Breathworks Blog

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

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Leandro Pizutti is a Breathworks Teacher and psychiatrist working in Brazil. He was the lead researcher on a recently published study: Evaluation of Breathworks' Mindfulness for Stress 8-week course: Effects on depressive symptoms, psychiatric symptoms, affects, self-compassion, and mindfulness facets in Brazilian health professionals. Here he discusses how he came to be involved with Breathworks and shares some of the amazing work he's been doing in Brazil.


I’m a psychiatrist with a Ph.D. in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and I work in private practice as a psychotherapist and psychopharmacologist. I discovered Mindfulness in 2010, the year I was studying a sample of patients with fibromyalgia, investigating the relationship between quality of life and religious-spiritual coping mechanisms. The pain and emotional consequences of fibromyalgia to the patients were significant, and I sought information on what could be done to improve their quality of life. At the time my study was more academic because there was no one in my city running mindfulness courses until 2013, when I attended a workshop with Stephen Little (Manjupriya) and discovered Breathworks’ online Mindfulness for Health course.

Participating in this course opened up a new perspective for me, and I knew then that I would like to become a Breathworks mindfulness teacher. I had the opportunity to start the training through the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) here in Brazil, keeping in mind my interest in the development of Breathworks. I then participated in the UK in a week’s Teacher Training Introduction (TTi) at Taraloka in 2014 followed by a week’s Teacher Training Advance (TTa) course at Adhistana in 2015, where I had the pleasure of personally meeting Vidyamala. In 2018 I started my training as a senior trainer in Valencia, Spain, which gave me the opportunity to participate more actively in the TTi stage here in Brazil’s Carpe Diem refuge. During this time, I also started a Ph.D. project with the intention of studying the effects of the Mindfulness for Stress course on health professionals in my city, Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil.

The Mindfulness for Stress course was very well received by participating health professionals, and their results have recently been made public through the article "Evaluation of Breathworks' Mindfulness for Stress 8-week course: Effects on depressive symptoms, psychiatric symptoms, self-compassion, and mindfulness facets in Brazilian health professionals", published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

I have had the opportunity to lead various classes, currently around 18 groups of usually 10 people each, from the Mindfulness for Stress and Mindfulness for Health courses, seeing how much they can positively transform now over 170 people's lives. "I am not the pain, I only feel pain,” from a participant undergoing pain treatment in hospital. I realized that learning how to live here and now, compassionately, letting go of resistance and welcoming what life brings us in the moment, is something very precious to spread to the world. Subsequently, in 2017, together with my wife Lucianne, my colleague Luiza Tanaka and fellow Breathworks teacher Dharmakirti, we started to discuss the possibility of providing the training of mindfulness teachers here in Brazil.

So in 2018, with the support of Vidyamala, following the TTi retreat the first training group began their journey here in Brazil, led by teachers Dharmakirti and Silamani of Respira Vida Breathworks Spain. The TTa phase is scheduled for May 2019. This has brought great personal satisfaction, as I have seen mindfulness change my own way of living and can also see it gradually spreading and fruiting here in Brazil.

Many of the people seeking training here are health professionals such as psychologists, physicians, and physiotherapists, as well as people from other areas such as physical education or yoga teachers. I have hosted many four-hour workshops as pre-congress courses; more than 15 one & a half hour lectures for health professionals and regularly conduct mindfulness classes for the postgraduate course in pain treatment and palliative care of Hospital de Clínicas of de Porto Alegre. Among these people, we have several that belong to public institutions where there is assistance and teaching, which increases the potential of diffusion of the courses.

Being involved in the expansion of Breathworks to Brazil brings me a deep sense of connection with the community of Breathworks teachers around the world and I feel I can reciprocate the positive transformation that has taken place in my life by spreading it to others.

Leandro Timm Pizutti

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Presence at the End - Mindfulness at St. Michael's Hospice

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A Personal Account by Palliative Care Staff Nurse and Breathworks Teacher, Gail


Eleven years ago I joined a Mindfulness for Stress course at St Michael’s Hospice, where I work as a Staff Nurse.  Becoming present, in an alive, kind and responsive way to all that life offers, was appealing, both in my personal life and within my work on the Hospice ward. So much of this work is being alongside people and their situations, experiencing distress and suffering on many levels. I realised I could not be unaffected by this, and that taking care of myself could in turn help me care for others in a more empathetic way, helping prevent burnout and sickness.

