Breathworks Blog

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

Mindfulness and the Third Age - Annie Jones

Annie Jones U3A mindfulness Breathworks

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.

Annie Jones

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ollie

My Internship at Breathworks - Shannon Philips

My Internship at Breathworks - Shannon Philips

(Me trying to be professional and get a serious photo but the excitement sort of takes over as demonstrated by my face)

 

Hi!

Shannon here! Unfortunately I have reached the end of my internship with Breathworks, and so I’ve been asked to write a little summary of my experience. I will try not to get too emotional in the process, as it really has been a fantastic little chapter in my life!

Firstly, a quick introduction as to how I found myself at Breathworks. I am an undergraduate Psychology student at the University of Leeds, currently on the ‘sandwich’ work placement year of my degree. Over the last year, I have suffered badly with anxiety, and so having stumbled upon mindfulness as a therapy in my personal life, I started to become very interested in exploring it further academically through my degree. I approached Breathworks who very kindly offered me an internship as a research assistant.

From my first week in the office, I knew I was in for a wonderful experience. Being located in the Manchester Buddhist centre, I found myself in the most serene environment, with access to drop-in lunchtime meditation sessions and an abundance of opportunities to stock up on incense! The team were so welcoming and helped me to settle in very quickly.

Despite only being on a 3-month placement, I have gained a HUGE amount of experience. I began my placement by familiarising myself with the latest literature on mindfulness and how it has been used to help those managing chronic conditions and pain. This gave me a great introduction into the company, and off the back of this I began writing research summaries for the website, and re-designing the look of the research page to make it much more reader friendly (so I even managed to tap into my creative side!)

shannondamnit

Once I had familiarised myself with the company, I had the opportunity to work with several other team members on some rather exciting data analysis – (it was here I truly embraced my inner geek!) Breathworks are continuously looking to add to the evidence base on their 8-week courses, and so I began working on a project which involved collecting, analysing and interpreting questionnaire data from participants at various time-points after having completed one of our courses. Through this, I further expanded my knowledge of computer programmes such as survey monkey, Microsoft Excel and SPSS statistics. This was a fabulous opportunity for me as a Psychology student, as I had my first experience of working with ‘real life’ raw data rather than the ‘artificially clean’ data that I have worked with previously in my course. Through this, I learned a lot about issues and complications that researchers may face with data collection, and ways to reduce these problems. I also found interpreting the results much more rewarding than when working with university data, as you could physically see real life participants’ wellbeing improve significantly after having taken part in one of our courses.

shannon2

 

shannon3.2

To really understand the data I was working with, I was kindly given the opportunity to attend one of the courses, which in itself was an amazing learning curve and has provided me with some valuable coping mechanisms.

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As my internship came to a close, I summarised the research I conducted onto a poster which was presented at an upcoming academic conference held by the British Pain Society in May (one which I was kindly invited to attend!). I see this as the perfect end to my time here, and am very proud to have produced something which I will be able to take with me when I return to university. I will definitely be looking to continue my career in mindfulness research, and already have made plans to collaborate with Breathworks when conducting my final year project for my dissertation.

Just to end, here are a few key lessons I have learned whilst on my placement:

  • Talking on the phone isn’t as scary as it first seems!
  • There is almost always a shortcut on Microsoft Excel that will literally save hours of your life (I found out the hard way…)
  • To work in an office, you must know how to make tea.

Thank you to everyone at Breathworks for such a fabulous experience! You will be truly missed!

Shannon x

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Singhashri

Please, don't knock mindfulness

Blog Dont knock mindfulness Image

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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James Belton

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 - www.tlcyogaandmindfulness.com 
 
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Vidyamala

Mindfulness for the New Year 2017

Image for Mindfulness in the New Year 2017 Blog
 
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

 
Specific:

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".

Measurable:

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.

Achievable:

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:

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.

Time-bound:

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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