In 1997 I became dependent on alcohol. I was a breaking point, and not coping well with traumatic events in my life. The headteacher at my then School died very suddenly in February, three weeks later my Mother died of a heart attack. Four months later my marriage broke down. I was drinking heavily and sinking into depression.
I was having counselling and this talking therapy did help but what truly made the difference was meditation. I discovered meditation by chance. Out with my walking group I met someone who seemed so calm and centred that I was intrigued. Talking to him I found out that he meditated. I had grown up in Liverpool when the Beatles got interested in Transcendental Meditation, but I hadn’t at that time thought it would do anything for me. Now, however, I listened to Chris and decided I’d give it a go. I didn’t want to destroy my life with alcohol, and I wanted to make a fresh start.
Meditation changed my life. No one thing I have ever done in my life has had the same profound effect on me. I have now got a twice daily practice that keeps me calm and centred in the face of anything going on in my life or in the world.
The British School of Meditation was set up in 2011 by Helen Galpin and me. The course trains people to be meditation teachers. Anyone signing up has to have a daily meditation practice, it is an essential prerequisite of the course. We have now trained 100’s of people to be meditation teachers and to share the benefits of meditation with their students.
One of the essays students have to submit is a 500-word piece on the difference meditation has made to their life. Every one of these essays is evidence of the difference meditation has made to that person’s life. Many of the students had been in therapy as well but for a great many of them meditation was the transformative tool that helped them to heal.
Here are some of those stories:
In 1999 life felt pretty bleak. I had just been diagnosed with M.E., so my physical energy was on floor, I was depressed and it felt like all my inner lights had been switched off. Leading up to this moment, I had been splitting my time between singing in a rock band and working as a Project Manager for a large organisation whilst also trying to recover from a bitter divorce. If I listened to the Doctors I would have to believe that I would never get better and M.E. would be with me for life. Luckily, for me, I didn’t. Instead I embarked on a healing journey which introduced me to many different Holistic Therapies, which in turn switched me on to Meditation, and a brand new way of life.
My first meditation was a guided visualisation and I was full of fear. My confidence and belief in myself were completely on the floor, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. Also, at this time, concentration was an exhausting process, but I found it so easy and simple for me to be focused on the imagery. By the end of the meditation, not only had it gone some way to helping my self-esteem and focus, I felt so incredibly relaxed but at the same time rejuvenated too!
Over time, my own personal meditation practice grew and so did my health improve too. By quieting the constant narrative in my mind, I was able to see my life with opened eyes. At last I realised that I had a choice on being someone who either led the rest of my life asleep, or someone who could be awake and alert and completely in the moment. From the beautiful guided visualisations that were helping me “let go” of old emotional baggage, to the personal mantras that I was breathing into my being, the person who I had always desired to be began to emerge – I was becoming happy, healthy, strong and inside I could feel the serenity and calm beginning to grow.
Now I have a daily meditation practice, I feel I am empowering myself with “tools” for life which can continue to help me grow. The simplicity of the “brain training” clears the cobwebs, and mist, and allows clarity of mind. This has given me the insight to my flaws but allowed me the self-compassion to live with truth and honesty. And as life is often a mirror, I am also able to take the compassion and respect I have for myself and allow that to reflect on to others too, which has enabled my relationships to go from strength to strength. Life is always full of twists and turns, and in the past I would have allowed these situations to completely knock me from my perch, but now meditation allows me the patience to bend and flex through each day with grace and ease. Sarah Presley.
Sarah trained as a meditation teacher with us in 2013. She then went on to train as a trainer with us. She now runs two centres in Bristol and Cardiff and runs course online.
"Where to begin, that is the issue I have with only having 500 words to sum up the benefits of meditation to me. I have been on medication for depression for over forty years and I'm 51 years young, so I'll leave you to do the maths. Along with other traumas and the day to day ups and downs of life I have never been able to rid myself of the darkness that depression brings. Additionally I have several complex physical medical issues so add those medications to the ones I already take for depression and it really is a wonder I don't rattle when I walk, I can take anywhere from a dozen to forty tablets a day.
Over the years I have tried every treatment possible to try and enable me to live some semblance of a 'normal' life, Group Therapy, One to One, Hypnosis, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, you name it, I have tried them all. But try as I might, I have never been able to rid myself of that darkness. In 2017 I was officially diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, at last I had a name for the myriad of mental health issues I had suffered from for so long.