At first, my mind was so loud in telling me, “you don’t have time, you need to get on, step away from the chair, you are not doing this right.”  After two years, I noticed those moments were not so loud and I was connecting to a continuous, if cloudy at times, still, quiet place that brought a sense of perspective and clarity with whatever was going on. This brought a rhythm of checking in, pausing, and allowing feelings, thoughts and emotions a space and a chance to change, without acting upon them in an automatic way.

Regular meditating became part of my life and I wanted to share how helpful it can be with people at work. The Breathworks courses ticked all the boxes for how we envisaged mindfulness working within the Hospice, with its emphasis on being kind to yourself with whatever is arising, and that being compassionately present can ease and relieve suffering. A colleague and I completed the Breathworks teacher training and as our practice embedded and grew, so did our sense of knowing this mindful approach was the way forward for some of the patients, family and staff at the Hospice.

We set up courses and were inspired by the people who joined as they met the challenges of being with their pain and suffering. During a mindful movement session, a gentleman with advanced MS imagined his fixed clenched hand gently stretching out and in. At the end of the meditation, he showed us his hand moving, curling in and out, more than it had for years. In session four, one young woman with only months left to live, exclaimed, “I get it, we are only ever in the moment so I need to enjoy it now, and not worry too much about what will be happening in the future; NOW it is the best time.” She knew her time was short; she realised that being mindful in as many moments as possible was important, not a never-ending future goal of becoming mindful, and that she could discover the richness, the treasures of the moments, which balanced the valid moments of sadness and sorrow.

An inpatient, in for assessment of pain and fatigue, suggested I try him as he was a cynic and could not be swayed by “stuff like this.” Following a body scan practice, he turned to me and said, “I can’t believe it, the pain has eased, and I feel so much calmer, more aware of everything, which feels amazing.” I continue to see him as an outpatient, and he is happy to share his feelings about how mindful practices help him.

An MND patient, at present at home and gradually deteriorating, loves to share the body scan. It allows him to release into immovable tight and tense, painful muscles, and for his imagination to soar, to fly into his garden and still be present with the practice. His wife joins him and appreciates feeling the release into gravity, to be cushioned and held, and to allow the body and mind to become present in this moment and the next.

A volunteer at the Hospice recently told me, “I have never forgotten you saying at a drop-in, ‘when things feel so intense, that thoughts crowd out all helpful suggestions, see if you can remember your breath, and to let go with breathing out.’ It has been my guiding action with my mindfulness practice.” It is something I need to remember too!

I feel so fortunate to be a Breathworks teacher. I am grateful that I can be alongside so many who benefit from mindfulness; sharing their journey is a precious gift to me, enriching and developing my practice. I recently heard a palliative health care professional say, “we cannot change the destination, we can help change the journey,” and this is why I value and appreciate the help from The Breathworks Foundation. It enables me to make this care available to as many people in need as possible; to help them change their journey in a kind, helpful and responsive way. Breathworks and St Michael’s Hospice share the ethos and values of serving the community in its times of need, with affordable courses, supported patient and staff work, and delivery within a beautiful and caring setting.

Gail Calthrop


 Find out more about The Breathworks Foundation and donate here:

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The Breathworks Foundation Spreads its Wings

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How can it be March already? That means I’m well over half way through my profile - and fund-raising year at The Breathworks Foundation.  A great time to reflect on what we have achieved and let you know about the very varied initiatives we are trialling.

After spending my first few months getting to know more about the Breathworks family I have started to reach out and talk to people outside the mindfulness world to raise the much-needed funds to continue and potentially extend The Foundation’s bursaries and life changing partnership initiatives.  

I have been very moved by the generosity of new contacts, who don’t know much about mindfulness, but love what we are doing at The Foundation.  Someone I worked with in my previous arts fundraising role wants, through his business, to fund one person a month for each remaining month of 2019, to attend a Mindfulness course.  Another has gifted us four amazing celebrity art works (one worth $10,000) to place on US online auction site CharityBuzz, where they go to the highest bidder after being promoted, alongside Breathworks, for just a fortnight.  

