Breathworks Blog

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

Significant, new study shows the effectiveness of mindfulness for low back pain and the importance of research

A significant study was published this week by the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study looked at the effectiveness of Mindfulness (MBSR) and CBT versus usual care. This study is important as up till now mindfulness has not been rigorously evaluated for young and middle-aged adults with chronic back pain.

The results show that among adults with chronic low back pain, treatment with MBSR or CBT, compared with usual care, resulted in greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations at 26 weeks, with no significant differences in outcomes between MBSR and CBT. These findings suggest that MBSR may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain.

Another recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience finds that mindfulness meditation training could significantly reduce the need for pain medication. In a tightly controlled experiment, researchers showed that a brief training in mindfulness practice can help the brain to dial down its perception of pain, without using the opiod pathway in the brain often targeted by pain medications.

Conclusive research is vital to support the growth of mindfulness, particularly through institutions such as the NHS and other health organisations. For Breathworks, these academic studies are also important as they support us and provide an external affirmation as we develop and grow our work teaching a form of MBSR modified to specifically help people live with chronic pain and illness.

In this respect, we already have our own ongoing evidence-base and are involved in partnerships with a number of charities, hospitals and universities to conduct on-going research and evaluation of our programmes. If you are interested in discussing research with us please contact Colin Duff:

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A Breathworks London Diary

Singhashri Gazmuri is Breathworks' Programme Director and has the great opportunity-cum-challenge to set up a new Breathworks office in London. Here Singhashri is going to report on how Breathworks London is going in its first few weeks of inception and how she is finding her new life in London, so please, check back for fresh updates:

14/03 – Singhashri is reminded that 1 in 5 people live with chronic pain and she wonders who around her might need help.

Today I left the office early, as I was feeling like I might be coming down with a cold. Before heading to the tube, I realised that I still hadn't eaten lunch so made a mad dash across the road to Waitrose, intent on trying out one of their freshly made sandwiches from the bakery.

While scoffing down a slightly stale mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and rocket sandwich in a haze of viral fatigue, I noticed an old woman sitting close by. She was slowly moving from sitting to standing, with a pained look on her face. I noticed a cane hanging from the back of her chair. As she stood up, her bag fell on the floor in front of her. I watched her struggle to bend over and pick it up.

All of a sudden I realized that I had been waiting for someone else to offer her assistance.

"Come on, Singhashri." I thought.

As I looked back over, she was making her way, without her cane, to the garbage bin. A fur scarf that matched the coat she was wearing lay under the table. I slowly went over and placed it on the back of her chair with her cane.

She never saw me. She simply collected her things and went on her way. I thought of the staggering statistic we often talk about at Breathworks - that one in five struggles with chronic pain. I looked around me. The bakery was full of people. I wondered who else might need help.

07.03 – A reminder of our interconnectedness. On a day packed full of meetings, my favourite was the one that wasn't planned.

Today was full of meetings: Skyping with our Training Director, Gary Hennessey, in the morning; lunch with one of our accredited teachers, Karen Liebenguth (who gave me some great marketing ideas!); a supervision session with an associates in Manchester, Andrea Cygler; a face-to-face with our Administrator in the new office, Sarah Campbell, (who is doing a fantastic job!), and then in the evening, another supervision call with associate, Anjali Chatterjee.

But my favourite meeting of all was the unscheduled one.

After getting off the call with Andrea I hit a wall of tiredness. Without even considering the possibility that a body scan might be useful, I gave in to an irresistible urge for coffee. So I went across the street to Lou Lou's café, which serves up the best flat white this side of Paddington station. As I was heading out the door I grabbed some of our newly printed flyers that say things like "Are you breathing?" and "Awaken the force within yourself."

When I got to Lou Lou's I asked the barista if he would be happy to display our flyers, explaining about our courses and how they can help people with pain and stress, to which he happily agreed. He asked me a bit about how it's all going, getting things up and running, and we had a nice chat about the ins and outs of setting up a new mindfulness venture in west London.

He made me my flat white and as I was sweetening it up with half a packet of brown sugar, a young man who had been quietly sitting in the corner approached me and asked if he could have a flyer. Well, of course!

"I live right down the road, but I've never had the guts to go over there (to the West London Buddhist Centre). I get a lot of anxiety, so maybe your course could help."

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Alex." He said.

"Well, Alex, I'm glad you had the guts to say something today, and I hope you'll come along."

He was smiling from ear to ear and said he'd definitely be in touch. I walked back to the office with an equally toothy grin on my face. I love the opportunity for spontaneous interactions with strangers. It's an immediate reminder of our interconnectedness and how we all long for meaning, even if it's through a brief chat in a coffee shop. And I hope I'll see Alex again, whether it in a Breathworks course or simply walking down the street.

02/03 - The mindfulness of non-judgement and being with things as they are.

