Breathworks

Reaching out to Indians from England; leading a transcontinental online Mindfulness for Health course

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Rohini Vijaygopal is an accredited Breathworks Teacher; she has a background in working in pharmaceutical and educational sectors, and has been involved in teaching and research at several universities in India and the UK. 

She is teaching the next Mindfulness for Health Online course - you can find out more and book your place now.


Growing up in India, I was introduced to yoga, meditation and sound from a young age. Having personally experienced the benefits of these practices, I have sustained this passion throughout my life alongside whatever else I have pursued. Moving to England two decades ago and continuing with my ‘curiosity’ journey towards anything that is ‘well-being’ related, brought me to attending a Breathworks course here in the UK. Two weeks into the course, I knew for sure I wanted to teach Breathworks.

Such was my enthusiasm that before I knew it, having completed all the necessary training I was accredited with Breathworks and I am delivering mindfulness (smiling with gratitude as I write this!). By this point, my enthusiasm had become so infectious that many of my friends and contacts in India were curious about mindfulness and wanted me to teach them, but distance was a problem. They shared a preference for synchronous learning, where they could interact throughout the course, rather than independent learning. Also, some people in the UK who wanted to experience my teaching face-to-face had travel constraints, preventing them from accessing the course. This led me to ponder – ‘could I go to them rather than them coming to me?’

I feel alive when I am teaching. It has been a no brainer for me to draw upon my years of experience in online teaching of academic courses to help me reach people wanting to learn meditation but for whom distance is an issue. Having truly understood the power of technology and using my transferrable skills in this area, I went about adapting the course material for online delivery, including making material amenable for screen sharing as well as sharing of media with sound. Six participants enrolled within just a week! I accommodated people from India and the UK, deciding what would be an appropriate time to start to be feasible at both ends. It got finalised for 7am in the morning, UK time, on Sundays, not really a time that I am usually awake on a weekend.

I was thrilled to explore this way of delivering, but initially there were some butterflies in my stomach, worrying whether this would work out within the meditation sphere. It was a perfect time for me to use my own practice to aid my nerves and it worked! Sitting in my meditation room in England, I was teaching a group spread across two cities in India and some here in the UK. I soon noticed my participants did not pay attention to the fact that the medium of instruction was virtual; their focus was simply on the meditation process. The sessions were no different to face-to-face sessions - it had all the benefits yet it was accessible to those sitting 8,000 miles away. The added bonus came in the form of happy Sundays after an early start.

Millions in India live with chronic pain and illness and could benefit from the Mindfulness for Health course and the radical shift that can come about in how one experiences physical, mental and emotional pain. Although invisible illnesses have started to be recognised in the West, this recognition is barely emergent in India. Online, we can reach out to people in distant locations where we lack a physical presence. India is of special interest to me because of my own background. I also understand that Indians place a huge amount of value in collective learning. Synchronous online delivery of mindfulness can also benefit sufferers of chronic pain and illness within the UK, who struggle to leave their homes.

Feedback I have received has been very encouraging. One participant summarised she had never realised ‘feelings could travel virtually.’ Another said, ‘I learnt so much during the eight weeks and Rohini supported a lot when faced with difficult emotions.’ A Consultant Gynaecologist, one of the people in the group, mentioned that ‘Rohini’s delivery was simple, yet it made a marked difference to my state of mind’ - she said her patients could definitely benefit by doing this course.

I now deliver regular online drop-in sessions for participants and the group is growing by the day.rohini Enthused by knowing that it is indeed possible to do a successful online delivery with a population who are at a distance and for those who find it difficult to travel, I have already started delivering yet another transcontinental course. I am delighted to be able to make some difference to the lives of people who otherwise would have been difficult to reach, and grateful to my participants who have been happy to accompany me in my curiosity and exploration.

Rohini Vijaygopal

 

The Breathworks teacher training programme aims to prepare trainees to deliver the Breathworks Mindfulness for Health and Mindfulness for Stress 8-week courses in a traditional face-to-face group mode. For accredited teachers who have significant experience of e-learning delivery, it is acceptable for them to offer synchronous small-scale online teaching using a close adaptation of the 8-week Breathworks courses, for example via Skype or Zoom. Accredited teachers may not, however, set up a Breathworks course on a website or VLE, or deliver it in asychronous modes using applications such as VoiceThread, Facebook etc.

