Katie Piper – What’s in My Head


Lovely to check in with you all again.

Today I had the fantastic privilege of being able to watch Katie Piper’s new show ‘What’s in My Head’. Katie is touring the country with this show and we managed to catch the show in Kettering.


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So I’m not sure how many of you are aware of Katie Piper’s story, but in 2008 at the age of 24 years, she was attacked with acid and suffered pretty horrendous injuries.

Katie was a model and TV presenter and her face was damaged so much by the acid that most of her face was removed. She lost her sight and as a result of ingesting some of the acid she suffered internal injuries in the throat, oesophagus and stomach and had to undergo numerous procedures to rebuild her face and to open her throat and nostrils up, as it would close up due to the scar tissues from the burns contracting.

It is really scary to think that life and what we expect from our life path can change in an instant like this. This is something that I can relate to in my own life with my teeth and jaw issues and is something that I will be drawing upon in my upcoming presentation on chronic pain.

Here are some photo’s of Katie, before and after the acid attack:

Katie Piper shows just how far she has come as she wows in chocolate one-shoulder dress at TV Choice Awards 4


This is what Katie Piper looks like more recently:


I have always followed Katie’s story of recovery since seeing her documentary on channel 4 called ‘My Beautiful Face’.

I have always been inspired by how Katie has used such negative and devastating personal experiences and been able to use this to help others in such a positive way through her charity The Katie Piper Foundation: https://katiepiperfoundation.org.uk/ and some of the TV shows and documentaries that she has done for channel 4.

Here she is explaining her story on a Ted Ex talk:


In the show Katie shares really openly and honestly her struggles with losing her identity, as it was during that time, as a young lady in her twenties, who never even considered disability, or illness in herself, or other family members, and who considered herself to be ‘invincible’.

Katie talked of struggles of losing her looks and the struggles of not being able to eat due to her internal injuries and losing tremendous amounts of weight because of this. She also talks of struggles with anxiety and of not being able to make connections with others and struggles with agoraphobia following the attack. She also talks of using alcohol as a means of self-medicating and numbing the pain. Also losing most of her twenties to Hospital treatments for her various injuries.

All things that I think most of us would be able to relate to in one form, or another…

Katie also shared some lovely strategies that she has used in her own recovery. One that I really liked was the use of positive affirmations, which according to Wikipedia are:

“Affirmations in New Thought and New Age terminology refer primarily to the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment—fostering a belief that “a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything. More specifically, an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should be repeated to one’s self and written down frequently. For affirmations to be effective, it is said that they need to be present tense, positive, personal and specific.”


What she does is collect positive affirmations and print them off, write them down and post them all over her downstairs bathroom. In the interval she had a mock up toilet in the foyer and asked the audience to write down their favorite affirmation and post them on the wall. Here are some pictures:


I like positive affirmations myself and tend to collect them on one of my Pinterest boards.

There are hundreds of affirmations that you could use, some examples I’ve found this evening are:




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Do you have a favorite positive affirmation/s that you have used and found to be helpful?

The key to making positive affirmations more likely to work seems to be making sure they are in the present tense, they contain positive words, they are relevant to what you are trying to achieve and you repeat them several times over the course of the day.

There’s no formula for how often or how many times you should repeat a positive affirmation.

Many people set a routine that works for them, like repeating the affirmation 20 times, 3 times a day.

The brain is able to rewire itself via a process called neuroplasticity. So similarly to a daily meditation practice, if you are focused when repeating your chosen affirmation, and you repeat it frequently, it is more likely to be successful. Imagine that your brain is like any other muscle that we would train in the gym. The more we train the stronger the muscle gets…


There were many other strategies that Katie shared for recovery. Such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Writing
  • Spending time with family
  • Spending time with friends
  • More chocolate! 😉

I highly recommend catching the show if you get the opportunity, to learn more about Katie and see if some of these strategies would be helpful to you in your life.

If you can’t catch a show, Katie has written several books. One of the books that was at the show was this one:


This is available on Amazon at the moment for £4: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Confidence-Secret-Katie-Piper/dp/1784295205/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1524180529&sr=8-1&keywords=katie+piper+confidence


I’ll leave you with one of the slides that she shared on Anxiety Girl. I think this can be one of my super powers too…

katie piper 2


Please get in touch and share some of your own strategies for recovery, would be great to hear from you.

Warm wishes,


Mindfulness for Health immersion retreat June 2018


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.

Warm wishes,

Mary 🙂

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Volunteering on a Mindfulness for Health course – session two

Happy weekend everyone, I hope that you are all well.

Today was my second session volunteering on the Mindfulness for Health course in Manchester. It feels like a good time to share with you all my experiences of volunteering in aid of National Volunteer week here in the UK:


If you’d like to learn more about some of the benefits of volunteering please check out my last blog post: ‘Volunteering on a Mindfulness for Health course – session one.’

