Being mindful: Vidyamala Burch uses mindfulness to manage pain

Vidyamala Burch, founder of Breathworks in Manchester, outlines how mindfulness helped her cope with pain on a daily basis.

I suffered serious, spinal injuries as a young woman. Over the years, I have had to learn to live with daily chronic pain and disability. To do so, I become very involved with mindful meditation. 
Mindfulness had a huge positive impact on my ability to function on a daily basis and to manage my pain. In short, mindfulness gave me my life back from what could have been a difficult and painful existence.
From my own experiences, I created the Breathworks Mindfulness-based Pain and Illness Management programme (MBPM). Breathworks is now a growing, international company and I am very happy to say that Breathworks mindful techniques have helped thousands of people across the world live better lives despite their pain, stress and illness.
I have had a great deal of physiotherapy over the years, so I have first-hand experience of how mindfulness can be used alongside physiotherapy for a holistic approach to rehabilitation and I believe that mindfulness could be an essential part of a physiotherapist’s toolbox.
At Breathworks we have developed a model of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ suffering. 
In the case of someone with lower back pain the primary suffering is the actual unpleasant physical sensations in the lower back. Secondary suffering is the reactions to this pain that quickly build up when we are not aware. These manifest mentally as catastrophising and rumination; emotionally as fear, anxiety and depression; and physically as inhibited breathing and secondary tension. 
In my experience, and through my years of teaching, I have found that the secondary suffering is usually the major cause of distress, rather than the primary suffering.
All the mindfulness practices we teach are aimed at learning to accept the primary suffering and to reduce or overcome the secondary suffering through becoming more mindful, learning to respond rather than react. When this is achieved our suffering diminishes. Evidence based research backs this up. 
The longer I teach this approach the more astonished I am by its profound simplicity. By becoming more mindful we uncover gentle, peaceful acceptance and a life of openness and wonder.
More information
For more information on Breathworks, online courses and to find a course near you, visit their website here. Mindfulness for health by Vidyamala Burch and Dr Danny Penman is published by Piatikus, at £13.99.
Vidyamala Burch is the founder of Breathworks and is based in Manchester

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