 

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Making Mindfulness Available to Everyone

Breathworks Foundation New Logo 2018 White

 

It has been just over three months since I started working for The Breathworks Foundation, taking on a new role as Head of Development, and what an inspiring and heart-opening time it has been already.  The Trustees asked me to bring my previous fundraising experience to The Foundation to raise money to realise Vidyamala’s long held vision: sharing mindfulness with as many people who suffer through pain, illness or stress as possible, whatever their financial circumstances.

"I am absolutely delighted that Karunatara Green has joined The Breathworks Foundation, which funds Mindfulness for Health Course bursaries for those struggling financially, as Head of Development. She brings a wealth of experience in fundraising from her previous role at the Manchester International Festival and, every bit as important, she brings a lot of heart. She is passionate in helping the Foundation expand its reach and already has a keen grasp on the scale of suffering in our societies. She can clearly see the potential of the Breathworks approach to mindfulness and compassion to help people find new ways to manage their difficulties and to find some hope and ease. It is a real joy to have her join the Breathworks project. I get very excited when I think of all the people we will help once we have raised more funds. I feel confident and optimistic that she and I can realise our dreams." - Vidyamala Burch

The Trustees are very excited about the plans to award more bursaries for both courses and teacher training.  We plan to enable working with more partners, charities and trusts & foundations to reach people with long-term health conditions, the young and the old and those many people who are only just getting by / hanging onto their lives and are in need of support and new skills.

I am amazed by the reach of Breathworks with over 400 fully accredited teachers; half in the UK and the other half spread around the world across 22 countries.  I have been lucky enough to talk to some of the people who have made this happen and are spreading mindfulness globally. A decade ago a course started in Valencia, with all the materials translated into Spanish, was then taken to packed houses of 80 participants a time in Mexico!  This dedication and the rise in interest in mindfulness means there are now 80 qualified Spanish speaking teachers, from Buenos Aires to Madrid. Another trainer fell in love with the Breathworks method of mindfulness on the second week of their course, instantly signed up to learn to teach and then took the course online to run real time sessions with participants both in the UK and India.

Learning more about the great work funded by The Foundation has been so inspiring.  It has been moving to talk with some of the 60 individuals who have received bursaries this year, enabling them to deepen their own mindfulness practice, and how passionate they are to share its benefits with others.  Gail, from St. Michael’s Hospice near Hereford, so affected me as I heard her talk about how she had difficulty convincing the hospice to allow her to train, and then as she worked with people near the end of life, how they saw great benefits from the mindfulness courses The Breathworks Foundation funded and agreed to fund a second employee to learn to teach.  Now Gail can spend most of her time one-to-one with patients at their bedsides, whilst Mark runs courses, with double the numbers attending. The three-year funding has allowed over 100 people to learn mindfulness in a suitable setting for just the cost of the books, and mindfulness is now part of the Hospice’s culture.

 

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Gail and Vidyamala at St. Michael's Hospice, Hereford

I just finished attending an eight-week Mindfulness for Health course, gaining much personally as I learn to enjoy my present moment more and more.  It’s inspiring to see how my fellow course participants are in less pain and smiling more and more each week as they experience life anew through the varied techniques and teachings we are sharing.

You will be hearing more about The Foundation as we launch various fundraising initiatives to raise our goal of £100,000 by next summer.  Please do get in touch if you would like to get involved and of course it goes without saying we would be delighted if you felt able to give to support The Breathworks Foundation’s great work, especially during the season of goodwill – no amount too small or too large.  Just click here to go to the donation part of our website.

Lastly, we wanted to take this opportunity to send a special note of thanks to the three donors from our first official fundraising request to course participants, back in September.  Your contributions were a real encouragement to the Breathworks team.

Karunatara Green

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Experiments in Beating the Negativity Bias

Negativity Bias Blog thing

 

I am a new mum to a now seven month-old baby and my to-do list is endless. Looking after a baby on my own is proving very challenging! I am fast approaching mental burnout. I’ve been there before and I am determined not to go there again. In some sort of sleep-deprived state, I rifle through my Mindfulness for Health notes to find the Pacing section. I decide to pace myself in a unique way. I have developed a method which adheres to the principles of Pacing and also to The Treasure of Pleasure simultaneously.

Task Block

I have two mini whiteboards; one on which I write my to-do list and one which is divided into six squares and then each square is diagonally divided into triangles. The idea is that I pair up a 'good' and 'bad' task (one in each half of the square) from the list and therefore I always tackle ‘good’ with ‘bad’ simultaneously. In this way, I aim to override my well-honed avoidance tactics of doing any of the nasty tasks!

