PTSD & Meditation

I read this article this morning, and loved it. I tell my clients that mediation or just moments of mindfulness, heartmath, tapping, can slowly, but surely change your life. You don’t need hours of it, just moments of it. Begin by taking a breath in through your heart and then release. The brain and heart synchronize, taking brain waves down from beta to alpha – a light hypnosis where chemicals and glands automatically normalize.

How Meditating in a Tiny Iowa Town Helped me Recover from War

By Supriya Venkatesan – a veteran of the U.S Army and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is a freelance writer based in Princeton, N.J.

I didn’t know how to be a civilian after six difficult years in Iraq.

At 19, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq. I spent 15 months there — eight at the U.S. Embassy, where I supported the communications for top generals. I understand that decisions at that level are complex and layered, but for me, as an observer, some of those actions left my conscience uneasy.

To counteract my guilt, I volunteered as a medic on my sole day off at Ibn Sina Hospital, the largest combat hospital in Iraq. There I helped wounded Iraqi civilians heal or transition into the afterlife. But I still felt lost and disconnected. I was nostalgic for a young adulthood I never had. While other 20-somethings had traditional college trajectories, followed by the hallmarks of first job interviews and early career wins, I had spent six emotionally numbing years doing ruck marches, camping out on mountaintops near the demilitarized zone in South Korea and fighting someone else’s battle in Iraq.

During my deployment, a few soldiers and I were awarded a short resort stay in Kuwait. There, I had a brief but powerful experience in a meditation healing session. I wanted more. So when I returned to the United States at the end of my service, I headed to Iowa.

Forty-eight hours after being discharged from the Army, I arrived on campus at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. MUM is a small liberal arts college, smack dab in the middle of the cornfields, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru of transcendental meditation. I joked that I was in a quarter-life crisis, but in truth my conscience was having a crisis. Iraq left me with questions about the world and grappling with my own mortality and morality.

Readjustment was a sucker punch of culture shock. While on a camping trip for incoming students, I watched girls curl their eyelashes upon waking up and burn incense and bundles of sage to ward off negative energy. I was used to being in a similar field environment but with hundreds of guys who spit tobacco, spoke openly of their sexual escapades and played video games incessantly. Is this what it looked like to be civilian woman? Is this what spirituality looked like?

Mediation was mandatory for students on campus, and the rest of the town was composed mainly of former students or longtime followers of the maharishi. Shortly after arriving, I completed an advanced meditator course and began meditating three hours a day — a habit that is still with me five years later. Every morning, I went to a dome where students, teachers and the people of Fairfield gathered to practice meditation. In the evening, we met again for another round of meditation. During my time in Fairfield, even Oprah came to meditate in the dome.

I was incredibly lucky to have supportive mentors in the Army, but Fairfield embraced me in a maternal way. I cried for hours during post-meditation reflection. I released the trauma that is familiar to every soldier who has gone to war but is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. I let go, and I blossomed. I was emancipated of the unhealthy habits of binge-drinking and co-dependency in romantic interludes, as well as a fear that I didn’t know controlled me.

Suicide and other byproducts of post-traumatic stress disorder plague the military. In 2010, a veteran committed suicide every 65 minutes. In 2012, there were more deaths by suicide than by combat. In Iraq, one of my neighbors took his M16, put it in his mouth and shot himself. Overwhelmed with PTSD-related issues from back-to-back deployments and with no clear solution to the problem, in 2012, the Defense Department began researching meditation practices to see whether they would affect PTSD. The first study of meditation and the military population, done with Vietnam veterans in 1985, had shown 70 percent of veterans finding relief, but meditation never gained in popularity nor was it offered through veterans’ services. Even in 2010, when I learned TM, the military was alien to the concept.

But today, the results of the studies showcase immense benefits for veterans. According to the journal Military Medicine, meditation has shown a 40 percent to 55 percent reduction in symptoms of PTSD and depression among veterans. Furthermore, studies show that meditation correlates with a 42 percent reduction in insomnia and a 25 percent reduction in the stress hormone cortisol in the veteran population. To complement meditation, yoga has also been embraced as a tool for treatment by the military. With the growing acceptance of holistic approaches, psychological wounds are beginning to heal.

The four-day training course to learn TM is now available at every Veterans Affairs facility for those who have PTSD or traumatic brain injury. Even medical staff and counselors who help veterans at the VA are offered training in both TM and mindfulness meditation. Additionally, Norwich University, the oldest military college in the country, has done extensive research on TM and incoming cadets, and many military installations have integrated meditation programs into their mental health services. When I had first learned to meditate, many of my active-duty friends found it a bit too crunchy. But with the military’s recent efforts at researching meditation and funding it for all veterans, the stigma is gone, and my battle buddies see meditation as a tool for building resilience.

