The Breathworks Foundation

Making mindfulness accessible

We are a registered charity, with a mission is to make mindfulness accessible to everyone. Being an organisation that gives back has been important to us from the very beginning. Our Founder Vidyamala was living on benefits for many years before she was able to secure funding through a disability grant to start Breathworks. We know that many who benefit the most from our services are least able to afford it, so we are committed to help those in need through bursaries, scholarships, free resources and other funding initiatives.

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I sometimes feel I am a living embodiment of the negativity bias. A blog by me should surely be called confessions of the world’s worst mindfulness teacher! I came to teaching mindfulness almost by accident. It was introduced to St. Michael’s Hospice, where I work as a nurse, some years ago by a staff counsellor. I attended a couple of drop-in sessions which I enjoyed, but I was a little sceptical about its value for me. Two of my nurse colleagues then trained with Breathworks and began to deliver courses and other shorter sessions for staff, patients and relatives. I started to hear about and see the value of mindfulness for many different people, including my mother who was caring for my father who had dementia and found the Stress course she attended at the Hospice valuable, despite initial scepticism. I was impressed. It linked naturally to the holistic approach of palliative care, the philosophy of the Hospice, and my own personal values and beliefs.

I had completed a Masters in Palliative Care and was wondering about a next step. At this time one of my nurse/mindfulness teacher colleagues left and I was asked if I would be interested in taking her place and possibly train with Breathworks. I felt excited at the prospect. I then attended an eight-week Mindfulness for Stress course at the Hospice. I found exploring the breath helpful; how breathing into areas of pain and tension can bring relief and relaxation, and how breathing from lower down rather from the chest can relieve stress. These ‘small’ things were actually very powerful. It also helped me to realise that, although I did not feel very stressed in my personal life, I was experiencing some low level ‘burn out’ after twelve years of palliative care nursing. This helped me to re-evaluate work and make the decision to drop my working week from five to four days.

A few months later, I began my teacher training with Breathworks. I found the courses difficult in some ways. I have little experience of teaching and having to practice in front of other people was nerve-wracking, but the support from fellow trainees and the team was amazing and inspirational. I became an accredited Breathworks teacher early in 2018 and I am so grateful to my personal ‘holy trinity’ of phenomenal women; Vidyamala, Gail at St. Michael’s, and Caroline my practice course supervisor, who have inspired and guided me along the way, and continue to do so. 

I have taught both the Health and Stress courses at the Hospice, as well as leading the occasional mini mindfulness and monthly drop-in sessions. I’m also starting to work with inpatients and outpatients one-to-one, which I find presents a different kind of challenge to group work.

I have enjoyed the courses I’ve taught so far, gaining so much from the participants and their feedback. But, it’s instructive how easy it is to focus on the negative! On the feedback forms from my last course a few people commented that my voice at times dropped and was too soft or difficult to hear. I of course immediately focused on this, only later looking at the whole picture where all other comments were positive and every participant had scored the course overall 9 or 10 out of 10. 

No two courses are the same and I don’t think teaching gets ‘easier’, but with experience I’m feeling more relaxed when things don’t go exactly to plan. One beautiful aspect of a face-to-face course is to see the level of mutual support growing through time. One participant commented, "a very inspiring course and a strong sense of community and understanding in coming together." The value of group sharing has become increasingly apparent to me, as has Mindful Movement. I’ve also seen my experience in the power of the 'small' things reflected in course participants’ experiences, one of whom commented, “there are empowering ways which are simple and awareness of them is now part of my life. [It’s] life changing.”

I love weaving poetry and literature into mindfulness teaching, building on my existing enthusiasm for poetry. Sharing a poem at the start or end of a meditation, or to illustrate a teaching point can express a thought, feeling or concept in a condensed form and most participants seem to find it enjoyable and helpful. I give Sheenagh Pugh’s 'Sometimes' as my parting gift in the last session: '…The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.'

Mark Brothers

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