women

Interview: hear Vidyamala discuss “Mindfulness for Women”

Vidyamala’s online course — Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’ — starts today on Wildmind. This course will help you to:

  • Dwell in your body with more peace, self-love and ease
  • Relate to your thoughts and emotions in a more creative and helpful way
  • Love yourself and others with compassion and a sense of deep connection
  • Transform your relationships with others and the world around you
  • Become a force for good in the world breath by breath, moment by moment.
  • Change your mind to change your world.

Vidyamala learned to meditate in 1985 and has been a dedicated practitioner since that time. In 1995 she was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order and in 2001 founded Breathworks, an organization offering mindfulness and compassion to people suffering from pain, illness and stress.

Last year she was interviewed on Breakfast with Brian Kelly on New Zealand’s The Coast Radio station. You can listen to the interview below.

If you’re interested in the Mindfulness for Women online course, you can read more or enroll here.

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Engage. Connect. Act.

Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, starts Jan 1. Click here now to enroll!

After the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017, we saw the emergence of a phenomenal up-rising culminating in the ‘Women’s March’ on Washington and the partner ‘Sister Marches’ that happened all around the world attracting millions of peaceful marchers.

As I watched these extraordinary gatherings unfold on the news and media I was astounded and moved to tears. Social media can be used for ill – think ‘fake news’, bullying, irrational tweets from Trump; but it can also be used for good – which is what we are seeing with the rise of the Women’s Marches.

It started with one woman, Teresa Shook of Hawaii. On the night after Donald Trump’s election she went on facebook and posted a message. She wrote the first thing that came to mind: “I think we should march”. After getting a response to her post from a single woman in the chatroom, Shook created a private Facebook event page for the march and invited a few dozen online friends to join before going to sleep. Overnight, a link to Shook’s event page was posted in Pantsuit Nation and other groups.

“When I woke, up it had gone ballistic,” Shook said. Women from across the United States contacted Shook and began to guide the effort. Now organizers credit Shook’s quiet plea with igniting what was the largest demonstration in the nation’s capital related to a presidential election.

Out of such small beginnings has come this global phenomenon, which would be unlikely to have occurred without social media. This is something to truly celebrate – the remarkable women behind the Women’s Marches harnessed the tools at their fingertips – I take this as inspiration to never be silent in the face of violence, bullying and pain.

Women have gained an enormous amount in the West over recent decades but there is still so much more to do. And women in the developing world are still often painfully discriminated against. In my book ‘Mindfulness for Women’ I list some scary stats:

  • Women account for two-thirds of all working hours and produce half the world’s food, but earn only 10 per cent of global income and own just 1 per cent of the world’s property.
  • Though women make up half the global population, they represent 70 per cent of the world’s poor.
  • Women and girls aged fifteen to forty-four are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are from war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents.
  • At least one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in her lifetime.
  • Between 1.5 million and 3 million girls and women die each year because of gender-based violence.
  • Between 700,000 and 4 million girls and women are sold into prostitution each year.
  • Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with women dying of pregnancy-related causes at a rate of one every minute.
  • Women account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s 780million people who cannot read.
  • Forty-one million girls worldwide are still denied a primary education.
  • Globally, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman*

Many people are campaigning brilliantly on behalf of women and girls – think Michelle Obama and her work with ‘Let Girls Learn’; and Malala Yousafzai. We may not think we are as talented or brilliant as they are – indeed they are remarkable. But we can all play a part and use our voice in whatever way we can.

History shows us time and again that huge change comes about through millions of tiny acts. The achievements of mass movements such as the Civil Rights movement in the USA in the 1960s were the result of millions of tiny, almost imperceptible acts that led to society becoming convulsed by change. Similarly, the suffragettes campaigned together to get women the vote. They succeeded in the UK in 1918, and now, less than 100 years later, women lead nations.

When asked, ‘How does social change happen?’ the South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu replied: ‘It is because individuals are connected – you and you and you – this becomes a coalition, which becomes a movement. This is how apartheid was overcome.’

This is what we are seeing with the rising of such movements as the ‘Women’s and Sister Marches’ all over the world. And let’s make sure the momentum is maintained.

Engage. Connect. Act. Such a great thing to celebrate. Let’s keep it up.

Click here to learn about Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, which starts Jan 1.

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An easy mindfulness practice to help you relax

woman drinking coffee

Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, starts March 1.

Do you always live to – or beyond – your limits? Would you get less done if you took regular breaks?

Many people live in a ‘boom and bust’ way, otherwise known as the overactivity–underactivity cycle. To varying degrees, many of us swing between high energy and low energy.

