The Breathworks Foundation

Making mindfulness accessible

We are a registered charity, with a mission is to make mindfulness accessible to everyone. Being an organisation that gives back has been important to us from the very beginning. Our Founder Vidyamala was living on benefits for many years before she was able to secure funding through a disability grant to start Breathworks. We know that many who benefit the most from our services are least able to afford it, so we are committed to help those in need through bursaries, scholarships, free resources and other funding initiatives.

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Two East London based Breathworks trainers, Tareshvari (Tish) Robinson and Kalyanavaca Fowler spent much of 2018 beavering away to create a new community based Breathworks program: Take Back Your Life.

They were collaborating with Breathworks and Globe Community Project, a local Buddhist-inspired charity, to fulfil their dream of offering tailored Breathworks courses free of charge to people in their local community who are most in need of mindfulness training.

Take Back Your Life (TBYL) is a free community-based pain management programme based on the Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course.  It targets people with lower incomes, language and literacy levels, who would not normally be able to access mindfulness services. The very first pilot course, funded by Tower Hamlets Council, was a great success, with 100% retention and 120% recruitment. The Breathworks Foundation then generously supported the second programme which started in June 2019. Breathworks’ research department is monitoring the results, which have been extremely positive.

TBYL is essentially an adapted and simplified five-week version of the original eight- week course.  It adds a pre-course 1:1 one hour 'screening session' to ensure the programme is appropriate, plus a post-course 1:1 ‘What Next?’ session and additional monthly group follow-on sessions, extending the programme to a year.  The course is taught in environments where participants already feel safe and 'at home', e.g., local community centres on housing estates or even the local mosque.

The year-long programme takes a holistic, functional medicine-based approach and covers the following key areas of well-being:

  1. Nutrition has a profound effect on our bodies and how we feel. TBYL includes follow-on information sessions on nutrition/food preparation to raise awareness of the benefits of healthy eating.

  2. Mindfulness

  3. Community - Meeting people in the same situation and developing a sense of community is proving enormously helpful.  The ongoing nature of this program helps these bonds to grow.

  4. Exercise/Mindful movement

  5. Creative expression is introduced through methods such as painting and collage.

  6. Complementary therapies - TBYL’s partners, The Pathways Trust and The Plane Tree introduce participants to this work in follow-on sessions.

The first pilot course in February 2019 reached 12 female participants, many with lower literacy levels: Bangladeshi (x4), Caribbean (x2), Tamil (x1), Turkish (x1), Somalian (x2), white working class (x2).

The course was more successful than Tareshvari and Kalyanavaca could ever have hoped or imagined. Participants reported reductions in pain medication, pain experience and discomfort as well as increases in joy, connection with nature, social activity, connectedness and more. Read Dorita, who is aged 63 and originally from Curaçao in the Caribbean, comments below to see the positive effects on just one of the participants.

"The course wasn’t what I expected! It was better! Before the course I would worry about my pain constantly.  After each course session I went home and thought, 'This is going to mean a lot less worry for me.' Now I take time for myself at home. I say to my daughters: 'This is my time.' I put on the MP3 player and when I get up, I feel different. Meditation sends me somewhere else and when I get up, I don’t think of the pain. I’ve even got my daughters doing it!

The course has given me a way out of worrying about my pain. Now I pick myself up and go out. I know I can close my eyes and meditate if I need to. It becomes automatic. Even when I’m walking, I meditate. I used to think, 'I’m the only one with pain' and feel a bit ashamed. Now I look around the bus and realise I’m not the only one suffering with pain; maybe some people have pain even worse than mine. I feel there’s a connection with others. I feel OK walking with my stick now. Before I wanted to hide it somewhere so people wouldn’t judge me. I can laugh about that now! I’m not alone."

This is a project of the Globe Community Project (GCP), a Buddhist-inspired charity based in Bethnal Green, run by people practising in and around the London Buddhist Centre.