Hi there, let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m a Kiwi and grew up with a love of the great outdoors. I led a very active lifestyle, engaging in sporting and mountaineering adventures in the great beauty of New Zealand. However, following two life-changing events in the 1970’s, I now live with a chronic back condition due to spinal injuries and partial paraplegia. I also navigate the trickiness of managing a paralysed bowel and bladder.
I am lucky enough to have a full, happy and meaningful life these days, but the journey to deeper acceptance has been long, slow and at times very tough. I have known the despondency of not coping and feeling angry, helpless and hopeless. As I gradually turned my own life around with mindfulness and kindness, I decided to see if I could develop a programme that could help others. I eventually founded Breathworks back in 2001 because of this burning wish to share what has worked for me in my journey with others facing health challenges. Mindfulness training has changed my life beyond all recognition and I know these simple techniques can be literally life-saving from the heart-felt testimonies I regularly receive from others.
Breathworks has now spread internationally with accredited trainers in over 25 countries.
I first became interested in meditation in 1985 when receiving hospital treatment for my spinal injury. I was in a desperate state and strongly intuited that meditation, mindfulness and kindness/compassion held the key to easing the mental torment associated with the physical pain I was experiencing. I was incredibly motivated because my life was such a mess and was soon meditating every day. I’ve spent the subsequent 30+ years exploring my mind with all the depth and commitment I could manage. It has been deeply rich and fruitful. Although I can no longer climb literal mountains, I like to imagine I have become a mountaineer of the inner world where the peaks seem to be infinite and the vistas awe-inspiring.
In 1990 I left NZ and moved to Taraloka, a Buddhist retreat centre for women in Shropshire UK, where I trained intensively in meditation and mindfulness. I also trained in Buddhism and was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1995. This is when I was given the name ‘Vidyamala’ which means ‘Garland of Wisdom’ – something to aspire to! This was an amazing period of my life. It wasn’t always easy as the situation was very intense, but I knew I needed this kind of strong medicine if I was to transform my mind in any lasting and meaningful way. I had the great good fortune to live with wise, kind women who helped me face up to my situation with more realism and care.
I now live in Ledbury, Herefordshire in the UK with my partner Sona. It’s a beautiful town to have as a base for my work, and a lovely place to return to after my frequent national and international travels teaching both Breathworks and Buddhism.
I am also passionate about our charity, the Breathworks Foundation. This is dedicated to making mindfulness and compassion training available to anyone regardless of circumstances. I have spent much of my life unable to work because of my disability and I know how difficult it is to access courses and programmes when financially hard up. It is very dear to my heart to raise funds and be able to award bursaries and scholarships to people who have financial constraints so they can benefit from the Breathworks approach.
I have written three books:
This won first prize in the British Medical Association book awards in 2014 in the ‘popular medicine’ category – clinical books aimed at the general public.
Living Well with Pain and Illness – how mindfulness can free you from suffering (2008)
I have also written chapters in other books