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We have identified a few Trusts and Foundations to apply to for external funding and I enjoyed pulling together an application for The Big Lottery’s new pilot scheme Leaders with Lived Experience.   It describes a ‘lived experience leader’ as someone who uses their first-hand knowledge of a social issue to create positive change for, and with, communities and people they share those experiences with. Vidyamala created Breathworks to share how mindfulness positively changed her life, which she has subsequently brought to thousands of others and enabled nearly 500 teachers to train too.  We are hoping to fund more individuals with long term health conditions, supporting them to take their skills back to their communities and offer free 8-week courses. Keep your fingers crossed as only 15-20 projects will be funded up to £50,000 over the next two years.

I have come to realise that a large part of my role is profile raising - of both the amazing work and reach Vidyamala, the team and all you trained teachers out there have achieved and also that we are a charity.  We need to let anyone, and everyone, know the structure of the Breathworks family. The Breathworks Foundation is a charity that sits at the top of the organisation. Then there is Breathworks CIC, which is the ‘trading wing’, running all the activities such a teacher training and programme delivery.  All profits from Breathworks CIC return to The Foundation to help fund courses and training for people who experience hardship. Alongside this The Foundation engages in its own fundraising which is a very important part of our work. It is a beautiful structure whereby we can fulfil our heart-felt wish that no-one should be denied access to the life-changing skills of mindfulness.  To raise the profile of The Breathworks Foundation we are creating a new leaflet and launching a new website very soon – showcasing your testimonials, blogs and case studies. Many thanks to those amazing volunteers helping prepare this material and all the individuals who have contributed so far.

Look out for more news about the two charity fundraising challenges currently in development to spread the word and enable people to give smaller amounts in a more traditional sponsorship way.  Firstly Sona, Breathworks Co-Founder, is pulling a gang of five people together to do a 50k organised Night Ride in Bristol in July. To celebrate turning 70 he bought an electric bike and loves the idea of this challenge to get him really fit.  Another wonderfully generous and dedicated trainee teacher is working up to do a night Yorkshire Three Peaks sponsored walk in August.

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If you’d like to participate in either of these fun events, please let us know.

Finally, I’m delighted to report that after our recent volunteer call out, we now have a team ready to run a digital marketing campaign – so watch this space!!


Karunatara Green

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Tinnitus and Mindfulness

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A couple of years ago I was given a precious opportunity to join a long study/meditation retreat at a lovely place in the Malverns, with a great bunch of friends and teachers. I’d been looking forward this for a long time. Then imagine my distress, when, 4 days into the retreat, I woke up with a high pitched ringing in my left ear and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness and heat in the left part of my head. My three month idyll turned into a very difficult and emotional slog as I struggled to come to terms with tinnitus. Those of us who suffer with tinnitus will know what a miserable thing it can be. Although it’s generally not painful, it can drive you crazy.  When it started, I suffered from bad insomnia. My nights were sleepless and miserable. As soon as I sat down in a quiet room to meditate, I was immediately aware of the noise and it became difficult to concentrate. I was very frightened, sad, bewildered and, after a few weeks, completely exhausted. I wept at the slightest thing. I didn’t feel in control. Everything kept sliding away from me. I also felt very lonely, especially at night when I lay, wide awake as others slumbered, listening to my ringing ears.

Of course – I was in the right place! Not only was I studying the practice of mindfulness, but here I was with a cracking opportunity to practice it.  And with people to help me too.  The trouble was that the theory was much easier than the practice – turning towards tinnitus proved to be on of the most difficult things I have ever done, but in the event, also the most rewarding.

I had all the tests to rule out brain tumours and other horribles. They all came back clear. So there was relief, but also incomprehension. What caused this and why me?? My days were filled with fretful conversations about it, internet searches, mild to strong fits of panic, accumulating tiredness and lots of deep anxiety.  About six weeks in, and with lots of time to observe what was happening, I knew that I was in a merry-go-round state of either pushing tinnitus away, trying to ignore it or seeking comfort through distraction. After six weeks, and at rock bottom, I knew that either I would have to face up to it – literally turn towards it, or I’d have to cash in the opportunity of a lifetime and go home.

So I started to really practice what others had been preaching about mindfulness;  and discovered what had sounded so sensible and reasonable in theory,  proved rather difficult to do at first. I started by being very brave, and counter intuitively listening to the sounds, rather than avoiding them. The first seconds of this turning were invariably the hardest, but I quite quickly learned that the most difficult bit would pass quickly. I tried to cultivate an attitude of interest, rather than fear. Helpful things happened. I met other people on the retreat who told me that they too had had bad tinnitus, but had either become accustomed to it, or it had abated . A tinnitus expert told me that the noise is not in your ears, it’s actually in your brain. It’s your brain interpreting sounds differently. She said ‘Just imagine it’s brain music’. That helped me a lot. Thinking of tinnitus as music rather than cacophony. Thinking of it as sound rather than noise. Thinking of it as small, rather than big.

