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 🙂

Role Models

Lady Gaga, Vidyamala Burch and Wendy Loughlan.

Lady Gaga

Five Foot Two documentary


After watching the Lady Gaga documentary on Netflix I was inspired to write this blog post. To talk about my thoughts on the Lady Gaga documentary and about role models in general. Finally, to talk about the part that various role models have played in my personal journey through pain and how they have shaped and continue to shape the person that I am today.

So to begin, in my experience chronic pain is a lonely place:


Watching the Lady Gaga documentary last night was really eye opening for me. Someone who is a world famous superstar, glamorous, beautiful and extremely talented has similar pain issues to those that I have experienced:

How you see Gaga:

I was blown away by Gaga’s talent in the documentary, with her beautiful singing voice, heart-felt songs and terrific stage presence.

However behind this glamorous pop star, she has been fighting a silent battle with chronic pain.

The reality behind the stage persona:

Gaga has chronic pain and is shown at various points in the documentary receiving physical treatments for the pain, such as massage and trigger point injections. You also see her stuck on the sofa during a pain flare, crying as she is embarrassed about the state that she is in.

I have totally been there, isolated and alone in my pain. Thinking there is no way that friends and family could understand what is going on. Friends you once had drift away, stop calling, family don’t know what to say…

So if you haven’t seen the documentary I highly recommend it, Gaga is helping to break down the stigma of living with a chronic illness and she is proof that it is possible to live along-side daily pain and still lead a fit and active (and indeed fabulous) life.

She could definitely be a positive role model to many.

I agree that not all of us will have her income and access to top health professionals, although there are a lot of steps that you can take to self-manage your symptoms that don’t have to cost an astronomical amount.

My first steps into the self-management of my pain was to download the mindfulness for Health book onto the Audible app on my phone and as it was my first audio book, it was free!

If you haven’t heard of, or tried Audible, check out the Mindfulness for Health audio book here:


The beauty of having the Mindfulness for Health audio book on your phone is that you can then meditate anytime, anywhere!

My Role Models 

Having a role model as a child is important, we learn how to be and develop our behaviour patterns from the adults around us, including, parents, teachers and other professionals such as the Police.

I feel that having role models as an adult is equally as important. These role models can either be people in your day-to-day life, who have the skills, or personal qualities that you aspire to.

Or as discussed above it could be a pop star, film star, sports star etc…

As mentioned above, I started off my pain journey in a very isolated place. I have found along the way various role models. People who I admired, people who are living a really good life despite their own difficult circumstances and people who had positive qualities that I want to develop in my own life. Having these role models has kept me motivated during some of the darkest periods of my life and inspired me down the career path that I am following today.

Let me introduce a couple of my role models:

Vidyamala Burch


I have been fortunate enough to meet Vidyamala on a few occasions. You will see her name come up a lot in this blog and on my Facebook page.

Vidyamala truly is a role model to me.

After sustaining life-changing spinal injuries through a life guarding injury and two car accidents, Vidyamala has had chronic pain for over 40 years and now uses a wheelchair. Instead of giving up on life, she has used her experiences in a positive way and describes her life in the present as flourishing. Something I definitely aspire to…

After being a sporty teenager Vidyamala found major difficulties in adjusting to this new life and pushed her body to it’s limits in a bid to overcome the pain, but eventually had a complete physical breakdown. This is where I find a lot of similarities to my own life experience.

Vidyamala used her own life experiences and how she had learnt to manage her pain through mindfulness meditation, to set up the organisation Breathworks. Developing and delivering eight week mindfulness programs to other people with chronic pain and other long-term health conditions and people with stress. Breathworks also train people to teach this program and now have trainers all over the world.

Vidyamala’s life story has been a huge motivation for me to take up a daily meditation practice to manage my own pain. I also started the teacher training program, attending my first teacher training meditation retreat in January 2016 and my second teacher training retreat in July 2017.

Starting to learn meditation also inspired me to start training towards becoming a Counsellor. So I could develop the additional skills of helping people to cope emotionally with the impact of chronic pain on them and their life.

Wendy Loughlan


This is Wendy my yoga teacher. If you are in the Milton Keynes area check out her website for further information about her and her classes:

Wendy is a role model for me as she truly embodies her yoga practices and radiates kindness, compassion, authenticity and a real heart-felt self-love. All qualities that I aspire to, both as an individual and as a professional mindfulness teacher and Counsellor.

Thank you Wendy for always being there for me and giving me a gentle nudge of encouragement at times when I have needed it!


So, who are your role models in life, or who would you like as a role model and why?

I would love to hear what you think 🙂