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Studies show that mindful meditation helps those suffering from loneliness

This year, up to 7 per cent of all adults, and 10 per cent of the elderly, expect to spend Christmas alone with loneliness as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

In response to these figures, Vidyamala Burch, 54, Director and Founder of Breathworks, the mindfulness organisation based in Manchester recommends mindfulness, a 2,500 year old practice that focuses on creating an awareness of the presence, to help ease feelings of loneliness.

Mindfulness has an academic record for helping people with loneliness. Researchers at American university, Carnegie Mellon, found evidence that not only did an eight week course of the mindfulness meditation training decrease participants' loneliness; it also lowered inflammation levels, which are thought to contribute to a wide variety of health threats including cancer, heart and neurodegenerative diseases.  

Vidyamala Burch, says: “In a society where we are so virtually ‘connected’ in many ways, it is a crying shame that 800,000  of us feel lonely all or most of the time, as loneliness creates the bleakest and saddest of feelings, that are detrimental for both our mental and physical health.

The practicalities of creating more meaningful contact with others cannot always be quickly fixed, however, we can learn to manage our reaction to feeling lonely and to stop ourselves spiralling further down.

Loneliness comes into my life when I am incapacitated and isolated by the pain of my spinal injuries and mindfulness is what helps me deal with it.  By teaching our mind to focus on the present, not ruminating on the past, or the uncertainties of the future, we can turn the fearful patterns of loneliness around and reduce our distress.’

Mindfulness also encourages loving kindness towards one self and others, Vidyamala, continues: ‘All types of meditation create feelings of acceptance and compassion towards ourselves, and this helps with our reactions to others. We don’t have to punish ourselves for feeling lonely, through mindful meditation we can sit with loneliness in an understanding and non-judgemental way and recognise that our feelings are part of the common experience of being human.

Vidyamala’s mindful meditation for loneliness:

Meditation can be simple and does not require any special equipment, the meditation below takes just a few minutes and will leave you profoundly relaxed.

  • If your condition allows it sit erect, but relaxed in a straight backed chair with your feet flat on the ground. If you cannot sit then lie on a blanket or mattress. Allow your arms and hands to be as relaxed as possible.
  • Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Feel the sensations the air makes as it flows in through your mouth or nose, down your throat and into your lungs. Feel the expanding and subsiding of your chest and belly as you breathe. Focus your awareness on where your sensations are strongest. Stay in contact with each in-breath and each out-breath. Observe it without trying to alter it in anyway or expecting anything special to happen.
  • When your mind wanders gently shepherd it back to the breath. Try not to criticise yourself. The act of realising that your mind has wandered – and encouraging it refocus on the breath – is central to the practice of mindfulness.
  • Your mind may eventually become calm – or it may not. If it becomes calm then this may only be short-lived. Your mind may become filled again with feelings of loneliness and ruminations on the past and future. Whatever is happening, try not to change anything, simply observe as best you can. Gently return your attention back to your breath, again, and again, and again.
  • After a few minutes, or longer if you prefer, open your eyes and gently bring your awareness back to your surroundings.

Vidyamala’s meditations are available from her prize winning book Mindfulness for Health.

Breathworks runs online and practical courses starting from January 2015, for more information visit www.breathworks.co.uk.

Free meditations are available on www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/free-meditations

For more information, interviews and copies of Mindfulness for Health, please contact Elaine Brass, 07951 989 588, elaine.brass@breathworks.co.uk
Notes to editors:

Vidyamala suffered two life changing spinal injuries as a young woman and has lived with chronic pain and partial paraplegia for more than three decades.

Mindfulness for Health, a practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing is co-authored by Dr Danny Penman and won the 2014 BMA Book Award for Popular Medicine published by Piatkus Publishing, £13.99 ISBN: 9780749959241

- Vidyamala Burch is founder and co-director of Breathworks, an organisation offering mindfulness-based and compassion-based approaches to living well with chronic pain, illness and stress. In 2008 Vidyamala wrote ‘Living Well with Pain and Illness: using mindfulness to free yourself from suffering’ (Piatkus) which is based on the Breathworks programme. Vidyamala has also produced guided meditation CDs and booklets available through Breathworks Shop. Vidyamala is an internationally known author with her book ‘Living Well with Pain and Illness’ published in twelve different languages.

- Breathworks' mission is to help people living with pain, stress and illness to lead happier, healthier lives. We are internationally recognised leaders in Mindfulness Based Pain Management (MBPM), providing *Mindfulness for Health* and *Mindfulness for Stress *programmes. Breathworks is a 'not for profit' social enterprise, registered in England and Wales with Companies House and the Community Interest Company Regulator. Vidyamala set up the Breathworks Centre in Manchester to teach the programme to others. There are now Breathworks trainers in 15 countries and the organisation has helped tens of thousands of people find relief from chronic pain, illness and stress.

- Breathworks has a network of accredited trainers across 15 countries helping thousands of people, UK patients are regularly recommended to Breathworks by NHS doctors and specialist pain clinics.

Meet Vidyamala Burch, Breathworks Co-Founder2