As co-founder and Director of Breathworks, I read this article with interest and in fact agree with much of what the writer says from my own experiences of using mindfulness, compassion and Buddhism to help me deal with my own spinal injuries to great effect.

At Breathworks, we recognise the danger of mindfulness seeming to be all about number one - the self- and so emphasise mindfulness of others as an important part of our programme, as an expression of the compassion aspect of our 8 week course. There is a clear progression from awareness of self, to awareness of others, to connecting with others over the course. This will, hopefully, make us more likely to help our neighbour and do actions that are other-regarding, rather than less likely as the writer suggests. 

We also are open about the fact that Breathworks has been founded by ordained Buddhists and many of the people who complete our courses go on to learn about all the other aspects of Buddhism that a mindfulness course on its own can't possibly cover. Think ethics; think faith and devotion; think a clear and progressive path of development of mind and heart based on 2500 years of Buddhist history.

As mindfulness becomes more popular of course there will be dissenting voices quick to criticise it. But, my overwhelming observation as a teacher of both 'secular' mindfulness and Buddhism is that many, many people are benefiting from mindfulness who would not initially contemplate attending a Buddhist Centre for the reasons the writer states - the move away from organised religion in the developed world. 

Can it be a bad thing to learn to take responsibility for one's reactions and to try and cultivate ways to navigate through life with more awareness and kindness? Can it be a bad thing that people who are suffering from pain, illness and stress find a way, through mindfulness, to address some of life's deep questions and to then, possibly, find their way to the full range of what Buddhism has to offer?

The 'dark night' project run by neuroscience researcher Dr. Willougbhy Britton analysing and documenting accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices, is very interesting and important, but, I believe, it is researching the potential adverse effects of intensive insight meditation done in retreat conditions with hours of meditation a day. This kind of intensity of application to facing the mind is very different to the 10 or 20 minutes a day suggested on secular mindfulness courses. Having done both intensive meditation and secular mindfulness I can testify to the fact that they are very different approaches. 

Finally, at Breathworks we are trying to help the 1 in 5 people who live with chronic pain and the millions more afflicted by chronic health conditions. Our health service is creaking at the seams and there is ample evidence to indicate that mindfulness can benefit this group of people. Significantly, we call it a self-management approach which offers a sense of initiative and hope to those of us that the health service cannot provide the hope of 'cure'.  I have taught hundreds of people over the past decade who have gone on to find a vastly improved quality of life - even if their health condition remains a feature of their day to day experience. And, they cost the health service much less over time which is also surely a good thing. 

Vidyamala Burch