We started off the session with a breathing anchor meditation practice, which was very much needed as some of us had very stressful journeys into Manchester.

Here’s a link to a breathing anchor meditation practice led by Vidyamala Burch if you would like to give it a try:

My job was to give out extra blankets and cushions if people needed them in order to increase their comfort.

Here is a quote that was shared with us which I found to be quite helpful:

‘Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving until, at some point the anchor line grows taught and brings you back’

(Jon Kabat-Zinn)

We then had time to share our experiences of our home practice in pairs. One person would talk mindfully and the other person would listen mindfully. Helping the person to explore their experience more deeply.

Home practice is where we are encouraged in between the taught face-to-face sessions to practice the meditations on our own at home for 10 minutes twice a day.

My experience of home practice is that it has been challenging! I shared with my partner that I have the meditations on my phone and will tend to do the meditations on the go. For example, I might get to work early, park my car and then meditate in the car. I might go for a walk in nature and find a quiet spot by the lake to meditate:


Alternatively I meditate last thing at night whilst in bed to help me relax and get to sleep:


If you are looking for online meditations I recommend You Tube, Soundcloud, or downloading the Mindfulness for Health book via Audible, which you can find at the following: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Health-Personal-Development/Mindfulness-for-Health-Audiobook/B00EOT9NPG?ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=c6e316b8-14da-418d-8f91-b3cad83c5183&pf_rd_r=GA2E2ZHT5ZB01KC5NZ6H&

If you are not already a member of Audible it is free to download your first book.

The next part of the session was mindful movement, which was described as a moving body scan. Mindful movement is all about learning where your soft and hard edges are. Soft edges where we are maybe not moving enough and hard edges where we are pushing the body too hard, beyond it’s current limits and risking increased pain and discomfort and possible injury.

Here are a couple of examples of mindful movements:



Mindful movements can be done laying down, seated and standing.

You are encouraged not to work beyond your current level of comfort and physical capacity and adaptations to each move can be offered if needed. Such as a smaller range of motion, resting between movements, or leaving a particular movement out.

I find mindful movements really helpful at improving confidence in moving the body when in pain and helpful when it is difficult to stay relaxed in a seated meditation due to pain, agitation.

The last parts of the afternoon included practising the three minute breathing practice, an example of a three minute breathing space is here:

This meditation can be used throughout the day as a means of checking in with the body and the breath. I quite often use this meditation as an emergency meditation if I am stressed, or have a stress event ahead, such as a presentation, or job interview.

The compassion practice was next, if you’d like to try this practice here is a link to a led meditation (the compassion practice is track 5):


So all in all the session was a busy one! It was lovely to be back at the Buddhist centre again and I enjoyed helping on the course and hearing about the participants experiences of meditation.

Here are some pictures that I took there today:


As ever if you have any questions, or you’d like to learn more about Breathworks mindfulness, or volunteering please get in touch.

Warm wishes,



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Volunteering on a Mindfulness for Health course – session one

Happy Bank holiday weekend to my lovely blog and Facebook page followers. Lovely to see you here.

So this blog post is to let you know how it was for me to volunteer on a Mindfulness for Health program run at one of the Breathworks offices in Manchester.

I was really excited for this opportunity to volunteer on a course run by one of the Senior trainers of Breathworks as this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Assisting in the running of a mindfulness course is one of the requirements of the accreditation process to become a fully qualified Mindfulness teacher with Breathworks.

Now I’m not a massive fan of large busy cities, however whenever I visit Manchester it feels like a bit of a homecoming. The people that I’ve met have always been very friendly and welcoming and there is a very vibrant and diverse atmosphere in the City centre.


Manchester was where I came for my first introduction to Breathworks, via the two three day introduction courses into Mindfulness and compassion for Health Care professionals. For more details check out the following link: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/intro-courses-for-h-p.

This was also the first time that I met Vidyamala Burch in person, who as you may know from my previous posts is a big role model for me in terms of being able to live a good life with a chronic pain, long-term health condition.

Life has been very busy here at BreathworksMK – Mindfulness Meditation and Counselling. So even the long train journey was a welcome opportunity for me to slow down and be mindful of the beautiful scenery viewed from the window and even the opportunity to meditate on the train. This is the beauty of mindfulness for me, you can literally meditate anywhere!


Here is what the Buddhist Centre looks like, I always find it an oasis of calm in a busy City Centre.

