Breathworks Blog

Stories, tips, and articles about mindfulness, daily meditation, compassion, living well with illness and chronic pain, and more.
James Belton

Conscious commuting – travelling with fellow humans

London Commuter Blog Image

When I moved to London 15 years ago from Germany, I found that I could be incredibly judgemental of the many walks of life I found myself alongside as I travelled on the tube.

Take the person listening to loud music – I recall thinking, "How impolite and inconsiderate! Why can't they turn down the music?" Or the person occupying two seats at peak travel time: "How rude to take up so much space!"

I had all sorts of judgements about the people commuting with me, judgments about what they looked like, their clothes, how they behaved.... My head was often filled with harsh, critical and unkind thoughts about my fellow commuters.

These judgements and negative thinking about others affected how I was feeling. My mood was often low when I commuted – I felt on edge, tense, grumpy and isolated - it felt like me against all the other people on the tube.

Applying a different lens

Having practised mindfulness and meditation for almost nine years, I'm glad to say I now look through a very different lens when I travel on the tube. I see people as they are, in all their shapes, forms, moods, expressions, behaviours, odours, voices.

And when I do sometimes engage in judgement, particularly when someone is rude or listening to loud music, I am much more aware when I do it and can catch myself in the act.

And it is only when our judgements become conscious that we can choose to let them go, to stop engaging in them and to instead see what's actually happening in the moment, i.e. people travelling to work, to home, to see friends or family, just like we are. We can let them be.


Today I travel with a much gentler and more open heart, I feel more connected to my fellow commuters, to the many different people on the same journey as me – through London and through life.

By Karen Liebenguth

Karen is passionate about helping others experience the benefits of a mindfulness practice. An accredited Mindfulness teacher through Breathworks, Karen teaches 8-week Mindfulness for Health and Mindfulness for Stress courses. Karen is also a qualified Life Coach, specialising in coaching while walking in green space, a certified Myers Briggs Personality Type (MBTI) facilitator and Focusing Practitioner.


Free Commuter Meditations - These 10 minute meditations have been recorded specifically to help commuters connect more deeply and compassionately with their experience as they travel too and from their place of work.

Recorded by Singhashri Gazmuri , Breathworks Program Director 

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James Belton

A week in the life of a Breathworks Mindfulness Volunteer

Hi there. I'm Maree, a Breathworks teacher from Auckland, New Zealand. I'm also on the Breathworks training team in Australia. I'm spending a few months in the UK exploring the home of both Breathworks and the Triratna Buddhist Order. So I've been doing a real mix of things - Breathworks retreats, helping out at Adhisthana (a retreat centre in Herefordshire) and going on longer Buddhist meditation retreats. I'm here in Manchester this week to meet everyone in the Breathworks office and help out where I can. It's a small team, so an extra pair of hands is always welcome.IMG 20160818 113919

Who says it always rains in Manchester?! I arrived in the Breathworks office to a view of blue skies and sunshine. Having just finished a 10 day silent meditation retreat, I was thankful for the relatively quiet atmosphere – just 3 or 4 of us in today and it was a little hive of productivity, everyone absorbed in their work. Although Sarusavanna roused us all for mindful movement breaks and we hit the floor for a body scan around 3pm. Walking the talk – I like it! My task was to find a way to map out the location of Breathworks teachers around the world on the computer, so the team can provide regional maps in information packs and also just display the maps on the office walls as a global snapshot of Breathworks (somewhat unusually for a Breathworks teacher, my background is in IT). Lovely to see little dots marking Breathworks teachers slowly spreading all the way from Iceland down to New Zealand...


A full crew on deck today, with every chair filled and boxes being packed with materials for upcoming training events. For me, today was all about laying out meditation diary templates, which will be support materials for Gary's upcoming book for the Mindfulness for Stress course. So pleased to see the resources for this course growing over time. Gary and I need to review them later in the week – I offered bribes of ice-cream (yes, it's still ice-cream weather), because let's be honest, how many of us feel inspired by a meeting to review document templates, useful though they may be?! I led a body scan for us all in the afternoon, our mats arranged on the floor around desks and tables – we were a bit like sardines in a can. Funny having to check if everyone could hear me from behind the filing cabinets!


