"Vidyamala Burch is helping people in pain through the practice of "mindfulness", the act of paying more attention to the present moment. But it took her many years to discover it for herself first.
When people are having serious difficulties, it can bring out the extreme sides of people's personalities, says Vidyamala Burch, a 55-year-old pain management practitioner based in Manchester. "One is the denial, pushy, driven side and the other is the more passive, overwhelmed, depressive side."
Burch lives with chronic pain having acquired two spinal injuries at an early age. The first happened at 16 when she lifted somebody from a swimming pool during water safety practice. The second was the result of a car accident five years later...
...A lengthy period of rehabilitation followed in which she tried many different relaxation techniques. Three years later, she found that one, called Mindful Meditation, worked well for her.
"We have adapted the 'mindful movement' so that the primary emphasis is on being aware as you move, rather than how far you can move”
Now more widely known as mindfulness, it can be described as the act of focusing on the present moment, acknowledging thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. It is thousands of years old and Buddhist in origin, but has become popular as a therapy in the West in recent years.
Though perhaps most commonly associated with tackling mental health difficulties, and strongly promoted by the NHS for this, one of its first applications in this part of the world was to help with pain.
Burch says that when you have severe discomfort, there's a "rising up" in your body that exclaims "this hurts and I don't like it".
"The intuitive response is to turn away from it and try and get on with life in spite of your pain," she says. "With mindfulness, what we do is we turn towards it, to investigate what is actually happening in each moment."
In 2000, now ordained as a Buddhist, she found herself struggling to find paid work which she could physically manage. The idea occurred to her that she might be able to help others with pain on a professional basis.
She started a social enterprise called Breathworks where people with chronic pain take an eight-week course to learn how mindfulness could help them cope better with their physical symptoms..."
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