I realise intellectually that there is in fact no distinction between good and bad and that these ‘boxes’ they are merely constructs of the mind, but at the same time I know that my mind categorises them as such nevertheless, and doing this gives me a practical 'way in' for my mind to deal with the ever growing list. I call it ‘bribing the guards’ [of my mind]. The very act of gluing a bad thing to a good thing also, I find, has the curious inadvertent effect of neutralising and depolarising both. Perhaps, by doing this, my mind may move closer towards regarding all experiences simply as experiences and eventually doing away with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels altogether.


Before bed each night, I pair up the tasks, so that I am at least partially ready to tackle the next day in case I do not get any sleep! On this particular night, I sit pouring over my endless list; some urgent… some not... some of those ridiculous ticky box tasks… and some very non-urgent tasks which I want to do for myself – pleasurable things which naggingly have been sat on that list since I had my baby half a year ago. Interestingly, they have been there longer than all of the others…

I try to distinguish between good and bad and in the face of sheer adversity and immense fatigue, into my awareness suddenly drops a number of pearls of wisdom. I realise that my mind has started to classify every task as bad just because it is another item on the to do list. I noticed that I am now regarding tasks on the list as enemies whom I have to fight every day, rather than just regarding them as the very fabric of my life experience per se. That is to say, my mind has started to label tasks as ‘bad’ even if the task started out life as a ‘good’ one just because it has been on the list longer than I deem acceptable. It finally dawned on me that I actually regarded none of the tasks as positive and so I couldn’t in fact complete my method of filling in the two halves of each square and therefore could not get on with the day tomorrow as I had planned! My own negativity bias has indeed shot me in my own foot!

Inadvertently and somewhat ironically too, my method of linking good with bad in order to be more proactive had in fact led me to a dead end…albeit a revelatory one. However, I believe every journey has a purpose, if only to present an opportunity for learning. The exercise led me to see just how much I was wallowing in negativity every day – I had actually no idea just how much it had taken over my daily life. My positive/negative equilibrium was very much out of balance and in fact, the negativity bias of my mind had paralysed me into doing nothing. It was like wallowing through a never-ending quagmire of negativity.

The realisation in fact took me back to a school residential fieldtrip, where we had to wade through a muddy quagmire of rice pudding colour and consistency. My welly got stuck and I could not free it. The rice pudding started trickling over the top of my welly. I panicked as I sank deeper and deeper and I ended up tugging like mad, losing my balance and landing face down in the rice pudding! I felt this was a great analogy for how each day was panning out just now. This memory lightened the mood a little and it was in fact a relief to come to the realisation that it was actually me who was setting myself an uphill struggle every day by dwelling on the negative.


My thoughts then turned towards my Breathworks training retreat where we discussed two common and unhelpful responses to pain and unpleasant experiences: trying to block out the unpleasant with distraction and stimulation, and becoming completely overwhelmed with the experience and ‘drowning’ in it. It had been a revelation to me how what one person deemed as blocking, another perceived as drowning! That day, I learnt that there are in fact different ways of framing the tasks; mind could frame a task as good when looked at in one way, and bad when looked at in another. In reality, neither exist and both are just an effort of the mind to put things in boxes because boxes are easier and tidier to move around in the great filing system of the mind.


The revelation yesterday reminded me of just how ugly the human negativity bias can be and how it can creep up on you and swamp you without you even noticing, until you are completely bogged down with it. I now feel much happier about my to-do list; downloading music for my new sound system is no longer a ‘bad’ task (even though it has indeed been on my to-do list for almost a year), neither is collecting the apples off the tree before the wind blows them off. And now, after reframing many of the tasks on the list and regaining some form of equilibrium, in actual fact, the call to HMRC (which after reframing, I realised was the only real daunting task on the whole list) is not so daunting after all.


Alison Salter

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On Backs, Beds, Necks, and Wrecks

On Backs Beds Necks and Wrecks

Vidyamala Burch is the founder of Breathworks, author of the books Mindfulness for Health and Living Well with Pain and Illness, and a world-class expert on mindfulness-based pain management.


 Last week I got a lovely email from Michelle DiGiacomo in the USA that included her blog "battered by beds".

Her email said:

Dear Vidyamala,

I feel like Christopher Columbus and that I’ve just discovered America. 

In telling my story in my blog, I was hesitant to talk of meditation because the western world hasn’t quite caught on, but it was pivotal to this discovery. I laid in those beds for years throbbing in pain, yet it took a very deeply felt body scan to finally discover this. It feels like a miracle. 