Many years prior to this I had also been diagnosed with Somatic Symptom Disorder formerly known as Somatization Disorder. Somatic Symptom Disorder or SSD, is one of a group of Somatoform disorders. These are mental illnesses that manifest themselves as actual physical symptoms. Contrary to popular belief the physical illnesses are not 'fake', the pain the sufferer experiences is a real as say, a broken foot. It is common in adults who have experienced major trauma as children. If you liken the brain to a computer, with SSD your brain is wired wrong. As yet there is no cure.
During 2018 my mental health was in a downward spiral and in desperation I booked myself on a Meditation Course with a local instructor. I bottled it three times but after experiencing a life changing event in early 2019, in March I managed to drag myself to my first session. I loved it. Meditation gave me the tools I needed to retake control of my thoughts and no longer let them control me. It has given me the tools to cope with not only my physical illnesses but more importantly my mental ones. The small amount of time I spend meditating each day means I am a more patient and understanding mother, a better wife, I feel I am a better human being. Meditation enables me to be the best me that I can be. Meditation has helped me to start learning to live.”
Lynne trained with us as a meditation teacher.
The evidence that meditation is of definite value in a therapeutic setting
Jon Kabat Zinn – the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) talks here about the shift in thinking since 1979:
JKZ – ‘When I started out, the idea that bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine was tantamount to tearing down the citadel of Western civilisation. Think back to a time where if you did yoga, people assumed that you did LSD all the time and lived in a commune [laughs]. It was wrong, but it took a huge cultural shift to bring yoga into mainstream practice. Now everybody does it, and the science has been absolutely essential. So, I knew that if I wanted to bring mindfulness into medicine, I would have to document the outcomes. It is important to point out that the words medicine and meditation have the same root. It’s not tearing down Western science to bring them together. Rather, it’s a reminder to medicine of what it’s really about, which is wholeness. And that wholeness is not something you get: it’s something you realise that you already’. From an article by Alice Tickell in 2017
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited chronically ill patients not responding well to traditional treatments to participate in his newly formed eight-week stress-reduction program, which we now call Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Since then, substantial research has mounted demonstrating how mindfulness-based interventions improve mental and physical health—comparably so to other psychological interventions.
Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future Jon Kabat-Zinn, University of Massachusetts Medical School
A 2014 review of studies including more than 3,500 adults supports the anecdotal chatter that meditation programs do, in fact, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and even pain.
The stress hormone cortisol activates cytokines (inflammation-inducing chemicals) that disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure, and fog up your brain.
It turns out that meditation — specifically MBSR — may be the antidote. In a small 2013 study, participants who did MBSR for 8 weeks had a less significant inflammatory response to stress than those who took part in other health-promoting activities.
The Mental Health Foundation supports mindfulness as a tool to help you live your life, improve general wellbeing, and treat depression. Evidence shows that it can help with a number of problems, such as recurrent depression, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviour, chronic pain, and many more mental and physical problems.
NICE, the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, has recommended that Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy is an option offered to prevent relapse for people who are currently well but who have experienced recurrent depression.
Meditation is also recommended by Cancer Research UK as a popular and useful form of complementary therapy, because it can help people with cancer cope with problems such as pain, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, feeling sick and high blood pressure.
Tara Brach integrates mindfulness with psychotherapy and trains psychotherapists to bring mindfulness into their work.
The National institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine describes her importance: ‘Tara Brach, PhD is one of the leading mindfulness teachers in the US, and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC.
Tara’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world.
She earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Fielding Institute. She went on to complete a five-year Buddhist teacher training program at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Her background in these fields have helped shape her ground-breaking work in training psychotherapists to integrate mindfulness strategies into their clinical work.
Her books include Radical Acceptance (2003) and True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Hear (2013). Her most recent book is Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of R.A.I.N. (2019)’.
Why have we compiled this report?
One of the members of our Register contacted us recently because a therapist she was working with had made this statement: ‘meditation is useless because it makes you focus on negative thoughts’.
She was astonished that such a statement could be made and questioned the therapist about how she had come to this conclusion. The therapist said she had been taught this view.
At BSoM we were alarmed that such a view could be held and disseminated even in 2020 when there is so much evidence, backed by scientific research of the benefits of meditation in therapy and to the wider public. In this article we have just shown just a fraction of the research available. We therefore hope that this shows the reader the benefits of a Meditation Practice.