Breathworks Blog

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

Please, don't knock mindfulness

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Reading Ruth Whippman's November 26th opinion letter on mindfulness, Actually, Lets Not Be in the Moment left me with a growing sense of dismay and sadness.

I am a mindfulness practitioner of almost 20 years, a teacher, trainer and leader in the field. I believe deeply in the transformative potential of mindfulness practice for individuals and the world. But I also have concerns about how to bring mindfulness into society today, without it being watered down or inappropriately applied. Ms. Whippman's letter is just another example of everything that is wrong with our growing need for quick fixes to the deep problems we face as a global society. It is absurd to think that we can "maximize our happiness" by simply bringing attention to whatever we are doing in the present moment. This is one very small aspect of mindfulness practice, and alone will have very little, if any, effect on one's mental states.

The promise of mindfulness is ultimately one of choice. Mindfulness invites us to get curious about the fullness of our experience, not just the stories we tell ourselves about it. For example, if I am stuck in a traffic jam, I may easily get irritated and caught up in anxious thoughts about being late for my next appointment. These thoughts may jump to wondering what the hold up is, and imagining all the worst-case scenarios. If I find out on the radio it's because there is someone threatening to jump off the overpass, I may even wish they would just get it over with so I can get on with my day.

Mindfulness asks us to wake up to what's happening. Do we really want to be a person who would prefer someone to commit suicide so that we won't be late! Of course not. Those are just thoughts. But those thoughts come from within us, and mindfulness asks up to get curious about that so, ultimately, we can make different choices about how we respond. So instead of going straight into the thoughts and feelings, and believing them to be real, we take a deep breath and take a moment to simply be present with the discomfort of our experience right now. What comes next is up to us.

Life is hard. It isn't easy. It isn't easy for anyone living on this planet at this moment in history. That's not to say that some don't have it harder than others. Of course some do. But we all experience suffering of one form or another and for each of us that suffering is very real.

So there is discomfort. It's the end of a long day, you're physically and emotionally exhausted, you're making SpaghettiOs, and suddenly you remember something you've seen on your Facebook feed that says you'll feel better if you pay attention to that task and not get lost in thought. You try that and you get annoyed, because it feels like just another thing to do. Another thing that, if you fail at, it's your fault. Well, I would be annoyed, too. There is nothing joyful in that.

Mindfulness is a whole life practice and not something you can learn to do with any amount of satisfaction from an article on your Facebook feed. With practice, just like learning to play an instrument, we begin to wake up to our direct moment by moment experience in ways previously unavailable to us. We notice physical sensations and the effect they have on our mind with more clarity, we are able to be with that experience in a less reactive, non-judgmental way, and we create space to be able to make more informed and, yes, wiser choices about how we want to be in this world.

This is not to say that the world doesn't present problems out of our immediate control. The causes of unhappiness are endless, and some of them we can do very little about. But there is so much we can do something about. We do have the power to change our response. This isn't an either/or scenario: either there is something wrong with the world or there is something wrong with me. We live in a both/and reality: the world is full of suffering, and there is something we can do about it. Mindfulness is ultimately about empowerment, not for the sake of acquiescence, but in order to better prepare us to meet the demands of this life. Mindfulness actually builds our resilience, without depriving us of anything.

The word mindfulness derives from the Pali work sati, which is sometimes translated as "to remember." So it isn't just about being in the present moment. It's also about remembering who we ultimately are, or want to be, and keeping that in the center of our lives. And it is about the intention we bring to how we want to be with our experience: remembering our intention and coming back to it over and over again.

When practicing mindfulness, we become interested in the present moment, but not at the expense of our thoughts about the past or the future. The difference here is that we can choose which thoughts we want to engage with, and which are not in line with our intentions. Of course, memories from the past and plans for the future are important, and support us to live a happy, healthy life.

Instead of dismissing mindfulness before you've really tried it, maybe you could get curious about it. Ask, "What is this mindfulness thing really all about?" Read a book, listen to an online talk or guided practice, take a course, go on a weekend retreat. Talk to those of us who know something about it. And don't assume it's just a practice for the privileged. I have found that during times of great difficulty is when my mindfulness practice has born its greatest fruit.

So please, don't knock mindfulness. Not at a time where the world so desperately needs people willing to meet suffering within themselves and one another with wisdom and compassion.

by Singhahsri Gazmuri, Breathworks Program Director

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My intention for 2017 is simple: to bring more mindfulness to my daily life

London 2017 Blog
A new year arrives, and all the possibilities for new beginnings and for change in my life start to spin through my mind.  But when I look back over past years, it's clear that few of my New Year resolutions have had a significant impact on my behaviour.  I don't think I am alone here, and I wonder why we find it so difficult to make positive changes in our life.

Yet I also know that change is possible, and that mindfulness is one of the most powerful forces I can call on for support.  Mindfulness can give the perspective to see what needs attention or action and enables me to choose a response based on compassion and wisdom.   For real change, this needs to happen over and over again, to replace old habitual reactions with new, more skillful responses.  Repeatedly guiding ourselves along a new track not only creates a new habit, it creates new neural pathways in the brain.  Over time the brain "re-wires" itself, so that change truly becomes “embodied”. 

So instead of writing a long list of unrealistic resolutions and finding myself disheartened by February, my intention for 2017 is simple: to bring more mindfulness to my daily life, And I resolve to give this intention more priority, so it becomes woven into my thoughts and behavior.  It's heartening to think of this as a skill I can develop gradually with attentiveness, patience and perseverance.  This brings to mind Mary Oliver's poem, "The Gardener”:

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I
come to any conclusion?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?
I say this, or perhaps I'm just thinking it
Actually, I probably think too much.
Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

Wishing you a Happy and Mindful New Year 2017! 