I knew Andrea from a couple of the training retreats that I have been on. I was offered a very warm welcome and shown the Breathworks Office which is the hub of all the administration and running of courses at the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Whilst the setting of the course that I am helping to support is in a Buddhist Centre – the 8-week Breathworks mindfulness course is a secular course. Meaning that whatever your religious belief you are very welcome and can benefit from the practices and the ideas that are taught in the course.

My first job of the day was to take the register downstairs and the consent forms for the mindful movement aspect of the course and to welcome the participants of the course as they arrived. Making tea and coffee and talking to people are some of my specialities, so this was a lovely first job 🙂

Then it was time to go up into the course room and to do course introductions and a chance for the group to introduce themselves to the other course participants.

I was really struck by these introductions. Mine was that I was there to learn how the course is run as part of my teacher training. But also for personal reasons. Breathworks and the 8-week program has been absolutely life changing for me and I want to continue to use the meditations to support my own health and have the opportunity to help others with long-term pain and other long-term health conditions to learn these skills and hopefully to improve their quality of life.

The power of sharing in the group became apparent as people shared their struggles with various health issues and how for some this was a last resort, as they had absolutely tried everything else that medicine and the medical model has to offer them. I have absolutely been in this position in the past and could relate at a deep heartfelt level.

This course is run over four weeks, so each session is a double session, so weeks 1 and 2 of the course were taught today. I won’t share too many details of the enactments and concepts that are taught, as I highly recommend attending either a face-to-face, or an online course if you can get the opportunity. I don’t want to spoil it for you! 😉

Details of the online course taught by Breathworks are here: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/online-courses.

You can do a taster course, plus online versions of the Stress and Health course.

If you would like to find a Breathworks course local to where you live you could try this link: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/mindfulness-for-health/course-near-you

I have seen the enactments done before, but there was something special and impactful about seeing these enactments done in a group setting. Here is a video clip of one of the enactments to give you a taster:


Then we did a body scan meditation, which some people did sitting in a chair due to their health conditions and some people did laying on the floor. I was tasked with giving out extra cushions and blankets, which are always nice to have to get comfortable whilst meditating 🙂

Here is a guided body scan meditation that you can do if you’d like to. The idea is to bring your awareness to rest in a particular area of the body, say your head, see what you notice here and then progressively move your awareness down to each successive part of the body. So from the head we could move down to the neck, the shoulders, the arms etc…If you notice any pain in the body, you are encouraged to try and breathe into the area and soften it as best you can so that you can relax the body into gravity and allow it to sink into the support offered by the floor. You also have the choice to move the body and adjust your body position should you need to.

I highly recommend doing this meditation for 10 minutes twice a day for the next 6-7 days and see what you notice in your body and in your mind. Participants on the course are given a booklet with weekly grids to note down anything that comes up. You could quite easily buy a nice notebook to note down your observations, or even use the notes section of your phone.


The other meditation that we experienced together was the Breathing Anchor. Here is an example of a guided Breathing Anchor meditation:

The Breathing Anchor is one of my favourite meditations to do. The breath is always with us in every moment from birth, up until when we die. So it is a readily available sensation on which to focus.

We are encouraged to focus on the breath, the sensations of the breath, maybe at the nose, shoulders, rib cage, belly, and back. Then when thoughts arise, as they often will, you can acknowledge these thoughts and gently guide the awareness back to where it is that you are focusing on. The sensations in the body are in a sense an ‘anchor’ for the awareness, helping us to be more ‘present’ and thereby helping with concentration and mental focus.

You may have heard of the constantly thinking and distracted mind described as the monkey mind. I wonder if you can relate to some of these images?




As with the Body Scan meditation, the advice is to practice the Breathing Anchor for 10 minutes, twice a day, for 6-7 days over the week.

If you think of meditation as a training for the brain – as we would train our physical body in the gym, I find it’s helpful in the establishing of a regular meditation routine. The more we train, the stronger the new connections in the brain become. Hopefully you will over time observe a reduction in the amount of pain experienced and your emotional reaction to it. Or you may notice improvements in your mental health, for example, a reduction in anxiety, stress, or depression.


There is a lot of research to support the benefits of mindfulness for various health conditions. The research finding are too numerous for me to write here, but here is the link to some of the research that has been conducted by Breathworks into the effectiveness of their programs: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/research


Finally, I was asked to help tidy away the chairs, mats and cushions and to help tidy the kitchen area.

I had a great experience of assisting in this session and am very much looking forward to the next session.


As ever I would love to hear from you if you have any questions at all, or anything that you would like to share.

You can comment on this blog, or I do have a Facebook page ‘Breathworksmk – Mindfulness meditation and counselling’ where you could comment, message.

Until next time,

Warm wishes,


Mary 🙂 

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Why volunteer?

Hello and welcome to my latest blog post about volunteering.


I have written this post for the reader who may have been interested in volunteering for a while and not known where to start. Or for someone who may be curious as to how volunteering could benefit them and the local community.

