Breathworks was founded by Vidyamala Burch, Gary Hennessey and Sona Fricker. All three continue to lead courses in Manchester, train Breathworks trainers and run health professional workshops in the UK and internationally.
Originally from New Zealand, Vidyamala sustained a spinal injury when she was sixteen. Over twenty years ago she started exploring mindfulness and meditation techniques to manage her own persistent pain and in 2001 began offering these skills to others, initially with funding from the Millennium Commission.
I was born and raised in New Zealand and first became interested in meditation in 1985 when receiving hospital treatment for a spinal injury. I intuited that meditation and mindfulness could offer me a unique means of easing the mental suffering associated with the physical pain I was experiencing, which has turned out to be the case. For the subsequent twenty years I have continued to follow this thread, moving to the UK in 1990 to live at a retreat centre in Shropshire, training further in meditation and preparing for ordination into the Western Buddhist Order, now the Triratna Buddhist Order.
My spinal condition deteriorated further in the late 1990s and I now use crutches or a wheelchair for mobility, but my overall quality of life has continued to improve as I have become more and more adept at managing my responses to my physical condition and enriching my life in other ways.
In 1996 I moved to Manchester and in 2001 I started teaching mindfulness-based approaches to others living with physical pain and illness, with funding from the Millennium Commission. In 2004 I founded Breathworks with Sona and Gary, both good friends of mine, who are very experienced meditators and teachers. I am deeply committed to the project and find it extremely satisfying.
I have been on a number of conferences, courses and training retreats with experts in the field of pain management and mindfulness, enabling me to draw on a wide range of approaches in my teaching – using both mindfulness and other recognised pain management interventions. I also continue to attend and lead residential intensive meditation retreats several times a year.
NB: My spinal condition means that, very rarely, I need to cancel a commitment. Please know that I always do this with the greatest reluctance and the Breathworks team will make sure a suitable replacement is found.
Gary has been practising and teaching mindfulness and meditation for thirty years. He has worked with Vidyamala and Sona since 2003 and is director of training.
Gary has been practising mindfulness and meditation for over 35 years. For the last thirty years he has been teaching meditation and Buddhism at the Manchester Buddhist Centre and the Dharmavastu Study Retreat Centre in Wales (now sadly defunct), and as a visiting teacher at Buddhist Centres in the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, and America. He is also the author (under his Buddhist name, Ratnaguna) of The Art of Reflection.
He began working with Vidyamala and Sona in 2003, wanting to work outside of a Buddhist context, helping people who are suffering, but using his skills as a teacher. As well as teaching on local Breathworks courses, he trains health professionals and others in mindfulness as a health intervention.
He is the Director of Training for Breathworks, and has developed the Mindfulness for Stress course, which he delivers regularly in Manchester.
Sona has practised and taught mindfulness, meditation and related disciplines around the world for over thirty years in a number of roles. He has worked with Vidyamala and Gary since 2003.
In my early twenties I started practising hatha yoga, and then took up meditation at a Buddhist centre in North London. That was back in the early 1970s. Soon after, I was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order, now the Triratna Buddhist Order.
For the subsequent nearly forty years I have devoted my life to practising and teaching mindfulness, meditation and Buddhist philosophy around the world. I was involved in the establishment and running of several Buddhist centres, including founding a public centre in Stockholm, Sweden, and working as director of a retreat centre in the UK, where I spent much time leading and attending intensive retreats. I have led retreats and Buddhist training programmes in the UK, Germany, Holland, Sweden, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Following a powerful experience on a retreat some years ago, I have felt a growing urge to devote more of my life to caring for people who suffer from pain and illness. At that time I had developed a close friendship with Vidyamala and was inspired by the work she was doing teaching mindfulness-based techniques to manage long-term health conditions. I trained with Vidyamala in the Breathworks Programme in Manchester and am now based there. I am also involved in expanding the Breathworks Programme into other areas, such as the suffering that arises from the complexities of modern life.