So I made every effort to find space and quiet in my life to enable me to work with this moment to moment turning towards, instead of resorting to methods of avoidance.

I used mindfulness to systematically help me identify places and states and situations and activities which would make me feel easier. I quickly learned that certain things would do this. These are some that work for me: 

  1. Going outside into the open air. The acoustics are completely different and the brain is enlivened and refocused by many other strong sensations. 
  2. Seeking out comforting noises. The wind in the trees. Water flowing. Birdsong or the drone of distant traffic. Fires crackling. Music.
  3. Being with people who cared about me and made me laugh – I began to notice that the tinnitus always felt better.
  4. Laughter – jokes, TV comedy shows, funny movies or books
  5. Mindful meditation, with gentle background noise somewhere.
  6. Just doing ordinary things like housework, cooking, gardening, cleaning stuff. S-l-o-w-l-y.
  7. Going for a short walk – I always do the same one and try to notice what’s different each time. I like the familiarity and safe predictability but I also like to clock the changes.

It was meditation that I began to notice had a palpable effect and began to give  me back a little sense of control. I’d sit upright or lie prone and comfortable, allowing myself to notice the ringing, but resolving to keep turning my attention to the rise and fall of my breath as well. Miraculously, I began to notice that after 20 minutes or so of this, my mind would stop noticing the tinnitus. It wouldn’t go, but it would ease and even become quieter or lower. And even more importantly, I would begin to feel calmer; more centered and sometimes actually happy and joyful. I focused on other pleasant sensations in my body. My bum warm on the cushion or my shoulders relaxing. I’d say to myself – no pain here, no discomfort there. Most importantly, if this didn’t happen (and sometimes it didn’t) I didn’t give up. I cultivated and then rested in the trust that if this worked for others, if it worked for me sometimes, then it could work for me again. 

I began to notice things that made it worse and avoid them. These were some for me.

  1. Being with charged up, anxious people and in fraught conversations.
  2. Enclosed, small spaces, especially places with double glazing; lots of insulation and in cars. I always travelled with the windows open.
  3. Rushing around and getting tired.
  4. Busy, stressful conditions with lots of people, activity, sensory inputs and requirements for me to respond.
  5. Worrying if I couldn’t sleep.
  6. Fretting – doing the thing where I started telling myself stories about the future and then worrying about what I ought to be doing to avoid it.

One day I watched a British Tinnitus Society video in which three lovely, ordinary people with tinnitus talked about how they’d learned to deal with it. One of them said that she hardly noticed it now. I liked hearing about people who had ‘come out the other side’ as it were. It made me feel more confident. 

Most importantly, somewhere along the way I let the belief that it would all be OK if only I did this, or that, or that...  fall away. At some point I just accepted it. I said, well this is me now. I even tried to express affection and care for myself by stroking my ear or the side of my head if it became bothersome. Like I’d comfort my grandson if he hurt himself. 

There was an evening in October, somewhere well into the retreat, after about 10 weeks of this ‘turning towards’ that I was trying to do, when I found myself  sitting on my bed, staring out through the windows  at dusk, watching the evening stars emerging and listening to the wind in the trees and thinking,  this is so peaceful and beautiful; I don’t ever remember feeling happier or calmer. I remember checking in with the sounds in my ears and noticing that if I went looking, they were still there, still as present and still as ‘loud’. But then, if I took my attention out from this little part of the picture of my experience at that very moment, and into the big frame of everything else going on, then there was just ease and peacefulness and a tremendous feeling of satisfaction that I had come to learn ways of facing this and then living with it.

Three years on and it’s still there. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t stay the same. It comes and goes. There are bad days, or more usually, hours. When they happen I know what to do – and if that fails, I know that if I simply stay with it and have confidence, then soon it will change again. Mostly now there are good days, when it’s just a part of me, and when it calls my attention, I simply say ‘hallo again’, and not – ‘go away’.  I say ‘now what can I do to comfort myself?

