Annie Jones (front, far right), accredited Breathworks Mindfulness teacher,
with her mindfulness group from the Bolton U3A.
Having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, after many years of health problems and various diagnoses, I realised that mindfulness was something I could usefully explore. MS is a disease with an uncertain course and prognosis, and mindfulness offered a pathway to help me to navigate its uncertainties. Having completed a ‘Living Well With Pain and Illness’ course early in 2010, I was inspired to become a mindfulness teacher, mainly because I felt other people with MS might benefit from the course. After qualifying as a Breathworks teacher in March 2012, I began to run courses, mainly at the MS Therapy Centre in Trafford. This proved to be a rich and rewarding part of my life, and I suspect I learned more from the course participants than they did from me.
Early in 2015, health and family circumstances made it difficult for me to continue to run courses, though I continued with my own personal mindfulness practice. In 2016, keen to do something new, I joined my local Bolton U3A – University of the Third Age.
The First Age is, of course, childhood. The Second Age is the active, practical, busy phase when people are engaged in building families and careers. The Third Age is a time of transition, when we are moving away from paid work outside the home into retirement or semi-retirement and our children, if we have them, have grown up and become independent. This can be a time when people have the leisure to spend more time with old interests or explore new ones. In U3A, people come together, usually in small groups, to pursue these interests together and to maintain a curiosity for new learning. There is no evaluation – group members meet simply to share their interest in the subject - and all group members are equal. The teachers/ group leaders (all volunteers) learn, and the learners teach.
There was no mindfulness group in at the Bolton U3A, and so, towards the end of last year, I suggested I might start one – I thought a few other people might be interested. I was surprised by the response – within a very short time of information appearing in our local U3A newsletter, I had enough people coming forward to run two groups! There was obviously a lot of interest and curiosity about mindfulness – and, when I thought about it, this made perfect sense. The Third Age is a time of change – leaving work and coping with the physical, emotional and psychological effects of ageing. It can also be a time of loss – loss of role and status, loss of or changes in our health, and loss of friends and even partners. Just as I found mindfulness helpful in navigating the uncertainties of MS, so too it can be helpful in navigating the uncertainties of growing older. Knowing what you are doing whilst you are doing it is the essence of mindfulness practice, says Jon Kabat-Zinn – and can help avoid and deal with those ‘senior moments’ of absent mindedness, as when I recently found I’d left my dog lead in the freezer – presumably I’d had it in my hand when I went to reach for the frozen aubergine curry!
As I begin a second series of mindfulness taster sessions with a new group, it occurs to me that other Breathworks teachers who have reached the Third Age might also consider whether their local U3A branch might welcome a mindfulness group – I’m sure there’s a great interest out there.