There are several areas in the community that offer volunteer opportunities. According to the Open University, there are several areas of work where you could volunteer and include:

  • Administration, IT, management and finance

Many organisations depend on volunteers to help them with a wide range of “office” type work – from photocopying and envelope “stuffing” right through to helping with more specialist areas such as School Governors and Organisation Trustees:

  • School governors

School governors form the largest volunteer workforce in the UK with around 350,000 governor places. Governors play a crucial role in the teams that run schools, helping to ensure that all pupils develop as individuals and receive a good quality education. Governors have responsibility for the strategic management of the school, working closely with the headteacher and staff. As a governor you will attend regular governing body meetings, visit the school to meet staff, see the children at work, participate in the life of the school and attend special events.

  • Trustees

Trustees, (also known as management committee members, or Board members) play an essential part in the running of voluntary organisations. They are responsible for ensuring that a voluntary organisation has a clear strategy, that it remains true to its original vision, and that it complies with all necessary rules and legal obligations.

  • Advice, information giving, counselling, listening and befriending

Many organisations also rely on volunteers to provide a wide range of support to individuals who are in difficulty or don’t know where to turn. They often provide training to enable their volunteers to undertake this sort of work and the knowledge and skills gained can often be used by the volunteers in other parts of their lives.

Organisations under this category could include the Citizens Advice Bureau, The Samaritans and various counselling, support agencies. Such as Mind, or Cruse Bereavement Care.

  • Event organising, fundraising, marketing, campaigning, public speaking

Many organisations rely on volunteers to support their work by undertaking a range of activities to promote their organisation and its work, to the wider community. Some but not all give training to help volunteers develop these skills but many welcome volunteer contributions to support the work of those who already have them.

  • Fundraising

All charitable organisations seek fundraising volunteers to help raise income levels and fund their work. One benefit of fundraising is that you can work for charities in which you have a strong belief. It may be as simple as rattling a collection bucket one weekend, or you could get involved in working in shops, developing new ideas, educational visits to schools and running events.


Other areas of volunteering could include working in conservation and wildlife projects and working in classrooms and schools to support the learning of children, for example by reading to children. I’m sure there are many more volunteer opportunities that I have missed out!


Benefits of volunteering:

According to Timebank there are a number of benefits to volunteering, including some of the following:

  • Giving your CV a boost

Whether you are looking to study a particular course, such as medicine. Or looking for a means of getting back into work, or changing career paths, volunteering in a relevant area to your dream job, or course, could give your application the boost it needs to get you noticed by recruiters.

  • Get back into work

Volunteering could be a valuable means of filling any gaps in your employment and getting a reference that could help you when applying for paid positions.

You could also try different areas of work as a volunteer in order to get a taster of the work and see if it is an area that you would be happy working in long-term.

This could be particularly helpful if you are currently looking for work, or wanting to change direction in your career.

  • Improve your confidence

Volunteering could help you improve your confidence, as you may get the opportunity to try something that you have never done before. You get to meet new like-minded people, who are likely to be as passionate about the same cause as you are.

You are likely to have the opportunity to develop new skills, which can also help to improve your confidence.

  • Improve your health

Now this is an interesting one. Whilst volunteering to help others, you could be improving your own physical and mental health.

The following research highlights some of the benefits of volunteering: https://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf


My own experiences of volunteering:

I have volunteered in some capacity since around the age of 17 years. At various stages in my life and for various reasons.

Following on from my Facebook Live video on my Facebook page BreathworksMK: Mindfulness Meditation and Counselling, I would like to share a couple examples of volunteer work that I have done in recent years and how they have benefitted me.

  • Inpatient Unit Assistant


Now I know that working in a Hospice may not at first seem appealing, as they are often associated with death and dying. However in my experience a Hospice is a very positive place in which to be and in which to work.

I was first drawn into Hospice work after a family member with terminal cancer spent some time in a Hospice. I got to see first-hand how beautiful a Hospice setting is, how kind and compassionate the staff are and how peaceful a place like this can be when you are at the end-stage of a terminal illness.

I wanted to give something back and help to support the vital work that a Hospice does for both patients and their families.

Working on an In-Patient Unit such as the one at St Francis can involve many job tasks, a main part of the role being delivering food and drinks to patients and their family members, keeping the kitchen areas clean and tidy and restocking coffee and tea supplies!

One of my aspirations is to volunteer for the counselling service at a Hospice such as this one. I hope that my work on the Inpatient Unit if the first step towards achieving this.


  • Cruse Bereavement Care

Another volunteer position that I’ve had a really positive experience with is volunteering for Cruse Bereavement Care as a Bereavement Support Volunteer.

