow  wool.  It’s soft, bright.  A crochet hook is gently cradled in my right hand.  “Yarn over hook and pull through a loop,” says my roommate sitting next to me, wool and hook in hand too.  I watch as the string of yarn turns into neat little chain stitches.  I forget where I am.  I forget I’m in hospital.Read More

A Taste of Summer – Pesto Courgetti

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Growing food is such a grounding experience.  I can easily see the appeal of allotments and why people devote endless hours to their gardens.  My little kitchen garden is taking shape this year.  I have trailing tomatoes, bags of potatoes, pots of herbs and a planter full of courgettes.  I find the process fascinating, watching a tiny seed grow into something so fresh and delicious.  Little Nieces D and P were as delighted as I was when we discovered the first tiny green tomato on the plants they helped to sow.  I don’t know what I’ll discover when we lift the potatoes as the leaves have been stripped bare by slugs.  But the courgettes are flourishing with huge leaves and vibrant yellow flowers. Read More

‘The Treasure of Pleasure’ – Rewiring the Brain for Happiness

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I’m waiting for two hospital admissions.  I don’t know when they’ll be or how how much notice I’ll be given before I have to pack my bag, say goodbye to my kitties and face yet more inpatient treatment and sleepless nights on a plastic hospital mattress.  I have imminent meetings and assessments to review the care I receive, which, given government bureaucracy, can create huge amounts of stress.  Not to mention the day to day challenge of managing my condition, living with difficult symptoms and finding ways to enable me to complete basic tasks most people take for granted.  It could easily consume me.  My life could centre round illness and disability, and all the suffering that accompanies it.  That would be perfectly understandable.  It might even be expected.  It has happened in the past.  But I know if I broaden my awareness, there is always something pleasant to experience.Read More

The Joy and Heartache of Impermanence

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I’m looking into my front garden.  The lawn and hedges are fresh and green.  Tall, delicate stems of verbena wave across my window.  Lavender is starting to release its aromatic scent.  There are roses in tight bud, others already opening to reveal layers of vibrant petals.  The beautiful colours capture my attention.  I feel happy and content as I take it all in.  But there’s something else; a weight of sadness and a sense of loss.  I know this moment won’t last.  Like everything else, it will pass.Read More

Widening the Lens – It’s All about Perspective

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Have you ever been struck by how differently two people can view the same thing?  How about considering how one person can see two very different points of view?  It is so easy to get stuck in a particular mindset thinking there is only one way, but with an increase in psychological flexibility it’s possible to take a step back and consider alternative views.  You might just discover all sorts of possibilities if you do.

I was feeling anxious about something recently; future hospital treatment, so it was understandable that I might feel apprehensive.  I felt stuck.  I’d lost control and jumped into the unknown.  At least that’s what my thoughts were telling me.  Prompted by the words of a wise doctor, I was reminded how those thoughts weren’t necessarily true.  What might the alternative be?  Could I flip it?  Could I take charge and therefore feel in control?  Could I express my wishes and assert my needs, making it less of an unknown?  Yes, I could.  The result was immediate and empowering.  It felt like an entirely different situation.  I was no longer stuck.

Our thoughts have a direct impact on our feelings, so it’s no surprise that a shift in perspective can bring a shift in feelings and an increased sense of well-being.  The challenge is to see the alternative.  We become so familiar with a particular point of view that our brains literally get used to activating certain neural pathways.  The good news is that just like physical flexibility, psychological flexibility (being able to adapt to different situations and view alternative perspectives) can be increased.  Learning something new, doing something differently and getting out of your comfort zone all help.  You can read more about that here.  It really is worth the effort.

The Body Scan

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“This is going to take some time,” I thought, as I was asked to draw my attention to the big toe of my left foot at the start of my first body scan meditation.  I kept going though and was soon aware of tingling sensations in my feet I’d never noticed before.  When I reached my lower back, a surge of warmth spread up my spine.  By the end I was breathing with my entire body, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  I felt grounded, calm and peaceful, yet alert and awake.Read More

International Day of Yoga – Views from a Beach/Yoga Mat

Yoga on Walton Beach

Tuesday 21 June was the second International Day of Yoga.  When the Indian Prime Minister requested the day, he addressed the UN saying, “Yoga is an invaluable gift…It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being…”  The day has been supported by 175 nations and is celebrated with free yoga classes across the globe. Read More