Suryadaya

 

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Painfully Beautiful - Healing with Compassion

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About me

My name is Nadia Miller. I am a mental health advocate, public speaker, course facilitator at the Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust’s Recovery Academy, and currently half way through my Mindfulness Teacher Training with Breathworks.

Talk at BIG

On Tuesday 26 February 2019 I will be delivering a talk to Bury Involvement Group. Here I will be talking to a recovery group sharing my experience of my own mental health struggles, therapies that have helped me get to recovery and most importantly, how mindfulness has not only enabled me to keep growing but healing too.  

How mindfulness has helped me

It was after 20 years of suffering, having thoughts & feelings of suicide and self-destructive behaviour that I learned to manage my mental health conditions. (Depression & traits of emotional unstable personality disorder).

I had received different psychological interventions along the way, but in the end learning to be more compassionate towards myself helped me get to recovery.

I have been in recovery for 4 years now and due to some difficulty that arose for me over a year ago, I had a strong urge to help myself with this. I knew that I didn’t need more therapy due to the tools I had already been given in the past but there was a need to understand my pain more.

Severe tremors in the hands and my head came out of nowhere; it was like I lost control of my body. I noticed the trigger and where it would happen but I didn’t see where this stemmed from for my body to react as it did.

In the midst of going through this violent storm, I was using my own compassionate tools to respond to myself with kindness and was eager to deepen my practice more.

As I was going through this process, I noticed a Breathworks poster providing details of how you can train to be a teacher with them. I was very drawn towards this as it was learning to be compassionate towards myself and changing perspective in life that helped me get to recovery. It is now my passion and purpose to give back the gift of this in any way I can. Shortly after seeing this poster, I contacted Breathworks and was informed of some pre-requisites before starting the formal training, one of them being attending an 8 week Mindfulness for Stress course.

A few months later, I attended this course and I found it really interesting and insightful. It really cemented everything I had learned through the therapies I had in the past, in particular, Compassion Focused Therapy.

This course helped me to turn towards my pain more so, it was a like a tap opening slowly, starting to release some pain that had been built up.

Before I started the next step of the teacher training (Introductory Training) I needed to complete meditation diaries, reflecting on how I found them, what came up for me, sensations, thoughts, how I dealt with them etc. It was here, in this in-depth experience of exploration and really turning towards did I notice a different relationship to this pain I had been holding.

It was especially more apparent initially with the compassionate acceptance and working with charged thoughts meditation. Here, I would always feel a lot of pain behind my eyes, my heart aching. As I understood the impact of resisting and not turning towards my primary pain, from the theory taught on the Mindfulness for Stress course, this made me want to sit with how I was feeling.

Tears would flow and with that, there was this strong sense of relief. It was a realisation that I had been trying to be strong for so long but now my body can breathe as I acknowledged the difficult time I had been going through.

A few months later, after really sitting with these practices, I was able to see clearly why my hands and head would tremor/shake the way they do sometimes. I made a connection of a traumatic event I went through in the past and I noticed my body thinking that this is happening again. What a relief it was to know what I was now working with.

This realisation helped me really soften towards myself, be my own best friend/parent more so and with that, the tremors/shakes diminished.

Mindfulness has helped me see that we are always on this journey of unfolding and becoming which can be painfully beautiful. It was very useful for me and most likely key that I had in-depth therapy beforehand which made it safe for me to explore my pain in mindfulness practice.

Having this personal experience, seeing first-hand how the Mindfulness for Stress course can truly help has made me excited about becoming teacher and the need to share this with others.

This practice has truly helped me be the captain of my own ship, being able to sail through stormy waters and into the calm ocean.

I hope by sharing my experience at BIG that it helps to inspire others, creates better understanding of this practice to bring about support and positivity for anyone in recovery.

 

Painfully beautiful by Nadia Miller

How the seasons change,

A reminder that things will never be the same again.

One moment being tossed and turned from all that we know,

far from reach, horizon out of sight.

The next, being brought back to shore,

Calm waves washing over our being,

bringing love, kindness,

Soothing our bruises, broken hearts,

A violent awakening,

Breaking our hearts open over and over again,

Eventually letting the light in,

healing pain, hurt that we have held onto for so long.

The seasons bring us choice, another chance,

to become, to breathe, to live again.

Eyes start to open,

Sensations arise,

Our wounds start to heal,

We grow taller,

How painfully beautiful.

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