Our founder Vidyamala Burch suffered from a spinal cord injury at 16, and Breathworks came into being as a result of her quest to use mindfulness and compassion to manage her subsequent pain and health problems, so we were especially interested in the results of a new study recently published by the International Spinal Cord Society, which examined the effects of a Breathworks online course for people suffering from depression following a spinal cord injury.

Participants were given either a Breathworks online course, or an online course (often recommended to those suffering from chronic pain) containing information about spinal cord injuries and the role of thoughts and emotions, as well as options for pain and psychological management. It was good to have an active control group in this study, since this allows researchers to be more confident that the effects of the Breathworks course were due to the nature of the course itself, and not simply due to some non-specific effects of an online intervention, such as feeling more supported.

After 8-weeks, those who completed the Breathworks course were less depressed, and had less anxiety, pain catastrophising (negative and exaggerated response to pain), and less experience of pain unpleasantness, compared to the group who had received psychoeducation. Mindfulness levels, and non-reactivity to inner experience also showed a greater increase in the Breathworks group. Participants completed a follow-up questionnaire two months after the study, which showed that these benefits were maintained over this time for the Breathworks group.

A possible downside of the Breathworks course was that the dropout rate (i.e. the number of people who didn’t complete the course) was slightly higher compared with the psychoeducation group; this may have been because the Breathworks course recommends two daily meditations, and so probably requires more effort. It was also noted that participants who dropped out were statistically more likely to be older than the group average, which may suggest that less familiarity with the online nature of the course could have been a factor.

Overall, however, the results of this new study were incredibly promising, demonstrating that Breathworks’ mindfulness and compassion skills can be effective for those who have suffered a spinal injury, and even those who are suffering from depression. It is especially promising as this online course format can be delivered easily to individuals with reduced mobility. Although there is much empirical support for mindfulness as a treatment to prevent people who have previously suffered from depression from becoming depressed again, research into whether mindfulness is useful for those who are currently depressed has been more sparse, and thus far, inconclusive. Depression is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very common following a spinal cord injury, and we are glad to think that this study may continue to lend support for mindfulness and compassion skills as components of living well with pain and health issues, and to give hope to those who need it. 

You can access the full study here.

And you can find Breathworks online courses here.