Today's afternoon meditation break gave way to mindful eating of ice lollies – thank you, Elaine! I was back to playing with electronic maps today, creating a custom map for the UK to make it easier for the office to identify teachers who may be able to pick up work in different areas as it becomes available. Very much enjoying sunny Manchester and the relatively mellow atmosphere of the Breathworks office. An office of mindfulness practitioners does have a decidedly less stressed-out vibe!


I love a good, random day. The main thing I need to do before I leave is document how to use the open source image editing software I used to create some of the teacher maps, as well as how to update and create new maps. So the morning was largely devoted to documentation and the eating of second breakfast. I'd been rather admiring of James' second breakfasts all week and this morning, along with a cup of tea (they're very good in the Breathworks office about offering everyone cups of tea when they go for one themselves - a humbling habit... I've come from an "every man and woman for themselves" work environment) he delivered a croissant to my desk as well. Marvellous! In the afternoon, Jules and I co-led a Breathworks drop in session downstairs at the Manchester Buddhist Centre. We had about 8 or 9 people join us and I was feeling decidedly chilled out after a body scan and some mindful movement. It was an odd juxtaposition to return to my desk for more...documentation. Then (and you could be completely forgiven at this point for thinking all the team does is eat delicious things - but it's really not true), we had cake to celebrate Gary's birthday. Colin assured me I was there during an unusual week. I had no complaints.


My last day! Rather sad, really. I enjoyed spending time with the Breathworks team very much. I'd happily stay another week, but have some big weeks ahead and after being on the road for three months already, I need a break. I am about to head to Herefordshire for a week of downtime and am having visions of lying on a sofa and doing very little indeed. I spent some time with Colin today, catching up on where the Breathworks research is at and what's to come in future. He also gave me some helpful advice on how to use the existing research in proposals for funding bodies back in NZ.

I finished off my documentation marathon, too, and spotted Helen using the custom Google map I created for UK Breathworks teachers. Good to see the fruits of my labour being used.

Not that it felt much like labour... been a rather lovely week. And great to get a sense of the team and see all the hard work that does go on to keep Breathworks going. Like I said yesterday, it's not all cake and ice cream! But my impression is that the team works with thought and care both for each other and the people they're serving. A real delight. I shall sign off now and head out into the Manchester rain (the weather had to pack in sometime, right?).

by Maree Beverland

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The Compassionate Commuter Blog

Image of commuter looking content next to tube train

I step onto the Hammersmith and City line heading west. It's the end of a long day in the office, I'm tired, and there are no seats left. I look around, people are on their phones, playing games, listening to music, reading or generally zoning out. No one looks particularly happy.

I begin to feel my entire body contracting. A tightening against the next 10 minutes of standing in a crowded, hot train hurtling through an underground tunnel. But then I remember that I have a choice. I take a deep breath and become aware of my feet on the floor of the train. There are subtle vibrations there and as I tune into them the train begins to move. I sway. Air moves past me from the open window at the end of the train. I open to the sounds all around me. The whir of the train as it picks up speed, screeching wheels, a baby crying, muffled voices, music coming from someone's headphones.

I close my eyes. I remember that we are all at the end of our day. That everyone is probably as hot and tired as I am. That each of us is full of the memories of our day, the people we've encountered, the conversations we've had, the things we've done and places we've been. That we are each headed somewhere important to us, home, work, shopping, an appointment, to visit a friend. That we each have joys and worries, hopes and fears. That each of us carries the love of people close to us in our hearts. That we were all born and will one day die. That there is more that connects us then separates us.

I open my eyes. The train comes to a halt and I carefully make my way through the crowd, off the train and onto the platform. I walk alongside a young mother pushing a pram and an old blind man, met by a transit worker there to assist him. I notice how others take care to move around him and appreciate the sensitivity it takes to notice him in the crowd.

I look around and see humanity unfolding all around me. I forget my tiredness and how hot it is.

By Singhashri Gazmuri, Breathworks Program Director


Free Commuter Meditations - These 10 minute meditations have been recorded specifically to help commuters connect more deeply and compassionately with their experience as they travel too and from their place of work.