After completing the Awareness in Bereavement training with Cruse, I have worked with around 15 clients to date, all of whom have experienced bereavement, or a loss of some kind. Clients are offered up to six one hour sessions in the branch of Cruse where I work, as an opportunity to talk about the bereavement, or losses that they have experienced with a trained volunteer.

I find this work extremely rewarding and have received tremendous support in my work from my Supervisor and Manager at Cruse. The change in clients that you can witness in a relatively short period of time always amazes me and is a real privilege to be a part of 🙂


Some sources of further information:



On this website you can type in where you live in the search function and it brings up a number of local volunteer vacancies.


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Here is a bit more information about the Hospice of St Francis:

The Hospice of St Francis provides free care and support when it matters most to over 2,000 people every year.

We do everything possible to help people living with a progressive, or life-limiting condition to live their life well and on their own terms, especially when times are tough. We also support families, carers and children affected by the illness of a loved one.

We have five volunteers to every paid member of staff and incredible supporters who help us raise over £5 million each year. We simply couldn’t provide our life-enriching, free care, without their dedication and commitment.

Here is a current list of volunteer vacancies at St Francis Hospice: http://www.stfrancis.org.uk/support-us/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities



TimeBank is a national volunteering charity, started in 2000.

They recruit and train volunteers to deliver mentoring projects to tackle complex social problems. They also work with businesses to engage their staff in volunteering.

TimeBank believe that great volunteering can transform the lives of both volunteers and beneficiaries by building stronger, happier and more inclusive communities.



I hope that this blog has been useful if you have been considering volunteering. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Until next time,


Warm wishes,

Mary 🙂

Grief and chronic pain

Welcome 🙂

Hello again to the followers of my blog and Facebook page BreathworksMK – Mindfulness Meditation and Counselling.

I hope that you are enjoying the glorious sunshine this weekend. I have had some much needed rest and relaxation with my family following a hectic work period.

A key practice of Mindfulness in Daily life as presented in the 8-week Breathworks Mindfulness for Health program is the idea of pacing of daily activities as a means of avoiding tipping into the boom-and-bust cycle. I will give details of this later in this blog post.

Here’s me enjoying the sun in my garden and definitely enjoying pacing myself! 🙂


I would like to share with you today some of the ideas from my presentation that I gave this week on ‘Creative Ways of Managing Chronic Pain’.

I had been excited to share this presentation for quite some time, as most of you who follow my page probably know.

I find it healing and motivating for me to be able to share my own experiences and what has helped me in my own chronic pain journey, in order to help others.

One of the key ideas from the presentation was linking the process of learning to live with a chronic pain, or other long-term heath condition to the process of grieving following the death of a loved one, as originally described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in 1969.




I originally heard this idea in a talk given by Vidyamala Burch (who is shown above) in January 2018 on the Sounds True Mindfulness Summit. Where she linked her life journey and coming to terms with her chronic pain in the stages: Denial, Bargaining, Acceptance and Flourishing.

This immediately resonated with my own life experiences and journey towards accepting my own chronic pain condition and I would like to share some of this with you today:grief 3


Denial for me was a stage of being cut off from my body, by ignoring my body and it’s pain signals. In order that I could continue with my work and my desire to exercise and keep fit.

There was a lot of losses associated with this stage, including losing jobs, losing relationships and losing independence, both physically and financially, when I could no longer continue to deny the pain.


Bargaining was an interesting and somewhat frustrating stage. This was a phase of my life where I was chasing a fantasy outcome, a magical cure for the pain. On the face of it I was doing lot’s of healthy activities, but I was always feeling like a failure during this time, as these activities didn’t cure my pain. Typical thoughts were:

‘If I do enough Yoga it can cure my pain’


‘If I meditate enough it can cure my pain’





Acceptance for me is a stage that took a long time. There wasn’t one thing that helped in this process.

It was a gradual turning towards my body and the experiencing of pain. Realising that I could experience pain, but I need not suffer. As via the process of a regular meditation practice you gradually learn that pain is an unpleasant sensory experience, that waxes and wanes moment-to-moment. Also that the pain I once felt was overwhelming my whole body, may actually only be a pain in my lower back and that I could broaden my experience to include the pleasant aspects of my experience, whilst also softening into the pain using my breath. Pleasant experiences could include, the warmth of the sun on my skin, a pleasant breeze, some relaxing music etc…

I’m not saying that acceptance is an easy process, nor that I feel accepting every day. Every person with chronic pain, or other long-term health condition will know that pain varies from day-to-day and that there are likely to be both good and bad pain days. However meditation for me has given me back control of my chronic pain and on the whole the good days for me now outnumber the bad.

