Breathworks Blog

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

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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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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