I want to scream this from the rooftops. I’ve suffered in pain for years and been given powerful drugs I never needed when I was simply sleeping in extremely defective beds which caused intense pain. 

Thank you for your work as I truly couldn’t have discovered this without you. I’m hopeful that I can share this with my Mayo Clinic doctors and that they will take it seriously. I think the problem is epidemic and needs serious attention. 

I read her blog and felt all kinds of resonances. Her realization that bad mattresses and pillows were causing a significant escalation in symptoms correlated vividly with my own experience, so I thought it would be good to share this more widely. In fact I get very similar symptoms to her if I don’t have the correct mattress for my spine - appalling nerve pains and weakness in my legs at night that comes from pressure on the sacrum if the bed is too hard. If the bed is too soft - that’s another whole disaster. As for pillows, well: headaches, fatigue and neck pain quickly arise if the pillow is too high, too low, too soft, too hard. Truly I have become like the princess and the pea!

We are all different but the best solution for me is a reasonably firm inner sprung mattress with a memory foam topper pad on top. When I travel the world teaching for Breathworks I always take my trusty travel topper pad and generally sleep reasonably well. I also travel everywhere with my memory foam pillow that has transformed my sleep and neck pain. There are many different brands on the market but the Harley works best for me.

When travelling my luggage allowance is quickly used up by topper pad, pillow and other disability paraphernalia such as catheters; so if you wonder why I sometimes look a bit scruffy you now know. There’s very little room left over for actual clothes! But it’s worth it.

Vidyamala Burch


Here is Michelle’s story

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Attitudes for Living Well with Illness

Attitudes for Living Well With Illness

Shunyamala is a Wellness Coach who works one-on-one with people experiencing chronic pain or stress in their lives. She says: “Through years of managing my own chronic auto-immune illness I have learned effective, authentic, holistic ways to soothe the roller-coaster challenges that being out of balance in our bodies and in our minds can bring.”


Many people have asked me "How do you do it? How do you have a smile on your face and good humor while dealing with autoimmune issues day in and day out?" Most of the time I fumble something like "This is the way it is” or “I have no other choice." On further reflection, I can see that I often am using the Breathworks concepts that I learned a while ago and that in fact they serve me very, very well.

So, I'll share some of my favorites that I have woven into my life, and that have made such a difference;

1. Start Where You Are
Full-heartedly turning toward where you are before you decide where you are going. Take some time to listen in and honestly assess how you are feeling before forcing your way, forcing your body, to perform out in the world. Sometimes this can be painfully emotional and yet this is where authentic healing happens. I may even decide to postpone my plans. Permission to do less. It sounds obvious and yet, in the past, I’ve relied on sheer will-power to get me through. Being accepting of where you are is a healthier, smarter alternative. What would make it easier?

2. Listening To Your Body
When listening in or settling in for a meditation, pay attention to the breath in the back of the body, the sides of the body, as well as how your body breathes in the front. Being so forward-centric many of us only think of the body in terms of its front - the face, the heart, the belly. And it is the back of the body that protects us, supports us, that is a force for stabilizing. Keying into the back of the body naturally sends a message of support and self-care. And hey, our bodies like these messages! What is it you would really like your body to know?

3. You Can Always Look for the Positive
There is always the possibility to look for the positive - and this is not some sugar-coated theory. Even in extreme pain, in a dire situation, there is more happening than what may be grabbing your attention. As you relax, see if you can expand, rather than tighten around the pain, to what else you are feeling. Perhaps the sense of stillness as you calm the mental negative chatter. What else is happening now?

4. Honor the Rest Your Body Needs
Honor the rest your body needs before it gets too stressed and strained under pressure. Vidyamala refers to this as pacing. It is a way of saving your body from stress, rather than managing the stress after it has already happened. Bodies that are already compromised in some way do not like stress in any form or manner. For me rest is the best medicine I can give myself. What is it that allows your body to thrive?

Whether it is illness or anxiety that is creating your stressful pain, Vidyamala’s book "Mindfulness for Health", is full of wisdom and ideas that can shine a lighted path forward. The guided meditations included in the book are an invitation to listen in for that healing place in your body. I share these with many of my coaching clients as we all have times that are painful. Albeit some of us more than others. Instead of pushing away what seems to be the source of the discomfort it is the turning towards that can create more possibilities of connection and health.

Shunya


You can learn more about Shunyamala and her work at HeartWisdom Coaching or contact her directly at heartwisdomcoaching@gmail.com. Shunyamala is also a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, practicing at the San Francisco Buddhist Center.

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