Key to managing pain is the idea of pacing, as presented in the Mindfulness in Daily Life part of the Breathworks meditation program. A summary of the Boom and Bust cycle is summarised in the following document.

boom and bust




Flourishing as described by Vidyamala, sounds like an amazing stage of life to get to. I must admit that this is a stage that I am still working on.

Flourishing is an opening up to life and using your experiences to add value to the world and those around you. This is my exact motivations for wanting to train as a counsellor and mindfulness teacher. Using my life experiences and what I have learnt to benefit the life of others. It is this process of making meaning that is flourishing 🙂

I would love to hear what you think of this process of learning to live with pain and other long-term health conditions and whether it is something that resonates with your own experiences?

I will leave you with this video of Vidyamala talking to Rick Hanson about her experiences of learning to live with chronic pain and flourishing whilst doing so:



Until next time.

Warm wishes,

Mary 🙂

Chronic Pain resources


Good evening to my lovely page followers!

I hope that you are as well as you can be and having a great weekend.

I have been taking the much needed opportunity to rest and reconnect with my family, here is me and my husband on a walk around a local lake.


I just wanted to check in with you all and offer you some resources that I have found this week during my preparations for my chronic pain presentation.

Firstly is a fantastic 5 minute video available on You Tube explaining about chronic pain and what to do about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_3phB93rvI

I highly recommend a watch if you have a spare 5 minutes.

Chronic pain is daily pain of 3 months or more in duration and this video explains how the brain still continues to produce pain even after tissue healing has occurred. It looks at a holistic way of treating pain.

  • Medication.
  • Surgical treatments.
  • Looking at thoughts and emotions. Reducing stress and unwinding the nervous system.
  • Diet.
  • Lifestyle factors. 
  • Exercise.
  • Looking at your story, what was happening in your life at the time when the chronic pain first occurred. Making links between the past and the present. 


If you haven’t checked out the NHS Choices website recently, there is a whole section on pain and self-management of pain: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Pain/Pages/Painhome.aspx

nhs choices


I love Ted talks, there are a vast amount of TED talks available on You Tube on mindfulness, on the experiences of chronic pain.

Here is a really interesting talk on

A Different Approach To Pain Management: Mindfulness Meditation

by Fadel Zeidan.


Another useful mindfulness resource that I have come across is the Headspace app, available at https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app. There is a 10-day beginners course available for free and if you enjoy the meditations you could then choose to subscribe. There are a number of simple animations on the app which describes mindfulness really clearly which I really liked.


Here is an example of one of the animations, enjoy:


If you have any resources that you want to share please get in touch, would be great to hear from you.


Warm wishes,



Chronic pain presentation

I am very excited to have the opportunity to present on a topic of my choice.

Of course it’s got to be on my main area of interest, which is chronic pain and how to use counselling and mindfulness meditation to manage the distressing symptoms associated with chronic pain and any other long-term health condition (such as cancer, diabetes, stroke, ME etc…).

I am especially interested in highlighting the individual unique experience of pain and have been asking people with chronic pain for a short written piece on their condition and how this affects them on a day-to-day basis.

An excerpt of one written piece I’ve received is:

Male with type 2 Diabetes.

“I suffer from headaches. Especially on front of head and around eyes. Annoying tension headache, to a full blown migraine. 

Migraine. Debilitating pain, can barely function. Wipes you out and all I want to do is lie down in a darkened room with an ice pack on my head. Also feel sick.

Joint pains. Mainly in legs and back. Stiffness, shooting pains from lower back down my left leg, stopping at the back and side of the knee.

Wrist issues. Feel like I have no strength in both wrists. Very difficult to pick anything up heavier than a couple of kg. Things feel heavier than they are in reality. My brain knows I could pick it up, but in reality I can’t. 

Skin condition. Get splits in my skin mainly tips of fingers and thumbs and around the knuckles. Makes holding things very difficult and can interfere with my work. I fix computers and often have to use screwdrivers and small components. Skin is dry and feels like I have constant paper cuts. 

Feet pain. Numbness, starts at toes and works back towards the heel. More like pins and needles rather than no sensation at all.

The joints in the feet feel like they lock up when I am waking. Lots of pain when this happens. Mainly a stabbing pain, makes me limp and then I would need to stop.

To manage the pain I try to manage without painkillers because of the side effects of taking painkillers. If the pain is really bad I will take ibuprofen. 

Some days are more difficult to manage than others.

If I feel really bad with the pain. I can get depressed. I can also be short-tempered towards everyone. This is normally unlike me as I normally have a long fuse and am laid back.” 


What is your unique pain story?