For me, meditation has created small but significant changes. One day, while going for a walk downtown, I stopped and patted a dog. A few minutes later, I came to a halt. I realized what I had done. While in Iraq, during a month when we were under heavy mortar attack, a bomb-sniffing K-9 had become traumatized and attacked me. This, coupled with a life-long fear of dogs, had left me guarded around the canines. I touched the scar on my elbow from where the K-9 had latched on and could no longer find the fear that had been there. Soon I was shedding all the things that held me back from living my life in an entirely unforeseen way.

For the first time in my life, I found forgiveness for those who had wronged me in the past. I literally stopped to smell the flowers on my way to work every day. And I smiled. All the freaking time. I even felt smarter. Research shows that meditation raises IQ. I’m not surprised. After graduation, I went on to complete my master’s at Columbia University.

Fairfield is also home to generations of Iowans who are born there, brought up there and die there. Many of these blue-collar Midwesterners have had animosity toward the meditators. Locals felt as if their town had been overtaken. They preferred steak to quinoa, beers at the bar to yoga and pickup trucks to carbon-reducing bicycles. And with MUM having a student body from more than 100 countries, the ethnic differences were a challenge. However, things are changing. Meditators and townspeople now fill less stereotypical roles. And with the economic boom that meditating entrepreneurs have provided the town, the differences are easier to ignore.

It was strange for me to live removed from the local Iowans. When I went shopping at the only Walmart the town had, I’d see the “Wall of Heroes” — a wall of photos of veterans from Fairfield. One day, I noticed a familiar face — a soldier from my last assignment. Fairfield and other socioeconomically depressed areas are where most military recruits come from. Here I was living among them, but not moving in step with them. Having that synchronous experience made me come back full circle. When I had first learned to meditate, my teacher had asked me what my goal was. I told her, “I want to be in the world, but not of it.” And that’s exactly what I got.

For me, this little Iowan town provided a place of respite and rejuvenation. It was easy for me to trade one lifestyle of order and discipline for another, and this provided me with nourishment and an understanding of self. Nowhere else in America can you find an entire town living and breathing the principles of Eastern mysticism. It goes way beyond taking a yoga class or going to the Burning Man festival. I continue my meditation practice and am grateful for the gifts it has provided me. But in the end, my time had come, and I had to leave. As residents would say, that was just my karma.

Why it’s so Hard to come Home from War

“Well, I think we’re a completely alienated society, and we just don’t notice as much because most of us don’t have the experience of incredible closeness that soldiers are allowed to enjoy. We don’t notice because we don’t know anything different. I think Western society basically invented loneliness. Most societies through human history experienced tribal cultures, with people sleeping shoulder to shoulder in shelters and hunting together and raising children together. Everything was communal, and we just don’t do that, and I don’t think it works well psychologically. Soldiers actually do have exactly that experience in combat, and then the reentry into this alienated society we’ve created is extremely hard. There’s a reason Western society has such a high suicide rate, such a high depression rate, child abuse rate, crime rate, and so on. Those behaviors are at epidemic levels in our society; that’s the society soldiers are coming back to and it’s pretty shocking to them.”

May 30, 2014 / From Ideas.Ted.com

Goals

Frame your goals positively.

How you describe your goal makes a big difference. Focusing on what you want to bring into your life — not what you want to avoid — will make you more likely to actually pursue it. “That’s basically just brain chemistry,” says McGonigal. “Any sort of avoidance is going to trigger inhibition systems, whereas positive goals are going to trigger approach and reward motivation.”

Think about what you want to foster in yourself or what you want to do more often. That positivity can help motivate you when you find yourself slipping. “Saying ‘I don’t want to be fat anymore’ gives you no positive motivation to draw on when you just ate the second box of donuts,” says McGonigal. Be nice to yourself. It works.

Prepare for failure (in a good way).

Moments of failure are inevitable, but most of us abandon the goal entirely when minor failures and setbacks start piling up. We give up on getting fit when we miss the gym, or we forget about losing weight after a night of burgers and milkshakes. “In that moment when you fail, often the first instinct is to push the goal away,” says McGonigal. “It’s so uncomfortable to be in that place of self-doubt or self-criticism and guilt.”

Your task is not to avoid failures, but to plan for them. Ask yourself, how am I likely to fail? For example, if you’re likely to choose unhealthy meals when you’re hungry, carry a light snack that can tide you over. Psychologists call this an if/then contingency plan, or “if this happens, then I’ll do that.” It’s a mental plan for how you’ll react to things that might trip you up.

When detours and roadblocks come up, remind yourself why your goal matters to you. Those simple reminders about why it’s important can buoy your motivation and keep you headed in the right direction.

Lost Poem

I went to the gym this morning, grabbed a book off the shelf to read on the bike. A poem I had long ago written fell out. So I thought I’d blog it here.

“How wonderful to be alone

No biting dog or ringing phone

A buzz from a cold glass of wine

A break from chaos, rush and time

In touch with who I used to be

Alone, aware, really me

But in this time I crave so much

A sense of love and tender touch

The joy I met a man I love

Realizing childhood lessons does

Make me happy to be me

In touch, aware and finally free.”