Recorded by Singhashri Gazmuri , Breathworks Program Director

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Emergency mindfulness for tough times

Vidyamala - Blog Image.jpg

I have lived with spinal pain for 40 years and have practised mindfulness for 30 years. Over that time I have devised and come to rely on three mindfulness techniques that I use when times are tough. I remember these three slogans when I am in need of something that that is fast acting and effective – the mindfulness versions of fast-acting painkillers.

So, whether you are in physical or emotional pain, or you feel as though you are being buried under the stress of work or exams; or if you are facing something difficult in your life, please try my 'emergency mindfulness for tough times' slogans and I am sure they will help.

'When in doubt, breathe out'

When we experience pain - be it mental, emotional or physical - we inevitably hold our breath against the pain. Try this short exercise to see what I mean:

Make a fist with one hand. Notice what's happened to your breathing. You'll probably notice you're holding it. Now imagine breathing into the fist. What does it want to do? You'll probably find it wants to release a little.

The fist in this exercise is a metaphor for any kind of discomfort. When we are not aware, we automatically tense against the discomfort with associated breath holding. Then we get into a vicious cycle of more tension, more breath holding, more pain, more tension etc. and this can feel really unpleasant. By consciously directing the breath into this cycle of contraction, the tension will gradually soften and the pain will ease.

A good way to do this is to allow each out-breath to sigh into the full length of the natural exhalation. When you notice you are getting wound up in this kind of cycle say gently to yourself "when in doubt, breathe out". Let go and soften.


This leads to the next slogan FOFBOC which stands for: Feet on Floor, Bum on Chair. This is used when teaching mindfulness to kids but it is also a great mindfulness reminder for us big people coping with desperate moments.

When we are caught up in habits of resisting and fighting pain, we unconsciously strain away from experiencing the body and end up fighting gravity. We sort of pull away from the floor and the chair with the breath holding and tension I write about in the previous point. As you soften your breath and let the out-breath go all the way out of the body, you could also say to yourself "FOFBOC" and see if you can really feel your feet on the floor and your bum on the chair and cultivate more of a quality of rest and ease.

'Take a break BEFORE you need it'

It is counter-intuitive to stop doing something before you really feel the need, but learning to pace my activities has been one of the key ways I have learned to manage my pain and live a full life with a very demanding but satisfying job.

Pacing is learning to balance activity with rest, so you don't swing wildly between over-doing it when you feel OK and then having a big crash as a consequence. For example, when I am working at the computer, I use a timer set for 20 minute spells. When the timer goes off I pause, stretch, move about a little and give my body a break from being in one posture. This has been revolutionary for me and I have been able to write three books by working in 20 minute spells.

Before I learned to pace I used to do an activity until my body forced me to stop - usually at the point of agony. So I might work for 2-3 hours at a stretch but then be wiped out for the rest of the day. By pacing, I can now work for many more hours without ever reaching this pitch of agony. Think of it as never quite draining your bank account but always having a little bit of cash in reserve!

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Launch of APPG Mindful Nation UK Report 2015 - What does this mean for Breathworks?

On 20th October Vidyamala and Singhashri made their way to Portcullis House, part of the UK Parliament, for the much anticipated launch of the 'Mindful Nation' report. This was the result of many months of work by a dedicated team under the auspices of the 'Mindfulness Initiative'

All the great and the good of the UK mindfulness field were there along with a number of Government ministers who spoke about the value they see in mindfulness as a way of addressing some of the problems in our society.

Mark Williams spoke first about the benefits of mindfulness followed by a number of other speakers:

·       Tracy Crouch, Minister for Sport, spoke movingly and honestly about how the mindfulness courses at Parliament had helped her manage her own depression.

·       Alistair Burt, a Minister in the Department of Health spoke specifically about the role mindfulness could play in physical health amongst other things:

“Mindfulness can help people with physical health problems – an area I am very interested in exploring further. Since becoming a Health Minister, I have seen evidence showing that mental health interventions can be an important part of supporting someone with a long term health condition, including diabetes and musculoskeletal problems. I am keen to find out more about how mindfulness can contribute to this”.

