I live in Powell River on Canada’s west coast, with my husband, two cats and a dog, although I’m originally from Hebden Bridge in the Yorkshire Pennines. I have persistent neck pain stemming from two on-snow accidents in Whistler in early 2014, trail running and coaching snowboarding. My dad had died from sepsis just three months earlier, at the tail-end of a five-year journey with infertility for my husband and I, so there was a lot of accumulated emotional and then physical stress. Prior to my accident I’d thrived on outdoor activities (snow-sports, mountain biking, hiking and more) and loved yoga, which provided my first early encounters with meditation.

I initially recovered slowly, getting back to work and the activities I loved, but the pain crept back and persisted. I was given varying diagnoses from different professionals (the “sea of Endless Health Professionals” as Noigroup so aptly put it) and although I tried many different approaches the neuropathic pain (and anxiety) became so severe in early 2017 that I felt unable to continue working as a teacher and journalist — a loss that left me feeling isolated, lost and fragmented. A voracious reader, I’d been reading and researching pain science and somehow came across Kabat-Zinn’s ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ then Vidyamala’s ‘Mindfulness for Health’. The light went on. My world, which had shrunk so much, began to expand again. I knew during the eight-week online group course that Spring that my life would take a new direction.

Fast forward to 2018, a year that brought big life changes. We moved from the mountains to the coast — a big, bold step, but the right one. I’d made mindfulness a way of life since the course and was delighted to be awarded a bursary and accepted onto teacher training. I immersed myself in the Breathworks world in person, attending two Breathworks retreats almost back to back — ‘A Journey into the Heart of Mindfulness and Compassion’ at Vajrasana in December 2018, then introductory teacher training (TTi) at Taraloka Retreat Centre in January 2019.

Both experiences had a profound effect on me. The sense of community, kindness and compassion present touched me greatly — it was so wonderful to be there in person, with everyone living and breathing the mindfulness practices. Through Breathworks I have learnt to gently turn towards my pain and grief instead of push so vehemently against it, and open softly with kindness, awareness and acceptance. A period of great loss and uncertainty has led to renewed hope, clarity and a change in direction as I continue my training pathway with new-found meaning and purpose. Happily, I’m feeling more comfortable in my own skin again at last!  As Vidyamala says, mindfulness is like planting seeds — we can slowly ebb towards freedom from contractive (secondary) suffering) with ongoing practice. “Every time you catch a contraction and release you plant a seed,” she said at Vajrasana.

My training would not be possible without the bursary from The Breathworks Foundation (and help from my amazing Mum!) and I am immensely grateful. I plan to complete training in 2020 and as far as I’m aware, be the first to introduce Breathworks mindfulness courses to Canada!

I found out about volunteer opportunities with The Breathworks Foundation while on retreat and immediately knew I’d like to contribute. Many people struggling with pain and illness cannot access Breathworks’ life-changing courses and trainings due to financial struggles. I wish to help change this, having experienced the positive and transformational effects myself.

Currently I’m writing and copy editing which I love. It can be slow going, due to pain, but Karunatara and team are flexible and understanding and I gradually get it done, practicing pacing, always a work in progress for me! I’m happily sharing my nature photography with the marketing team; hundreds of images shot over the years in BC’s beautiful landscape. It’s helping me feel a valuable member of society once more and opening up new vision and possibilities. I’ve volunteered in many capacities in the past but volunteering for The Foundation is definitely very special to me. I feel connected and inspired reading and editing blogs and articles about Breathworks’ powerful programmes and reach. Giving back in this small way helps keep Breathworks close to my heart in beautiful British Columbia.

By Emma Bashford

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