The Velveteen Rabbit

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often  happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

From ‘The Velveteen Rabbit,’ by Margery Williams.

Dr. Brian Weiss

I was lucky enough to hear Brian Weiss talk yesterday at the Long Beach Convention center. Dr. Weiss is the author of many books including “Many Lives Many Masters” and “Miracles do Happen.” He lead three hypnotherapy sessions – one being past life, and one intuitive exercise. He is soft spoken and amusing and has dedicated the last 35 years of his life to leading past life sessions, therapy and teaching. It is well worth attending one of his events, even if you are not a believer.  We may have lived before or any visualizations that come up could be metaphors for whatever we need help with now. Either way, past life work has helped people over and over again.  A person with a pain in their neck for years is instantly cured after regressing back to a time when perhaps they were beheaded or suffered injury to their neck. It does not have to be that dramatic and nor do we have to really understand it. Allowing ourselves to be open minded and relaxing into the experience can release many discomforts that have plagued us for years. For information on other Brian Weiss events go to his website:

http://www.brianweiss.com/

Image-ning

“In the treatment of skin conditions by changing a person’s focus of attention, Erickson is illustrating the dictum that Paracelsus expounded in the fifteenth century: ‘As man imagines himself to be, so shall he be, and he is that which he imagines.’ There really are physical effects associated with mental imagery. These effects can be attained inside of the body also, but they simply are more demonstrable on the skin. The most obvious examples are blushing when we think about an embarrassing situation, or the development of an erection when we fantasize an erotic image. A person who imagines himself as worthy holds himself erect and moves decisively and confidently. It is, then, surprising that his skeletal structure, muscle tone, and facial expression develop quite differently from those of someone who ‘imagines’ or images himself to be a nonentity?”

From “My Voice will go with You – The teaching tales of Milton H. Erickson,” by Sidney Rosen

More on Anxiety

I am finding anxiety more and more fascinating.

Kierkegaard wrote in the 1844 treatise “The Concept of Anxiety:” ‘And no Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has anxiety, and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instant when he is weakest, nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared, as anxiety knows how, and no sharp-witted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused, as anxiety does, which never lets him escape, neither by diversion nor by noise, neither at work nor at play, neither by day nor by night.’

Daniel Smith (Monkey Mind), goes on to say: ‘This could only have been written by someone who understood anxiety from the inside. Kierkegaard saw that although anxiety is experienced as a kind of all-encompassing nausea-he compared it to the dizziness that afflicts a person when he peers down into an abyss.”

Monkey Mind

Having experienced anxiety and panic attacks in my life, a passage from the book “Monkey Mind” by Daniel Smith resonated.  He starts by quoting Shakespear and his despair at the advice that is offered as a treatment for anxiety.

The passage is taken from “Macbeth.”

“Canst though not minister to a mind diseas’d,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?”

Daniel Smith responds to this passage with, “The response horrified me, for it suggested what I immediately saw was an impossibility, Minister to myself? How? This thing I was feeling wasn’t something I could stop outside of and examine. I couldn’t lay therapeutic hands on it. I couldn’t subject it to my will. I wasn’t even sure I had a will anymore.”

Later on in the passage he goes on to say: “It is common to give superheroes extra-human senses. Spider Man feels a tingle when danger is imminent. The villain is throwing a boulder. The innocent has been launched from the skyscraper. Wavy lines appear above Spider Man’s head. Tingle. Dodge. Thrust. Catch. Act. But what if the hero’s only power is an inner alarm that rings to tell him he has an inner alarm?

That is anxiety. All that varies is the location and the quality of the alarm. Is it in the gut? Is it in the groin? Is it in the throat? The spine? The heart? The lungs? Is it a tightness? A looseness? An unraveling? A liquefication? Fluttering? Scratching? Scraping? Pulling? Is it hot or is it cold? Is it a presence or is it an absence? Is it a stone or is it a void? What do you call yours?”

The words of Daniel Smith sum up, for me, how hypnosis works. Interactive hypnosis can ‘pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow.’ By identifying the shape, color and temperature of the anxiety we can change it, ask it what it needs, wrap out arms around it, set it free!

 

Emotions for Health

“Fear, futility, anger, hostility, impatience, pessimism, competition, and worry won’t signal the proper genes for better health. They actually do the opposite. They turn on the fight-or-flight nervous system and prepare your body for emergency. You’re now losing vital energy for healing. It’s a similar situation with trying to make something happen. The moment you’re trying, you’re pushing against something because you’re endeavoring to change it.

Survival emotions are derived primarily from the stress hormones, which tend to endorse more selfish and more limited states of mind and body. When you embrace elevated, more creative emotions, you lift your energy to a different hormonal center, your heart begins to open, and you feel more selfless. This is when your body starts to respond to a new mind.”

From “You are the Placebo,” by Dr. Joe Dispenza