By Tina Stallard , Breathworks mindfulness teacher and yoga teacher in Greenwich, South East London -  
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Mindfulness for the New Year 2017

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Here are some tips to make New Year resolutions that are achievable and satisfying. One top tip is to make your resolutions SMART.
  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound


Your resolution might be the rather vague "I want to get fit" which is, in all likelihood, doomed to fail because you haven't worded it in the right way. Think about the following points:

How do you define "being fit?" Is it walking five minutes outside the house a day, half a mile a day, swimming, lifting weights? Are you going to do this daily? Weekly? If you are too vague it is difficult to measure progress and so, all too soon, you are likely to give up.

It is helpful to answer five "W" questions when trying to be specific:

Who: Who is involved in this goal?

What: What do I want to achieve? Be very specific about how much you'll do of whatever activity is your goal.

Where: Where will I work on this goal? Identify a location gather any information you might need e.g about gyms, swimming pools, health clubs etc.

When: When will I work on this goal? Establish a time frame.

Why: Why do I want to work on this goal? (Identify your deeper values as to WHY you want to get fit – maybe it is so you can play with your grandchild, or attend a course. If you are clear about the WHY of your resolution then you are much more likely to achieve it.

A specific short-term goal would be "I will join a health club and swim for ten minutes three times a week in order to get fitter".


It is important to choose a goal where you can measure your progress. In this sense it needs to be concrete and tangible. Say your goal is "I want to be less dominated by my pain and have a better quality of life". Again this is far too vague. A measurable goal might be something like "I will go to the cinema twice in the next month as a way of improving my quality of life and being less dominated by the pain". You can then measure very clearly at the end of the month if you have managed to follow through this intention or not.


Ideally a short-term goal should stretch you slightly, but should still be within your abilities, skills and financial capacity. For example, if you want to lose weight, it is foolish to say "I will lose 20 lbs in one week". This is neither achievable nor healthy. Setting a goal of "I will lose 1lb pound a week for six weeks" is much more achievable and sensible.


Realistic is not another word for easy! Rather it means that we should choose short-term goals that are meaningful, sensible, achievable, and appropriate. By appropriate I mean relevant to your financial means, your age, your family situation, your health and so on. The goal needs to be realistic for you at the moment. If you make a goal to never eat anything sweet whatsoever, when you are a person with a very sweet tooth, then this is not realistic! A more realistic goal would be to replace one sweet item a day with a piece of fruit for two weeks, and then to gradually phase out cakes and chocolate progressively by setting new goals every two weeks in this way.

A realistic goal is one that you are both are willing and able to work towards. This is important. You have to be both motivated to achieve any goal you set and capable of achieving it practically. Often we can fail at goals because of either lack of motivation or practical problems.


Set a timeframe for your goal! This is very important. By setting an endpoint to your goal then you have a clear target to work towards. It will also provide motivation and keep you on track. If you don't set a clear time limit, then you don't have a way of monitoring your achievements, nor have a motivation to start! Simply saying "I will join a gym" means you can easily get away with continually putting it off till next week. But if you say "I will join a gym by this Saturday and then I will go and swim 10 lengths three times a week and review after one month" then you have a very specific, time bound goal that will be both easier to achieve and measure.

By using these SMART guidelines you should find it easier to identify goals that you will succeed at.
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Conscious Commuting – Finding beauty in the city through mindfulness

London Commuter Blog Image - Beauty in the City


One morning recently I had to commute for over an hour across London for work. For some of this time the train was very crowded and I had to stand, increasing my back pain. I arrived feeling rather sorry for myself and already quite drained of energy. As I started the final part of the journey, a 15 minute walk along a busy four lane road, I was hunched over and walking really quickly, thinking how unlucky I was that the end of my commute was through such an 'ugly' part of London and dreading the day ahead.

I noticed the tension in my body and how these negative thoughts were colouring my feelings about work and I decided to slow down and take a breath. I then decided to actively look for the pleasant on the final part of my walk, though I noticed an almost simultaneous judgement that there wouldn't be much here by a busy, noisy road!

Almost immediately, however, I came across a silver Birch. Its base was in concrete but it was tall, slender and strong and it looked beautiful, with its silver bark reflecting light. I stopped and felt it: it was shiny and smooth in parts, broken up by darker ridges and bits of bark that were peeling off. It was lovely. I then noticed another Silver Birch further along the busy road and stopped to look at that too, feeling a happy anticipation as I approached it.

Next I noticed that one of the houses nearby had a Box Hedge in the garden – the very ordinary kind that I may usually have dismissed as common and not very interesting. However when I looked closely the leaves were all reflecting light in a different way, some shiny, some dull, some lighter, some darker and there were many, many different shades of green. I felt one of the little leaves and it was soft, delicate and smooth– a deep dark green. I felt a sense of wonder and appreciation.

I enjoyed the rest of the walk to the office and arrived in a completely different mood, feeling positive about the day ahead and able to greet my colleagues warmly and cheerfully. I feel grateful that my mindfulness practice enabled me to notice my tension and negative thoughts and not to let them spoil any more of my day. My mood was affecting what I saw and how I saw it and changing this around enabled me to enter a very different space, possibly changing the whole course of my day. I can't control my commute, and all the delays and cancellations and lack of seats I often come across, but I can control how I respond to it and that knowledge is really helpful. The memory of those trees in such an 'ugly' and built up part of London has often come back to me since and made me smile.

By Sophie Matthew, Breathworks Mindfulness Teacher - London

Sophie Matthew is an Associate Teacher for Breathworks in London. She also teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses, and is a qualified Mindfulness in Schools teacher. She is currently doing a Masters in Teaching Mindfulness Based Approaches at Bangor University.


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

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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