These pictures illustrate the wide variety of pain symptoms that can present in someone with Fibromyalgia:



As you can see a wide variety of symptoms, as unique as the person is themselves. Symptoms that are likely to vary from day-to-day. As any person with a chronic condition is likely to tell you their pain and other symptoms will fluctuate on a day-to-day basis and can be influenced by many factors. Stress, lack of sleep, food, other illnesses are some of the factors that can have an impact on symptoms and could lead to pain flare ups.


One way I’ve found useful when exploring with a client chronic pain symptoms is to work creatively and have an outline of the body in the centre of the page and using post it notes asking the client to write down their thoughts associated with the pain, or actual descriptions of their pain experience.

As shown by the following pictures:


Start off with a blank sheet of paper and you might like to draw, or stick on an outline of a body in the centre. 



Then you can draw the pain on the body and write down the experiences of pain on post-it-notes around the body.


Being specific about the pain, it’s intensity, it’s quality, i.e. sharp, dull, shooting, stabbing etc…, it’s specific location, can be helpful in assisting the client to learn about their unique experience and any patterns of the pain throughout the day.

As I’ve heard Vidylamala Burch say during a You Tube talk recently, mindfulness is a turning towards the pain (pain that the client has maybe identified using the above exercise). 

Being with what is actually happening in the present moment with curiosity, kindness and compassion, much as you would comfort, or embrace a loved one who was hurting.


A really useful talk I’ve been watching today on You Tube is:

Mindfulness and Chronic Pain – Vidyamala Burch


Please enjoy 🙂


Warm wishes,



Working creatively with anxiety CPD

I had the fantastic opportunity to attend a CPD with Nettie at Challenging-Behaviour Counselling Services in Dunstable on Saturday 17th March.


As a trainee counsellor one of my interests is working creatively with some of the issues that clients bring to sessions. The CPD’s offered at Challenging-Behaviour are a good mix of psycho-education and creative exercises. Creative exercises that you can complete for yourself as an individual and then you can take these ideas away with you and apply them to client work.

One of the key ideas that I took from the day was asking the client to draw on an outline of a body whereabouts on the body they would normally notice symptoms of anxiety:

download (3)

Now for some people this might be really challenging to identify what exactly is anxiety and what the signs of anxiety might be in their body. Some examples that I might put could include shaky legs, pounding heart, or a tight chest. You could draw pictures on your gingerbread man, use different colours and of course use different words.

Anxiety for other people might also include increased physical pain, muscle tension, light-headedness, headache. A feeling of nausea, or butterflies in the tummy etc….  This is where this exercise is useful, as the client can begin to recognise their unique experience of anxiety.

Strategies for coping with anxiety: 

Once symptoms of anxiety arise, what can help?

Grounding yourself in the present moment can be helpful here. So looking around you, what can you see? What can you hear? What can you feel? Whether that be feeling your feet in contact with the floor, the touch of clothes on your skin, or having something soft and tactile to hold, for example a cuddly toy, stress ball etc…


Using the senses of your body as a means of checking out that you are safe in the here-and-now. As anxiety can often lead to a spiral of negative thoughts, castastrophising, or even a sense of impending doom. Using your body senses might be a useful means of reducing anxiety responses and reactions in the body before it gets to this stage.

Another useful immediate technique could be some simple breathing exercises. At it’s simplest it could be slowly breathing in for a count of 3 or 4 and then trying to double the out breath. I find that doing this technique for three to four breaths before returning to a normal breathing pattern, relaxes my body and I start to feel calmer.

Another breathing technique is 4, 7, 8 breathing as detailed on this webpage: https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/4-7-8-breathing-stress-relief-techniques.

A similar idea with using breathing to calm down the nervous system. This time you breath in for 4, hold your breath for 7 counts and then breathe out for 8.

Maybe try both techniques and see which one works best for you.



Don’t Feed the Worry Bug

One of the ideas we looked at was a storybook app called “Don’t Feed the Worry Bug”, shown here on a You Tube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8aA-MQbT5A

worry-3 (1)

Although this app is for children, I think some adults (including myself) will be very taken with this app. It is about a character called Wince, who feeds his worry bug with his anxieties until it becomes huge. On the app you can record your worries on there and then feed it to the bug who then eats them for you!!

download (6)


I’d be really interested to hear from you, what you think about anxiety and maybe what strategies have worked for you when managing anxiety. Please get in touch.


Warm wishes,


Bereavement and loss – Part two

The Dual Process Model

Continuing on from my first blog about bereavement and loss, today I would like to focus on The Dual Process Model.

This model is one of my favourites to use when thinking about the process of grieving, coping with and adjusting to a loss. The dual process model was developed by two researchers called Stroebe and Schut, who researched into the experiences of bereaved people and is shown below:


I particularly like this model of coping with a bereavement, as it focuses not only on the experiences of the loss, the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we might experience when bereaved, but it also focuses on the aspects of what we can do in order to adjust to the loss of a loved one.

