A Mandala of Mindfulness
Mindfulness as a strategy to help live with chronic poor health (continued from page 1)
It grew from the work of John Kabat-Zinn, an American who in 1979 began to integrate aspects of his Buddhist training and meditation practices into helping patients in a Massachusetts hospital. In the 1990s that work was studied by clinical psychologists in Britain and developed into Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
3) My own story which combines both these elements and includes my own practice of mindfulness within the Buddhist tradition of teaching.
I learnt Buddhist meditation when I was working as a social worker.
Although at that time (mid 1980s) it was considered rather strange to be a Buddhist I knew that the meditation practices that helped me could be useful to others irrespective of their interest in spiritual or religious matters. Indeed, some doctors used to send their patients along to the Buddhist centre to learn meditation for relieving stress. I knew there was the potential to make aspects of these practices relevant in health care. At the time I didn't know how to make that bridge and didn't know that Dr Kabat-Zinn was already developing a programme to do so over in the USA. As my own story continued I became ill and with chronic poor health was later diagnosed with M.E. (Myalgic encephalomyelitis).
So I became my own subject of experiment - enquiring & exploring how I could manage and make the most of a difficult and frustrating health condition and using my Buddhist training in mindfulness practice to help me. At the time medical understanding of M.E. was very limited and service provision in its infancy, if it existed at all, so I was literally thrown back on my own resources.
My experience of the Alexander Technique had been patchy and spread over several years. I was slowly developing confidence in it as a method to help the kind of chronic poor health I lived with. At this point (2005) I heard of "Breathworks". This was a company founded by a woman in my own Buddhist order called Vidyamala. It was a direct response to her own experience of severe back injury and several surgical operations. Now a wheelchair user she was finding ways to use her experience to reach out to others in pain. Vidyamala adapted the meditation practices she knew to develop a programme of classes and home practice that was accessible and relatively straightforward to apply. Vidyamala visited Jon Kabat-Zinn, while developing her own non-medical model of self-help in a community of fellow practitioners.
I was very interested in Breathworks, recognising the value of what was being offered. At this time I was having Alexander Technique lessons. I realised that if I was going to find out if it could help with M.E. at a deep level, I would need to commit to a training course to be a teacher. My own patterns of habit and thought plus many years of M.E. left me sure that I would need that depth of practice. I dreamed one day of being able to teach both Breathworks and Alexander Technique and help others find a more straightforward and less windy path to help them with their difficulties.
The training course has been a fascinating journey and unexpected in various ways. I came with some assumptions which I have rather reluctantly needed to put down. One of these was that it would be easy to practice Alexander's discoveries alongside mindfulness based health programmes, or indeed Buddhist teaching.