This weekend I was super lucky to spend 3 days on a Breathworks mindfulness teachers gathering. Breathworks is the mindfulness organisation I trained with and although they are UK based they are world reknowned and now have mindfulness teachers in 26 countries across the world.
Breathworks was founded by Vidyamala Burch who as a young woman sadly suffered two accidents which damaged her spine and left her in life long chronic pain and wheel chair bound. Having suffered for many years to live with her pain she eventually discovered the power of mindfulness and although it has not stopped her pain it has transformed her relationship with it. As Vidyamala says she is able to flourish despite her pain and lives a full, busy and happy life. Vidyamala and her husband Sona formed Breathworks to teach others the skills of mindfulness so they to can flourish despite there pain or learn to move beyond stress, anxiety and perpetual worry to a live a calmer, happier and fulfilling life.
Breathworks Mindfulness Courses
There are 2 Breathworks courses, Mindfulness for Stress and Mindfulness for Health, both delivered over an 8 week period as medical science (including brain scans) has shown that 8 weeks is long enough to make real changes to how we relate to our minds, our body’s and our external environment, so we are able to move towards flourishing in our lives. I am passionate about teaching the Breathworks mindfulness courses as I have seen the real change that they are able to bring to participants. However until now I have not met Vidyamala in person so this weekend was very special for me and I thought I would share with you a little of the insight that Vidyamala brought.
Mindfulness Lessons from Vidyamala Burch
- Kindness and Compassion. The Breathworks course teaches kindness and compassion throughout its 8 weeks and Vidyamala stressed that this is a core tool when approaching and working with out pain and suffering. When we are in pain, be it emotional or physical, there is a real temptation to be hard on our selves, out comes the critical voice or the feelings of disappointment or failure. Vidyamala stressed time and again that it is important to cultivate huge kindness to ourselves when we are approaching and transforming our suffering. This is a core skill we teach throughout both of the Breathworks courses. Always ensure you talk to yourself with all the love you would use to speak to a best friend or someone you care for deeply.
- Mindfulness in Daily Life. This also is a very big focus of the Breathworks course. The reason we practice meditation is to learn to stay more mindful, content and balanced throughout our daily lives. So teaching skills that eventually become habitual to assist us with the task of staying mindful throughout the day is an important element of the Breathworks course. This is particularly pertinent on the Mindfulness for Health course, where participants learn to use pacing skills to manage their pain and live the very best life they can. Vidyamala believes it is the skills of mindfulness in daily life that have most enabled her to live her best life despite the daily presence of pain.
- Breathing. Within the Western world so many of us have developed poor breathing patterns without even realising it. Without mindfulness we are rarely aware of our breathing and the impact it has on our body and emotions and yet breathing is the most important function our body performs every day. When we are in pain or emotional distress we have a tendency to hold our breath or breath very shallowly. This limits the vital oxygen getting to our bodies, but it also creates a contracting tension in our body that exacerbates our pain and our emotional unrest. Vidyamala’s reminder of “If in doubt, breath out” is a very simple message that we can all learn; to remind ourselves to check in with out breathing and continue with a natural breath at times of stress. When this technique is learnt it can be trans-formative.
- We are All Human. Perhaps one of the most valuable and humbling lessons that I took from Vidyamala was her total openness, that even for her, sometimes it all gets a bit too much. Things happen in life and our stresses and suffering build up and at those times we all have to step back, take a breathing space and practice self care and compassion. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they have life perfectly cracked, we are all human and it is natural to struggle from time to time. Mindfulness does not stop the difficulties, pain and suffering from occurring in our lives, but it does change the way we relate to these difficulties when they occur. Mindfulness and self compassion give us the best skills at the most difficult times to practice self care and return to live our best life.
I hope you have found something useful for your life from these insights. For me they are a reminder of three fabulous days spent with Vidyamala and some fantastic, inspiring and caring Breathworks teachers. If you would like to understand more about these insights and how to introduce them into your daily life, they are all covered on either the Mindfulness for Stress or the Mindfulness for Health Breathworks courses I teach in Lancashire.