Spreading the Benefits of Mindfulness Through Community Projects 10 February 2022 Marketing, Communications & Research Officer, Shannon Phillips, shares how Breathworks were able to offer mindfulness support to disadvantaged Manchester residents negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. One of our missions at Breathworks is to make mindfulness training accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their personal or financial circumstances. In April 2021 we were thrilled to have been able to provide a community project fully funded by Manchester City Council Covid Impact Fund to provide courses to disadvantaged individuals negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Take Back Your Life project saw Manchester residents with long-term pain and health conditions benefit from mindfulness sessions taught by experienced trainers with vastly positive results including improvements in mental and physical wellbeing. ABOUT TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE The Take Back Your Life (TBYL) course is closely based on the Breathworks 8-week Mindfulness for Health course and adapted to be more accessible to those with lower levels of English language and literacy. The course, which aims to help people live better with ongoing pain and illness, includes: Mindfulness meditations to help with rest, calm and emotional balance Gentle mindful movements for sustainable improvements in mobility Daily life strategies such as pacing diaries to help with managing energy and fatigue Following the success of the first TBYL project in Tower Hamlets, London, (see here for more), we were eager to expand our reach to communities in the north of England. MANCHESTER COHORT With the support of Disabled Living, a Manchester charity providing support to disabled people and their supporters, Breathworks reached out to groups and communities who were significantly impacted by the economic and social fall out of the pandemic; this included those living with disabilities and long-term health conditions, individuals suffering with Long Covid as well as POC and marginalised communities. Following well-received taster sessions, we gathered a group of 25 individuals who had reported conditions including mental or physical illness, anxiety, depression, Long Covid, musculoskeletal pain, neurological conditions, fatigue, diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The group took part in online sessions across 8 weeks where they learnt the foundations of a mindfulness-based approach to managing pain and illness with tools and strategies to self-resource and find balance. HOW DID PEOPLE BENEFIT? The results of the course were overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting significant improvements to physical and mental wellbeing. Some individuals saw great changes in familial relationships, with one experiencing relief from recurrent traumatic flashbacks, and another finding the courage to report domestic abuse. Positive findings from pre and post-course questionnaires* included: 83% of individuals reported improved wellbeing (with almost half having begun the course with ‘clinically concerning’ levels of wellbeing). 64% of individuals reported reduced levels of anxiety (with more than half of these individuals moving down a severity bracket from either ‘clinical case’ to ‘borderline case’, or ‘borderline case’ to ‘no case’). 91% of individuals reported reduced levels of depression (of which 40% were ‘borderline cases’ for depression prior to the course, and were no longer in this bracket of concern by the end of the course). 66% of individuals who reported suboptimal scores for confidence to continue with daily activities despite pain/illness, reported improved self-efficacy scores following the course. Half of this group had moved into score ranges associated with successful return to work and functional gains within pain research. Other reported benefits following the course included: Increased mobility Increased social activity Increased energy levels Increased connectedness with others WHAT DID PEOPLE SAY? Participants found that they learnt tools that they were able to incorporate into their daily life to better manage their health, one participant said: “Talking through our experiences weekly really helped to more fully understand the benefits of mindfulness for me personally and how to incorporate it into each day and my life in general. I now feel I have a repertoire of things to do to help manage days with more pain/ brain fog etc...including thinking differently and meditating/pausing and much more awareness of how I might be treating or speaking to myself.” Another participant found a new sense of connection with their body: “I feel I am better able to know when my body needs a break by checking in with it and actively relaxing to help calm my sympathetic nervous system." On answering how they would respond to someone considering taking part in a course, one participant said: “Go for it! It's going to be really worth it. You're gonna be connected with similar people who are going through chronic pain, or emotional difficulty because of trauma or other issues. You will be listened to, you will be supported, especially by the facilitators, who are well experienced and trained and kind and compassionate and will give you information that will help you just to process.” . INDIVIDUAL STORIES Participant with fibromyalgia, hypertension & burnout “I haven't been feeling so much pain since I started the course. I'm not as focused on pain. And when I do feel it, I do something about it or I stop doing something that might be aggravating. It really has helped to soothe pain."[Speaking about experimenting with breath work and mindfulness as a way to manage blood pressure and hypertension] "The numbers came down to a normal range. I'm thinking, ‘wow! I've never seen these figures before!’ It really does tell me doing breath work and mindfulness can work, very quickly as well.""My family have noticed as well. They said: oh Mum, you're not as stressed and anxious and I just feel like you've heard me.""Being in a group with other people who suffer with chronic pain, or have some ailments going on, and being able to share and understand and have compassion on each other, has really helped me. I feel there's a sense of understanding. I'm sharing it with others who get it.” Participant living at home with pain and disability This participant had been experiencing daily flashbacks from a past traumatic event. Since doing the mindfulness practices in the course this was happening less or not at all. She reported being able to enjoy the present moment and look more forward to the future, rather than thinking about the past."Being part of a group of people who have common things makes me more like a person, like somebody, not like an invisible part of the furniture. I’m looking after myself finally. I never looked after myself. I never thought of myself as somebody who you can be proud of, or who you can cherish. I was just me who is just in the background, just a cripple, but now I thought: No, I’m going to take care of myself." "My pain is a bit better because I know when to stop and take a break and then carry on." "I feel very content, with all the breathing meditation I do." .Participant with severe Long Covid "Mindfulness, for me now, is about being aware in that particular moment, and just being with the moment, it makes things more bearable. And I think that anything that can do that has to be a positive move towards managing the condition. It's not going to cure you, but it can help you cope with the day to day living that little bit better." FUTURE WORK The Breathworks team are working to make this programme more widely available in partnership with commissioners and community groups. If you are interested in supporting Take Back Your Life through funding or partnership, or looking to join a future course, please contact Breathworks Research and Partnerships Manager Colin Duff via [email protected] or call 0161 674 9254. * To assess the impact of the 8-week course, we invited participants to complete an online questionnaire before and after the programme. Included within this questionnaire were standardised measures of wellbeing, anxiety, depression, and self-efficacy (confidence to continue with daily activities despite pain/illness).