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.
‘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.
‘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.