We do less when we are feeling tired and unmotivated; then, when we feel more energetic, we hectically try to catch up on all the things that we’ve got behind with and end up overdoing it and getting stressed out. This tips us straight back into feeling exhausted and strained again, and so things on the list don’t get done as we are so tired, until there is another blitz on a good day. And so the cycle goes on. And on. And on.

Clearly it’s not such a great way to live and you could try something radical and take breaks before you need them. And we’re not talking about going to bed for the afternoon here or booking a two-week holiday in the sun; it’s a case of simply practising simple mindfulness exercises regularly or standing up to stretch from time to time when working at your desk.

The mindfulness exercise below is an easy way to take a break during your day and practice mindfulness at the same time. Pausing and paying attention to the simple act of boiling the kettle, will help you to break the boom-and-bust cycle that is making you feel so exhausted and strained. Instead of rushing and then going on to the next thing, or having a whirring mind as you make your tea – let your kettle boiling activity be an opportunity to experience your body and your senses and to have some moments of peace and calm. Try and do this meditation each time you stop for tea or coffee.

Boiling a kettle of water is one of those things that we all do several times a day without a moment’s thought. So try paying full mindful attention to filling and boiling a kettle of water.

As you lift the kettle to fill it, how heavy does it feel? Do you fill it via the spout or do you open the lid? Is the lid stiff? Pay full attention as the water swills out of the tap and into the kettle.

Does it hiss and bubble? Does it smell? We are so accustomed to the smell of water that we no longer notice it. Try to imagine how strong the smell of moisture would be if you had just spent a week in a desert. Spend a few moments thinking about how the water reached you. The rain falling on the distant mountains, trickling through rock and soil, until it eventually reaches a stream. Imagine the reservoir, the water-treatment works, the pipelines. Now, imagine all of the engineers and maintenance workers who designed, built and maintained the water network.

Think of the people involved in producing and distributing the electricity; the people growing and distributing the tea, coffee or cocoa that you will use to make your drink. We are all interconnected on myriad levels. And this is just for a cup of tea.

As you return the kettle to the work surface or cooker, pay close attention to your own movements. Were you aware of those movements or did they ‘just happen’? Likewise, did you consciously flick the electric switch to ‘On’ or light the cooker – or did your autopilot take care of things?

Now, listen as the kettle begins to heat. What can you hear? Close your eyes and drink in the sounds. Check in with yourself.

What mode of mind are you operating in? After a few moments, see if you can notice the first stirrings of impatience. Where in the body are they to be found? What do they feel like? Do they feel like a force trying to break out and exert control? Does your breath become constricted in some way? Habits of impatience can be compelling.

When the kettle has almost boiled, what do you do? Do you wait until the thermostat clicks off – or do you rush in and pour the water before it is boiled? See if you can be patient and wait for the thermostat to click off before mindfully lifting the kettle, being aware of your breath as you pour the water.

Spend a moment considering if there are other aspects of daily life that could also be used to cultivate mindfulness. Such ‘everyday mindfulness’ can be at least as important as the formal meditations.

Now take your cup of tea, coffee or cocoa and relax. You’ve earned it.

Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, starts March 1. Click here for details.

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When in doubt, breathe out – the power of breathing properly

woman breathing

Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women, starts March 1. Click here for details.

Breathing properly is immediately helpful because the first thing most of us do when experiencing stress and pain – be it mental, emotional or physical – is inhibit our breathing. Try this short exercise:

Make a fist with one hand. Notice what’s happened to your breathing. You’ll probably notice you’re holding it. Now imagine breathing into the fist. What does it want to do? You’ll probably find it wants to release a little.

The fist in this exercise is a metaphor for any kind of discomfort or stress. When we are not aware, we automatically tense against the stresses of life with associated breath holding. Then follows a vicious cycle of more tension, more breath holding, more discomfort, more tension etc, perhaps physical symptoms such as headaches and tension in the neck, back and shoulders or gut problems. Many of these can be eased by simply becoming aware of your breathing patterns and consciously directing the breath into the cycle of contraction. Gradually the tension will gradually soften and the stress will ease.

Breath holding manifests in a range of ways and shallow breathing, breath-holding or over-breathing are the most common dysfunctions. At the keyboard, for example, we tend to breathe as if permanently in fight/flight/freeze mode, causing all the hormonal imbalances that come with this. You could think of it as ‘screen apnoea’. Like sleep apnoea, a condition characterised by pauses in breathing while asleep, it alters our breathing; in this case causing shallow breathing from the upper chest or infrequent breathing. Unsurprisingly, this has negative consequences for health.