Loss orientation

The loss orientation side of the dual model focuses on what the bereaved person does when processing some aspect of the  loss.

Traditional theories of grief work will sit in this side of the model. It is interesting when looking up the meaning of grief work that I came across the following account of Erich Lindemann’s work at: https://whatsyourgrief.com/grief-work-grief-theory-erich-lindemann/

I am including more details of grief work here because chances are, even if you know nothing about grief theory, that somewhere along the way you may have heard someone talk about ‘grief work’, ‘the work of grief’ or something similar. This term was coined by Erich Lindemann, dating way back in the 1940s.  Lindemann was a psychiatrist who studied grief, doing research working with grieving survivors of the Coconut Grove tragedy.

Lindemann’s understanding of how people progress through grief and ultimately reduce the symptoms of grief, is by doing ‘grief work’.  Lindemann explains that grief work will take different times for different people, but ultimately will require the same three tasks, as shown by the following picture:

lindemann-grief-3 1. Emancipation from bondage to the deceased  

Basically this means that we have strong attachments to the person we lost and those connections are linked to our incredible pain and negative reactions.  Lindemann explains that we need to move on (“emancipate from bondage”) in order to proceed with ‘normal’ grief and go on to form new relationships.

Lindemann does clarify that this is different than forgetting about the person we lost. However, the wording does suggest that we need to be released, or freed from the bond with our loved one.  A later grief theory called continuing bonds talks about being able to cherish the bonds with our loved one that has died and being able to continue with them as part of our lives and maybe develop this bond further after the person has died.  This has certainly been my experience of bereavement, I was able to further develop the bond I had with a significant person in my life that died. This process was facilitated through counselling.

2. Readjusting to a new environment in which the deceased is missing.

This stage is a bit more straightforward, and is one that you see in other grief theories.  After you lose someone the world is completely different, yet utterly the same.  We have to find a way to make sense of a world that our loved one is no longer physically a part of.

3. Form new relationships.


For Lindemann, letting go of the attachments in the first task is an important part of opening up to new relationships.

I am sure many grievers would agree that, as continuing bonds theory suggests, we can create a new type of relationship with the person who died, while forming new and meaningful relationships with others.

It is interesting to consider the term ‘grief work’.  Despite the fact that many people have heard the phrase, society generally does not want to give us the time and space we need to engage in ‘grief work’. Grieving is ‘work’ and we need to give it time and attention in order to cope. Counselling can give you the space that you need to process the grief and do the work of grief.


Coming back to the loss orientated side of the model. Intrusion of grief may involve yearning for the deceased – thinking about them continuously, looking at old pictures, or videos. Thinking about what the deceased may have said, or done in a certain situation and experiencing the sadness and the pain of the death of a loved one. Many may describe the hole that the loved one has left in their lives, or a feeling of emptiness, or of feeling lost.

Restoration Orientation

The loss of a loved one also brings changes to the life of the bereaved individual. These changes may involve having to learn to do tasks which the deceased used to do, which could include learning to pay bills and having to manage the household chores (DIY, cooking, cleaning etc…).

The bereaved individual may have a change in roles and relationships.

The bereaved person may try new things, or do things in memory of the loved one that they lost. This could include fundraising for charity in memory of their loved one, trying out a new hobby, changing careers. The list is endless…


Dual process

The model is a dual process, as the bereaved person must work through both the loss orientation side and the restoration orientation side of the model. They cannot attend to both sides of the model simultaneously, so it is normal for them to oscillate between the two dimensions.

Different cultures may vary on how much the individual directly focuses on the experience of being bereaved and how much they avoid the memories of the bereaved person and distract themselves.

In my experience people will show signs of both loss orientation and restoration orientation in their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and move between the two.

Moving from loss orientated behaviours to restoration orientation behaviours may allow the bereaved individual to take a ‘break’ from confronting their grief, thereby helping them to enhance mental and physical well-being. As the bereaved individual has ‘doses’ of confronting and avoiding the death that can be managed healthily.

The dual process model suggests that counselling, or other interventions needs to support booth loss orientation and restoration orientation work, rather than solely focusing on grief work.

According to what I learnt on the Awareness in Bereavement course for Cruse Bereavement Care, if there is no oscillation between loss orientation and restoration orientation, there is a risk of pathology. Chronic grief is an example here there is no oscillation and the entire focus of the bereaved person is loss orientated. Similarly, when a person denies the reality of a death, there is no oscillation, but the entire focus is on restoration.

A complex, chronic grief may result in the grieving process being prolonged and the bereaved person may have difficulties re-engaging with their life.


I would welcome your thoughts on the Dual Process Model and as ever if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Best wishes,