Welcome to my latest blog post, really good to see you here.
Today I would like to tell you about my week.
The week started off at a meditation retreat at Adhistana Buddhist centre in Ledbury and then finished off with me volunteering at the third session of the Mindfulness for Health course in Manchester that I have been supporting (blog post about this to follow separately).
So where to start?
I arrived at the retreat feeling exhausted, but excited to have the opportunity to take some time out of my busy schedule to rest and rejuvenate. The surroundings at Adhistana Buddhist Centre were absolutely gorgeous! This made the habit releaser part of the Breathworks course of spending time in nature a lot easier 🙂
This was a Mindfulness for Health immersion retreat led by two of the founders of Breathworks. Vidyamala Burch and Sona, as well as Andrea who is the Breathworks trainer who I support in Manchester.
Those of you that know me, or follow my Facebook page BreathworksMK will know that Vidyamala is a massive role model to me. I am inspired by her life story and how she has learnt with mindfulness and training her brain to live a good life alongside her pain and has entered a phase of her life that she describes as flourishing.
I managed to overcome my nerves and pluck up the courage to talk to her a couple of times on the retreat and for this opportunity I am extremely grateful. For someone who has done so much good for others and achieved so much, Vidyamala is very humble, down to earth and very approachable!
If you don’t know about Vidyamala and her life story I highly recommend some of Vidyamala’s videos available on You Tube. Here is a good one:
There was quite a mix of participants on the retreat, all there for various reasons. Trainee Breathworks teachers like myself, some fully accredited teachers looking to undertake their required yearly retreat and some participants who have never done a face-to-face Breathworks course before and were looking to immerse themselves in the course and retreat experience!
There were quite a mix of conditions that people had on the course as well, some with chronic pain like myself and some with mental health issues, stress, anxiety etc…
I had been on retreat before as part of the teacher training program and had an idea of how the retreats are. Here is an outline of the daily program that we followed. As you can see it was a packed schedule:
As part of the schedule participants are encouraged to take part in a work rota. As a way of giving back to the community that live at the retreat centre and do so much work behind the scenes. I did some washing up after dinner one evening and enjoyed the opportunity to contribute. However, I ended up hurting my back as the cooking pots that I was washing by hand were very large!
This very much reaffirmed the need for me to pace my activities, another thing very much advocated for in the Mindfulness for Health course and to learn to work within my physical limitations. I do this a lot of the time, however there are occasions where I forget and therefore the washing up and the pain afterwards was a much needed reminder!
There were several activities that we did during the retreat which helped me to manage my pain.
One was a part of the course that covers mindful movements. These are very gentle movements that are undertaken, whilst being aware of the breath and the sensations in the body. Balanced effort is required, which means working in the middle-ground, between the hard and soft edges of any particular movement. The hard edge being where you are working too hard, e.g. stretching too far and risking injuring yourself, or causing further pain and discomfort. The soft edge being where you are not working hard enough. This may be due to fear of moving, fear that by moving you will aggravate further pain and discomfort.
We did some mindful movements first thing in the morning before the morning meditation session and a further mindful movement session before the body scan meditation just before lunch. Here are some examples of some of the mindful movements, movements can be done sitting, standing, or laying down:
Introduction to setting up your position for mindful movements:
Another part of the course that really helped me in reducing my pain was seeking out the pleasant through the Treasure of pleasure meditation and an exercise where we had a grid showing the senses, sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing and activity and we had to go inside and outside into nature and seek out pleasant experiences and stay with them for at least 5 second
The idea behind this exercise was to overcome the brains inbuilt negativity bias and to help in the process of rewiring the brain to take in and to appreciate more positive experiences. If you are in pain, the brain is often under threat and on high alert for the negative. You attention will become narrowed to focus acutely on the pain and is likely to shut out, ignore positive experiences. It is said that positive experiences slide off of us like teflon and negative experiences stick to us like velcro! This is the basic idea behind neuroscience. It is said that neurons that fire together, wire together, so in simple terms, by focusing on the positive (as we do during this exercise) we are seeking to promote the formation of new neural pathways in the brain that are more positive and less reactive to negative and painful experiences.
This concept is explained really well by this ted talk given by Dr Rick Hanson:
Here are some of the positive things that I found on my hunt for pleasant experiences. I found that staying with each pleasant thing for 5 seconds or longer really immersed me in the experience. I felt more positive by doing this and was less aware of my pain.
As you can see there were lots of pleasant experiences to be had. I found that a lot of my pleasant experiences involved sight and touch. Some pleasant touch experiences involved being barefoot on a really soft rug and on the grass outside. Also touching a soft cushion, flower petals and the bark on the tree. I highly recommend this exercise if you have the time.
The meditation covering this part of the course is the Treasure of Pleasure. A guided version of this meditation is here if you would like to give it a go:
I had lots of ups and downs during this week on retreat. It ended on an absolute high, I felt relaxed and at ease and my inner child was very much out and enjoying herself in the moment!!
I’m sure that there is much more that I could say about my experience on retreat.
If you have any questions about Breathworks, or about the retreat please get in touch. I would love to hear from you.