You may live with a lot of perceived pressure, perhaps in the workplace, or you may just have poor posture and ergonomics; sitting for hour after hour with your shoulders hunched. Or you may just be desperate for a break! Whatever the cause, breathing-pattern disorders can result.

Breathing is the number-one physiological function that humans do, affecting your heart rate, your gut, your blood pressure, your digestion and your musculoskeletal system. Therefore, changing your breath consciously, using mindfulness and awareness, is one of the most powerful things you can do to assist your body’s physiology. It can have a massive impact on your health; reducing headaches and shoulder pain and strengthening your core.

How is your breathing at this moment? Commonly, when we are stressed, we fail to exhale completely. So, try it now:

  • Breathe out fully, and feel the little pause at the end of the exhale.
  • Spend a few moments with the breath, allowing it to flow naturally all the way in and all the way out of the body. Notice what it feels like.

To help you remember to do this throughout the day, stick a green dot somewhere around the house where you’ll see it regularly. Or if you work at a computer you could stick the green dot to the side of the screen. Every time you see the dot, breathe out. Relax your jaw. Breathe in through your nose and then out of your nose. Pause. Allow the next in-breath to gather naturally, like a wave gathering in the sea before it flows up the beach. Breathe in and then breathe out fully. Repeat a few times.

Click here for details of Vidyamala’s online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’

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Mindfulness for Women: Claire’s diary

Vidyamala Burch

Vidyamala’s course, “Mindfulness for Women,” starts March 1, 2017

The Mindfulness for Women online course, starting March 1 on Wildmind, is based on the book I co-wrote with Journalist Claire Irvin. Claire hadn’t meditated before we worked on this project so she gamely kept a diary of her efforts which are accessible, often hilarious, and moving. Here’s her diary of her first attempt to meditate:

Claire’s Diary Week One: Body Scan

It’s 9.30 on a dark early-spring evening. My husband Stuart is away and I’ve finally got Amelie, six, to go to bed (she will take any opportunity to delay bedtime, and an absent parent is as good an excuse as any). On a normal weekday I’d be starting to think about bed myself (early bedtimes are the only way I cope with the hectic pace of my life), but tonight I’m a bit wired, and also secretly relishing the quiet in the house. I think guiltily of my promise to Vidyamala to start my mindfulness journey, but quickly push the thought away. I sit down in front of the TV and am suddenly filled with resolve (plus, I won’t lie, there’s nothing on telly and the idea of lying down is very appealing). I decamp upstairs to my bed and press play on my meditation recording, and Vidyamala’s calm, gently lilting voice fills the room.

 

I immediately feel myself relax. This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be . . . I listen for a few more seconds and then get distracted by a noise in the garden. It’s a cat, by the sounds of it, climbing up the side of the shed. I resist the urge to get up and look. But it makes me wonder if I’ve locked up properly outside, and it’s a couple of moments before I can pull myself back to the meditation.

 

I cringe a bit at the mention of my belly. I hate this word and, like many women, hate focusing on my tummy at all. But as I feel my breath echo in my pelvic floor and my lower back, I begin to feel like a star pupil. I can do this! To say I’m pleased with myself is an understatement. I hear another noise outside, in the front this time, and I tense up again and wonder what it is.

 

Vidyamala is now asking me to relax my face. Oops! My face is very tense. Like, really tense. I relax it: my jaw, my teeth, the set of my mouth. As soon as I relax one part of it, another tenses up again. I get distracted thinking about the irony of having to work harder at being relaxed. I make myself laugh, then realise I’ve missed the next few moments of the meditation. Must do better next time.

 

Afterwards, I decide I should go to bed. I notice how much more relaxed I am. Despite Stuart being away, which normally makes me edgy, I sleep like a baby.

Click here to register for the Mindfulness for Women online course, starting March 1.

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How mindfulness can help all women achieve their potential

Vidyamala Burch

I am proud to come from New Zealand, which in 1893 became the first country in the world in which women gained the right to vote. More recently, New Zealand was also the first democracy to have all key Government roles fulfilled by women, e.g. Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Governor General. I also come from a long tradition of strong women and I feel I owe it to my courageous and heroic forebears to do all that I can to stand tall and true in my own life.

I want to let other women know about how mindfulness has transformed my life over the past thirty years, and how it can transform their lives as well, which is why I decided to write ‘Mindfulness for Women‘.

As I worked on the book I realised that for me personally, many of the themes stemmed from pride in my NZ heritage as a woman. I also came to see it as a tribute to all the wonderful and gutsy women who have populated my life, from my grandmother, my numerous leggy and confident aunts, my mother and my three amazing sisters; to the key friendships formed in my all-girls high school and the women’s Buddhist communities that I have been involved with for decades. Many of these friendships are still going strong today.

