In 2004 Dharmakirti, a yoga and meditation practitioner of eight years, took his skills to a huge prison in Valencia, Spain, to help prisoners find ways to ease their suffering. However, he soon realised meditation on its own wasn’t enough — the prisoners were also seeking ways to deepen their understanding of life and connect more. What else could he offer with a wider perspective?

Dharmakirti heard of MBCT in 2006 and Vidyamala’s new secular work at Breathworks, stemming from the Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness. Just one year later he travelled to England and was one of the first trainees with Breathworks’ founders: Vidyamala, Sona and Ratnaguna. In less than a year he was teaching courses in Valencia. But a decade ago mindfulness was unknown in Spain, so he had to specially translate the word, Breathworks as ‘Respira Vida’ and practically drag people off the street to participate! There were just five attendees at his first course with three courses taking place in that year. Attendees enjoyed participating and enthused about how it helped their health conditions.

“During the course I become aware of how I experienced the pain — how I focused and lost myself in it. I managed to get out of my anguished loops and everything that entailed. Respira Vida Breathworks opened a door for me, a tool: conscious care which today I want to continue deepening and give myself something important: respect and dignity for my healthy and ill body.”

In 2010 Dharmakirti ran the first two Respira Vida Breathworks Mindfulness for Health and Stress courses in Mexico. He was astonished to find 80 participants for the stress course alone! He ran the courses at the thriving Mexico Buddhist Centre and had 20 team members also wanting to support the courses.

“It was such fun to do and a real joy to share my passion with other Spanish speakers,” - Dharmakirti

He shadowed on UK training retreats and in Spain continued to run an increasing number of courses. He painstakingly translated the entire teacher training course which enabled him to train Spanish speaking teachers in-house. By 2013 there were 12 people fully trained, 11 of whom are still accredited Respira Vida Breathworks teachers, just as the mindfulness landscape radically changed with a high demand for training.

“There is something very magical and profound about running these courses that Vidyamala has designed, they are unique and so well structured,” - Dharmakirti.

Vidyamala’s first book, Living Well with Pain & Illness was published in 2014 by Editorial, Spain’s most prestigious publisher in the field. Vidyamala and team visited to promote her book and ran a retreat which was very helpful for the development of Respira Vida Breathworks. Vidyamala gave keynote lectures and ran workshops at Spain’s biggest mindfulness conference in 2016 and 2018. Mindfulness for Health and Mindfulness for Women were both published, creating a real buzz around Breathworks and Vidyamala’s excellent, pioneering work designing Mindfulness Based Pain Management (MBPM) courses. Hospitals and health professionals became increasingly interested in offering this approach in Spain, so in 2017 Vidyamala and Sona also travelled to Madrid to speak at a large medical school and run a three-day training event.

At the same time mindfulness was spreading across the wider-speaking Spanish world. In Mexico 12 students were on their first teacher training retreat in 2015, with 10 of those fully accredited Respira Vida Breathworks teachers by 2018. Astonishingly, in just a decade, there are 87 accredited teachers across Spain and Latin America in Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina.

Dharmakirti believes his success is partly due to Breathworks’ founders experience of building community and promoting this as a core value at Respira Vida. Vidyamala, Sona and Ratnaguna are practising Buddhists, within the Triratna community, which has for many decades created communities across diverse cultures. This has held Breathworks in good stead, as it expanded across the globe to currently 35 countries, with a clear focus on connecting with warmth and kindness and inviting all teachers and participants to access the profound qualities of awareness and love for life that lie at the heart of the organization. This is especially valuable given the diversity of cultural, social and economic contexts across the huge geographical spread from Spain to Latin America.

 

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