A pioneering university course in a discipline endorsed by comedian Ruby Wax is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer – and playing a part in the fight against the pandemic.

Bangor University broke new ground when it became the first university in the world to offer a Masters degree in Mindfulness after earlier being the first in the UK to offer research and training in the meditation-based programme in 2001.

Now Mindfulness is being used to help NHS staff deal with the stresses of working on the frontline of Covid-19 and many of the teachers involved are graduates of the University.

A guide for NHS staff by the Mindfulness Institute also includes mindfulness meditations of varying lengths provided by the University, including some in Welsh.

Dr Gemma Griffith, of the University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP), said: “Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being purposefully aware of what you’re sensing and feeling moment-by-moment, whilst bringing an attitude of kindness and curiosity to what you notice.

“It involves awareness of body, emotions and thoughts. There is evidence that the eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course helps reduce stress, and the closely related programme, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is proven to reduce the risk of depression.”

Ruby Wax, who has studied Mindfulness herself after having her own mental health issues and visited Bangor University, said at a School of Life lecture on YouTube: “Depression is nothing to do with being sad, it’s a brain disease and Mindfulness has helped me deal with it.”

Now the Centre at Bangor has marked its 20th anniversary by publishing a new book, Essential Resources for Mindfulness Teachers.

Gemma, from Southampton, one of the book’s co-authors, alongside department head Professor Rebecca Crane, became interested in meditation as a teenager, and then attended an eight-week course at Bangor.

Gemma, who has since become a Mindfulness teacher and researcher, said: “I found the course so useful so I wanted to learn more about it and after initially doing a Psychology degree I have stayed – I came here as a student and Bangor has just really been a good place for my development.

“The Centre now has an international reputation because of the number of teachers from all over the world who have trained here and over the years thousands of people have gone through our Masters and professional development programmes.”

Since 2018 Bangor University has delivered its long-established, internationally recognised programme of Teacher Training in partnership with the charity the Mindfulness Network.

The Centre draws students from across the world and on the current first year Masters course is Belgian Christoph Spiessens, a 42-year-old former airline cabin crew senior steward who launched his own Manchester-based training and coaching business, Christoph Spiessens Coaching Solutions Ltd, five years ago.

He didn’t have a degree but was accepted on the course after a rigorous interview and even in lockdown he’s enjoying it and said: “It’s not an easy transition to learning online when you’re used to working with a group but Bangor have managed the gearshift very well.

“They also offer the chance to rewrite your own story and to do so without having a degree and I’m deeply grateful for that opportunity.”

Among those on the University’s Master’s degree course is Victoria ‘Tor’ Walmsley, a former professional dancer from Wigan who now teaches Mindfulness in Sussex from her home in Bognor, including to staff at West Sussex Council.

She said: “I came to Mindfulness from a personal breakdown and it helped me get better.

“I had approached the Oxford Mindfulness Centre but I came instead to Bangor and it has changed my life.

“That’s down to the quality of the teaching, the city and the people of Bangor who have been absolutely incredible.

“There’s something very special about what they do at Bangor, the teaching is outstanding and the support is wonderful.”

The Centre launched its Essential Resources book with an event when Trish Bartley, one of the founding Bangor teachers, hosted a session with the book’s three editors, Rebecca Crane, Karunavira, and Gemma Griffith.

Next up Bangor Centre founder Professor Mark Williams is in Conversation with Rebecca Crane on Tuesday, July 27, at 7pm, when he will reflect on his life’s work in the field of Clinical Psychology.

For further information on the celebratory events, including how to book places at the events, go to https://home.mindfulness-network.org/bangor-mindfulness-20th-anniversary/

For more on Bangor University go to https://www.bangor.ac.uk/