Obviously Breathworks is well placed to help people with physical health conditions and I have written to Alistair Burt since the launch telling him about our work.

·       Nicky Morgan, Minister of Education, spoke about the role mindfulness can play in the education system, particularly helping to build character and resilience – two areas that she is keen to promote in the young people in the education system.

The session was wrapped up by three school children speaking eloquently about how mindfulness has helped them. Of course they stole the show!

What the report means for Breathworks

What immediately springs to mind when reading the report is the importance of having a high quality evidence-base. The authors decided to prioritise this when making recommendations.

In the health section, one of the recommendations is:

NICE should review the evidence for Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and chronic pain when revising their treatment guidelines.

This is an area where Breathworks may be seen as a treatment of choice given our areas of speciality are chronic pain and illness.

We were pleased to see Breathworks mentioned in quite a few places in the report:

·       On page 26 there is a full-page case study featuring Anu Gautam.

·       On page 73 in the section ‘the challenges of implementation in the NHS’ it says:

“Another model is Breathworks, a social enterprise founded in 2001 that is based in the north-west of England and works nationally, and which offers eight-week courses, adapted from the MBSR programme, for people living with chronic pain and other long-term physical health conditions. Their courses are not generally available on the NHS and cost £200 (with some partial bursaries for those who cannot afford to pay). They have also established a programme of courses and teacher training”.

·       On page 80 in the section ‘Where will the mindfulness teachers come from?’ the following statement says:

“Excellent models also exist of “in house” training within the NHS, as well as independent training organisations such as Breathworks, the Mindfulness Association and London Meditation (which together train a further 140 people per year)”.

Following the launch of the report I see the following as our key priorities and work is underway to strategise this:

·       Promote mindfulness for Long Term Conditions (LTCs).  70% of the NHS budget is now spent on LTCs and it is an area of tremendous interest in terms of finding innovative models of self-management.  And, as seen from the above quote from Alistair Burt, ministers within the Department of Health are interested in mindfulness.

·       Connect our work more directly to MBSR. Our programme is a direct adaptation of MBSR/CT for people living with chronic pain/health conditions and is highly prasied by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the person who developed MBSR. He said: ‘Mindfulness-Based Pain Management (MBPM) is the most comprehensive, in-depth, scientifically up-to-date and user-friendly approach to learning the how of living with chronic pain and reclaiming one’s life that I know of…I admire Vidyamala Burch tremendously. Her approach could save your life and give it back to you’ Jon Kabat-Zinn

·       Prioritise high-quality research to build our own evidence base.  Colin Duff and I jointly oversee research at Breathworks and we currently have the following relationships underway with outside researchers/clinicians:

University of Manchester School of Psychological Sciences & Maggie’s – designing study of MfH for Cancer patients and carers, with a view to ongoing research partnership

University College London Hospital – MfH book programme trialled for gastrointestinal in-patients, study completed and being written up for publication under supervision of Amanda Williams

National Spinal Injuries Centre and University of Buckingham – MfH online for spinal patients, controlled trial in progress

Leeds PhD study of MfH grads – Extensive interview-based study of MfH course grads now written up as PhD thesis, findings being written up for journal submission

De Montfort University – preparing bid to research MfH for LTC patients and carers

Universities of York and Glasgow – bid in development to trial MfH for patients with multiple conditions as part of an integrated care pathway 

University of Manchester Institute of Population Health – bid submitted to evaluate MfH online on prescription within General Practice in Greater Manchester

Salford university student – analyzing our MfS questionnaire data

Oxford University – post doc study of MBCT for IBS sufferers to incorporate Breathworks compassion meditation

Stanford University and Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing exploring detailed evaluation of MfH online, with a view to researching MfH group courses for pain unit patients to follow

A States of Jersey Pain Management Programme is running and evaluating regular MfH and MfS courses for patients, finding very positive outcomes for patients.

If you are aware of any possible research collaborations, then please do contact to discuss taking this forward.

To view the report and read more visit the Mindfulness Initiative website.  Here you will also find special interest pages where Breathworks is strongly featured on the pain page , cancer page and teacher training page.

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