Today, I've learned that I have absolutely no filming or film editing skills at all. This is after trying, for the whole day, to film myself and my team at the centre, talking about how the courses we'll be offering can help people suffering from long-term health conditions and stress. Instead of an inspiring end product, we got what appears to be a shoddily thrown together mash-up with low sound quality and an awkward looking feel. It's so endearing, that I actually created a second video of the out-takes that communicates more about the mindfulness values of non-judgement and being with things as they are, then anything we actually said in the video. Stay tuned to see it. (Note from Breathworks - we think the video is pretty cute!)

28/02 - Loving-kindness in the London crowds.

I moved to London from Manchester last October to set up a new office in London. I knew it wouldn't be easy and would provide me with countless opportunities to learn. After all, up until now, I've always been more of a "facilitator" than an "initiator." More comfortable coming into pre-existing situations and helping them grow. So I knew my next big adventure would be a stretch.

A couple things I've learned so far. First off, there is no "normal" when it comes to London commuting patterns. In a hopeless pursuit to avoid the crowds, I've tried leaving home on the hour, every hour between 8am and noon, and leaving the office at different times between 4-7pm, and the pattern is, well, not a pattern! It's totally random, like life, and uncontrollable, also like life. I've finally given in to the uncertainty, and my commute has become much more enjoyable.

The opportunities to do loving-kindness practice are endless, and I particularly look forward to the escalator at King's Cross St. Pancras where I get to send a silent wish of wellness to everyone going down, while I'm going up, and vice-versa. And sometimes, upon eye contact, a smile.

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Sona Fricker

Working with the Grain

Janet Cohen attended a Breathworks Meditation Retreat @ Vijayaloka, here is her account of exploring the difference between 'being' and 'doing'.

Breathworks runs meditation retreats throughout the year and has two more planned for 2016, please visit here for more information.

It's the last day of the Breathworks meditation retreat at Vijayaloka and we're preparing to leave. Having finished my cleaning duties in the dormitory bedrooms, I linger in the empty training room and decide to clean the double-sided, portable whiteboard.

The board is old and has been used so much without thorough cleaning that, as well as recent scribing, the ghosts of old words are deeply engrained into the fabric. I want this grimy whiteboard to sparkle. Instead of a smeary surface I imagine a lustrous, pristine white, clean slate.

I attack the task with concentrated energy, vigorously wiping the board from side to side, my mind focused on the goal. But the harder and faster I rub, the more the ink smears across the whole surface. This isn't working, it's not coming clean. Tired and disappointed, I flip the board over. Maybe the other side will be easier to clean.

I don't know why, but this time, I remember to breathe. I'm deeply surprised. My arm moves in a light, circular motion, floating rhythmically across the surface. I'm aware of my body, relaxed and enjoying the task. I feel playful and light, happy. The ink just lifts off the surface and before I know it, the board is clean. I feel energised and calm. I turn over to the first side and using the same approach, it comes clean easily and without strain. I'm even more surprised but begin to see what's happening.

Unexpectedly, here on the last morning of the retreat, where we've explored the difference between 'being' and 'doing', my intellectual understanding of these modes is suddenly embodied in this simple yet profound task of cleaning the whiteboard.

I directly experience that the nature of the world is flow and I can work with it or against it. The 'doing' really can be joyful and effortless, if like a timber craftsman, I accept and work in harmony with the grain.

Janet Cohen

Breathworks Meditation Retreat @ Vijayaloka February 2014

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On International Women's Day, how mindfulness can help all women achieve their potential


Now is the moment when the ‘you’ becomes ‘us’. Collectively, and connectedly, we can believe in ourselves. We can to close our ears to messages in the world that tell us to stay small, that we are less than others, that we are the ‘weaker sex’. Instead, we can raise our gaze and know that we, each in our own individual way, can act to help ourselves and our family and friends, and beyond them the rest of the world. As you revisit all the exercises in this book, you will train your mind and heart so you become less reactive and more loving. Less timid and more courageous. Less fearful and more confident. You will become bold and strong.

I am proud to come from New Zealand, the first self-governing country in the world in which women gained the right to vote in 1893. More recently, New Zealand was also the first democracy to have all key Government roles fulfilled by women, e.g. Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Governor General.

I also come from a long tradition of strong women and I feel I owe it to my courageous and heroic forebears to do all that I can to stand tall and true in my own life. So, on International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016, this amazing and inspiring celebration of women worldwide that has been observed for over 100 years, I want to let other women know about how mindfulness has transformed my life over the past thirty years, and how it can transform their lives as well, which is why I decided to write ‘Mindfulness for Women’.

As I worked on the book I realised that for me personally, many of the themes stemmed from pride in my NZ heritage as a woman. I also came to see it as a tribute to all the wonderful and gutsy women who have populated my life, from my grandmother, my numerous leggy and confident aunts, my mother and my three amazing sisters; to the key friendships formed in my all-girls high school and the women’s Buddhist communities that I have been involved with for decades. Many of these friendships are still going strong today.

