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Interview with Mindfulness Expert Niall Breslin

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Introducing the multi-talented Niall Breslin, affectionately known as Bressie, a true luminary in the fields of music, mindfulness, and mental health advocacy. As the former frontman of the acclaimed band The Blizzards and a respected speaker on mindfulness and mental health, Niall’s journey is as diverse as it is inspiring. In this interview, we have the privilege of uncovering Niall’s unique perspective on life, creativity, and the transformative power of music. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of Niall Breslin, where passion, purpose, and authenticity intersect to create meaningful change.

How did your journey in the music industry, both as a solo artist and with The Blizzards, shape your perspective and approach to life and creativity?

The creative industry is a very interesting place. When you start working in it, there is a rawness and eagerness. You are untainted by what’s to come. There are several agendas at play, and they often don’t align. In music, for example, you must keep a close eye on things like playlisting, record labels and radio. They often demand that you are more a content creator than a musician or songwriter.

So it is essential to establish your value system, what you believe in, and what fills your soul. Time and time again you will be asked to ignore those values, and it is up to you to decide how you want to respond. This is true in all aspects of life, professional or personal. Knowing what your values are becomes your north star in how you navigate through life and without them, we can feel rudderless.

Your openness about mental health has resonated with many. What motivated you to become an advocate for mental health, and how has this journey influenced your life and work?

I grew up in Ireland. We have a complex history. Generational trauma passed on like a baton, and we tended to avoid dealing with that darkness; we repressed it or internalised it. I was tired of watching it in myself, my community, and those I loved. I didn’t want to pass on that baton anymore.

Throughout my career as a professional athlete, musician and tv personality, my inability to deal with my mind haunted me. I ended up having a panic attack on live television, and that was the catalyst for change that I needed.

From that moment, I have made it my life’s work to understand the human condition better. When I publicly opened up about my mental health, I wrote a note that I wanted to give to my mother that I would lose my job and have to leave the country. This was 12 years ago; we were not discussing it back then. That will show you the power of the stigma associated with it. I also wanted to do my best to erode that stigma so no one has to feel like that.

How do you find the intersection between your music and your advocacy work for mental health? Do these aspects of your life inform and influence each other in any specific ways?

Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue said “Music is what language would love to be if it could”. It’s often a form of communication when words are hard to find or say. Just think of your favourite song and see what happens inside you. It is that powerful. It speaks to a silent part of us. I am composing a mindfulness album combining orchestrated music with meditation guidance. I feel it’s a powerful vehicle into our inner world for people who may struggle to use their breath or body. Also, for my speaking or live work, depending on the venue, I use the piano to communicate. This has proven incredibly comforting for people and I love that I can bring that to my keynotes.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important steps individuals and society can take to foster better mental health awareness and support?

Our health systems and governments primarily still view mental health as purely a biological issue. We must start looking at mental health through a social, political and economic lens. We have tended to depoliticise mental health. We also pathologicalise and medicalise human distress. We need a paradigm shift in how we view mental health. My PhD research is exploring over 150 years of mental health intervention. We have seen clinical outcomes flatline, yet we continue approaching it the same way. It requires society to put a mirror up to itself, to how we are governed and what we value.

In my work, Ireland can become a world leader in how we develop better systems of support. With a population of 5 million, we are a perfect case study. But to change things, we must first admit they need to change. The starting point is early prevention. My own charity, “A Lust for Life” is now in 1/3 of Irish primary schools. We have reached over 50,000 children with our accessible and evidence-based programmes. We cannot keep talking about the problem. We have become a problem-admiration society. I don’t want to be part of that. We need brave and dynamic leadership now.

But changing policy is one thing; we must also change the power dynamics, agendas and relationships that keep us stuck in this plateau. As individuals, we have to take personal responsibility for ourselves but also realise there are elements of our world that overwhelm us. You can’t out-meditate inequality. Drinking more magnesium is not going to help if you are struggling to feed your kids or pay your rent. The wellness industry is a 7 trillion dollar industry that will tell these people they can solve their problems. What they don’t need is yoga (though it may help); what they need is security, clarity and hope. That is what I mean when I say mental health is more than biology. It is social. Telling someone they have a chemical imbalance in their brain when they have faced huge social issues and trauma simply does not cut it anymore.

How do you prioritize and maintain your own well-being amidst a busy schedule? Are there specific mindfulness or self-care practices that you find particularly helpful?

Rest, rest, rest. As a professional athlete, the most important day of the week was R and R. Thats where the gains and recovery come from. It is the same for our heads. They need total rest. Do not be afraid to sit on your arse, eat Pringles and watch awful TV from time to time. We often try to do that and then look at social media where some guy says he goes to the gym at 3 am, does two days of work before 6 am and has a flax seed smoothie and colonic before 8 am. And if you are not doing this, you are a waster, a loser. You’re not hustling enough. It is nuclear-level nonsense. The most successful people I have met and worked with understand the importance of true rest. It allows you to push when you need to push. Whatever rest is for you. You owe the world nothing in those moments. Disconnect listen to the body and mind. The world will still go on.

Can you share advice for individuals striving to balance career demands with personal well-being, especially in high-stress environments?

First and foremost, for real-time stress moments. Like a difficult meeting, presentation, etc.… I highly recommend functional breathwork. Some use the Wim Hop method, but it’s important to be aware that this up regulates the central nervous system. I find the Buteko method more useful in these moments. Learn these techniques and use them. Do not just parachute them in when you need them. Also, each and every one of you has subjective needs. Ask yourself what they are. A good therapist can often help with that.

I often struggle to throw out BuzzFeed articles to people on the top 5 ways to beat anxiety when I have no information on them as people. The one thing I will say is everything you go through can be dealt with. Use the support, the emotional scaffolding that surrounds you. It is precisely the same with fitness. Everyone’s bodies have different needs. The mind is no different.

How do you envision your career evolving in the coming years, and are there specific goals or milestones you’re working towards?

My aim is to continue on my PhD research and help contribute to the building of human-centric early intervention mental health systems. I will continue making albums, documentaries and finding more creative ways to support the human condition. I also massively enjoy working with organisations, individuals and groups to get them to view this subject with a different perspective. Watching that growth means a lot to me.

How do you nurture and sustain your creativity, especially during challenging times? Are there specific sources of inspiration that consistently fuel your artistic and personal pursuits?

I direct you to my rest post 🙂 but more than anything, I also remember what matters. My family, my loved ones and my community. They have always been there for me.

Also, check out Niall’s profile here

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