I have met women who have achieved incredible things. I am not just talking about careers or outward achievements, but women who in very difficult circumstances – whether illness, pain or other life situations – have managed to create a satisfying and joyful life for themselves through practising mindfulness and the associated qualities of kindness and compassion. This is why I am deeply passionate about women being able to use mindfulness to fulfil their potential.

At school in New Zealand in the seventies, girls were encouraged to dream big and to understand that obstacles were there to be overcome. At that time I was super-fit. I adored the mountains and wilderness and my dream was to be a wildlife ranger. But there was a hitch. The New Zealand Wildlife Service didn’t employ women but I wasn’t going to be deterred. At 15 years old I went to see a Director at their head office and asked what I would have to do to convince him to employ me. He told me to get a very good qualification, which was when I decided to become a veterinary surgeon in the knowledge that this would be the ideal skill to have when working with the magnificent creatures I would be living amongst in the mountains and the sea.

Check out Vidyamala’s online course, “Mindfulness for Women,” starting March 1, 2017

I was happy to co-write Mindfulness for Women with a journalist, Claire Irvin, a dynamic magazine editor with her finger on the pulse of many of the issues facing modern women. Claire’s experience will also resonate with many readers: like many younger women she juggles a full-on career with bringing up her two small children. She has to balance countless demands and organise her life with military precision.

To Claire, mindfulness and meditation were initially just more things to add to the never-ending ‘to-do’ list. But, as we worked together, Claire became increasingly curious about mindfulness and decided to keep a practice diary. This has become an integral part of the book and I am sure many women will relate to Claire’s experience of initial resistance followed by genuine excitement as she began to reap the fruits of taking time each day to stop and get to know her own mind and heart. Also essential to this book are our moving and gritty case studies of women who have found mindfulness, sometimes in the most harrowing of circumstances.

My wish is for women from all walks of life to read the book and discover that inner peace is only a breath away. To find self-belief and to stand tall as they go about their lives. Most of all, my wish is that we recognise how we are continually shaping the world with our thoughts and actions and that, with the help of mindfulness, we can become positive agents of change and transformation in the world. This is what IWD is all about: women believing in themselves and other women and campaigning to make the world a better place for women living today as well as future generations.

Click here to learn more about my online course, Mindfulness for Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life, Find Time to ‘Be’, starting March 1, 2017.

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New study shows how mindfulness could help women who are feeling sexually disconnected

Eric W. Dolan, PsyPost: New research suggests that mindfulness-based psychotherapy could help women who are feeling “sexually disconnected.”

The study of 79 women, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found mindfulness skills increased the ability to detect physical sensations related to sex. Women who underwent four sessions of mindfulness-based sex therapy reported improved agreement between their self-reported sexual arousal and their psychophysiological sexual response. The therapy combined psychoeducation, sex therapy, and mindfulness training…

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‘Rebel’ female Buddhist monks challenge Thailand status quo

wildmind meditation newsDenis D. Gray, ABC News: On a rural road just after daybreak, villagers young and old kneel reverently before a single file of ochre-robed women, filling their bowls with rice, curries, fruits and sweets. In this country, it’s a rare sight.

Thailand’s top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks. They can only become white-cloaked nuns, who are routinely treated as domestic servants. Many here believe women are inferior beings who had better perform plenty of good deeds to ensure they will be reborn as men in their future lives.

Yet with the religion beset by lurid scandals, female monastics or “bhikkhunis” are emerging …

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Cognitive therapy, mindfulness may help with menopausal depression

wildmind meditation newsJanice Neumann, Philly.com: Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques could help many women who experience depression during menopause, according to a review of existing research.

Too few studies have looked at whether cognitive therapies are good alternatives for women who can’t or don’t want to use pharmaceutical treatments, the authors conclude, but the handful that did mostly showed positive results.

“When I started work in this area, I was struck by the lack of alternative, non-pharmacological, non-hormonal treatment for menopausal symptoms, given the associated risks of hormone therapy and side effects of anti-depressants for some women,” said Sheryl Green, lead author of the study, in …

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Learning how to meditate can boost your sex drive

Yahoo News: According to researchers at Canada’s University of British Columbia and Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital, just a few sessions of meditation can boost your sex drive and speed arousal time.

The researchers measured the reactions of 24 women who were watching an erotic film, then measured for a second time after they attended three ‘mindfulness’ meditation courses.

Even though the participants were watching the same film, they were more turned on than during the first viewing.

The reasons for this aren’t fully understood, but researchers believe the art of meditation allows you to ‘turn off’ the active part of your brain and focus …

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