I have met women who have achieved incredible things. I am not just talking about careers or outward achievements, but women who in very difficult circumstances - whether illness, pain or other life situations - have managed to create a satisfying and joyful life for themselves through practising mindfulness and the associated qualities of kindness and compassion. This is why I am deeply passionate about women being able to use mindfulness to fulfil their potential.

At school in New Zealand in the seventies, girls were encouraged to dream big and to understand that obstacles were there to be overcome. At that time I was super-fit. I adored the mountains and wilderness and my dream was to be a wildlife ranger. But there was a hitch. The New Zealand Wildlife Service didn’t employ women but I wasn’t going to be deterred. At 15 years old I went to see a Director at their Head Office and asked what I would have to do to convince him to employ me. He told me to get a very good qualification, which was when I decided to become a veterinary surgeon in the knowledge that this would be the ideal skill to have when working with the magnificent creatures I would be living amongst in the mountains and the sea.

You may know my story and how this wasn’t to be as I seriously injured my spine when I was 16. It was devastating to lose that particular dream. But the conditioning of being told “you can do anything as a woman” had a huge impact on me and gave me the courage and confidence to found Breathworks – an international mindfulness organisation - many years later.

I was happy to co-write Mindfulness for Women with a journalist, Claire Irvin, a dynamic magazine editor with her finger on the pulse of many of the issues facing modern women. Claire’s experience will also resonate with many readers: like many younger women she juggles a full-on career with bringing up her two small children. She has to balance countless demands and organise her life with military precision.

To Claire, mindfulness and meditation were initially just more things to add to the never-ending ‘to-do’ list. But, as we worked together, Claire became increasingly curious about mindfulness and decided to keep a practice diary. This has become an integral part of the book and I am sure many women will relate to Claire’s experience of initial resistance followed by genuine excitement as she began to reap the fruits of taking time each day to stop and get to know her own mind and heart. Also essential to this book are our moving and gritty case studies of women who have found mindfulness, sometimes in the most harrowing of circumstances.

My wish is for women from all walks of life to read the book and discover that inner peace is only a breath away. To find self-belief and to stand tall as they go about their lives. Most of all, my wish is that we recognise how we are continually shaping the world with our thoughts and actions and that, with the help of mindfulness, we can become positive agents of change and transformation in the world. This is what IWD is all about: women believing in themselves and other women and campaigning to make the world a better place for women living today as well as future generations.

You can read extracts here and here:

To purchase, read more about ‘Mindfulness for Women’ and access the guided meditations in the book visit

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James Belton

Breathworks Comes to West London

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Breathworks new London office and venue is up and running! From April we will be teaching our signature 8 week courses as well as Taster sessions and follow on courses in the West London Buddhist Centre.

The classes will take place in the centre's beautiful meditation rooms. You can easily access the centre from Paddington, Royal Oak, Bayswater and Queensway underground stations.

Breathworks has been successfully helping people use mindfulness to manage stress and long term health conditions since 2001. Many of our course participants have found a greater sense of well-being and ability to manage their lives.

"Attending the Breathworks course has helped completely turn my life around." MH, muscular pain, Health Course

"I generally feel calmer. I have developed an awareness of myself and my emotions and my tendency to react in certain ways to particular situations and am now able to take a step back and choose how I respond to stress and certain events. I have more control of situations and my thoughts. I have learnt how to actually sit with my emotions instead of trying to push them away. My partner says I am easier to be around!" Participant on Stress Course

Find out what mindfulness is about, and come to one of our regular one hour taster sessions for only £5. The first mindfulness for stress taster session is at 7pm on Wednesday 23rd March and the first mindfulness for health taster session is Tuesday 22nd March from 2:30 to 3:30pm.

Our first Mindfulness for Stress course will start at 7pm on 6th April. It will run every Wednesday evening for 8 weeks.

From 5th April, we will be running an 8 week Mindfulness for Health course on Tuesdays from 2-4.30pm.

More courses will be starting in May, June and July – check out the following links for more details:

Taster Sessions - West London
Mindfulness for Health Courses - West London
Mindfulness for Stress Courses - West London

If you have friends, family or colleagues in London who you think would find these courses beneficial, please share this information with them.

Teacher Training and Courses for Professionals in London

Don't forget we have been running our Teacher Training modules, Health & Social Care Professional courses and Pathways for MBCT/MBSR Teachers workshops in London for some years now. For 2016 dates please click on the links below:

3 Day Events for Health & Social Care Professionals
Mindfulness Teacher Training
Pathways for MBCT/MBSR Teachers - Applying Mindfulness to Pain & Long Term Conditions

Bespoke Courses and Teacher Training for Organisations

We have run bespoke courses and teacher training for many public and private organisations throughout the UK over the last 15 years. If you would like to discuss your requirements please contact our office on the details below.

Contact Us

To contact our London office and check out the location please click here .

Photo: Part of the London Team; Pascual; West London Breathworks Teacher, Singhashri Gazmuri; Breathworks Program Director, Mariangela; West London Breathworks Teacher, Sarah Campbell; Administrator

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