By Dr. David Leffler
In early 2010 WWII veteran Jerry Yellin was introduced to a young man, Dory Klock, an eight-year Army veteran who had fought in Bosnia. Dory was having difficulty adjusting, keeping a job, and fighting drugs and alcohol. As a combat veteran, Jerry knew these inner struggles all too well. Dory's wife and two daughters were suffering with him, and Dory's mom Lin, Jerry's friend, was beside herself. Then one day Lin called and asked Jerry if he could help her out. "Sure, Lin, anything," he told her.
She began weeping; she couldn't speak. Finally, she asked, "Can you help me put Dory's medals and ribbons on his dress uniform? We want to bury him in it, Jerry. He committed suicide yesterday." Lin brought Dory's uniform to Jerry's home and he put the medals and insignias in place. When Lin left, Jerry broke down. His thoughts ran wild with the suffering so many are experiencing from the life and death of our warriors who experience combat and have nothing to hold onto when they come home. Jerry was a P-51 Pilot who flew 19 missions over Japan and saw the horror of Iwo Jima - a battle involving 90,000 soldiers on a small island where 28,000 people died. He knew from his own experiences as a returning veteran who suffered from what is now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that the problem is overwhelming our nation.
This article offers a scientifically verified, time-tested solution to how we can help our military personnel, veterans and their families.
On the behalf of The David Lynch Foundation's Operation Warrior Wellness, Veterans like Jerry are urging DoD and VA officials to add a different modality to their treatment programs for PTSD, one which has already been extensively scientifically validated to reduce stress - the Transcendental Meditation - (TM) technique.
Research shows all meditation practices are not the same. In recent studies these practices have been classified into three categories: Focused Attention, Open Monitoring, and Automatic Self-Transcending. Techniques in the Focused Attention category are techniques requiring concentration. Those forms of meditation show brain activity associated with focusing - fast EEG called gamma (20-50 Hz). Techniques in the Open Monitoring category include mindfulness or Vipassana. They are reported to activate brainwaves associated with internal mental processing - theta activity (4-8 Hz). Techniques in the Automatic Self-Transcending category transcend their own procedure - take the attention out of thinking, analyzing, controlling, or watching to a state of pure consciousness. The Transcendental Meditation technique is in this category. During TM synchronous alpha1 (8-10 Hz) activation is seen primarily in frontal executive areas as well as over the whole brain, indicating integrated functioning of the brain.
Different meditation techniques use different procedures, have different effects on brain functioning, and so lead to different benefits. The more focused the meditation procedure, the more focused the effects. Techniques of concentration such as Zen are found to activate attentional centers. Another technique in this category, Loving-Kindness Compassion, actives emotional centers of the brain. Techniques of Open Monitoring such as Vipassana are reported to decrease pain perception and have a small effect on anxiety. TM, a technique in the Automatic Self-Transcending, is reported to have a wider range of effects, perhaps owing to the experience of pure consciousness underlying all thought activity. For instance, meta-analyses report that TM practice results in higher levels of self-actualization and greater decreases in anxiety than other meditations. In the bigger picture, research on TM practice reports significant effects on psychological measures - improved moral reasoning, creativity, cognitive flexibility, coping and problem solving, improved health - reductions in blood pressure and in hospitalization, and significant improvement on social interactions.
The TM technique is also different because it turns one's attention inward to experience deeper levels of thought, until one goes beyond active thought and the mind comes to a state of complete inner rest. But the mind is alert. There is an inner wakefulness, and a feeling of calm and peace. This is the state of restful alertness. The brain functions with significantly greater coherence and the body gains deep rest.
Research shows that the deep rest gained during TM practice is more profound than deep sleep. This allows the body to rid itself of deeply rooted stresses, especially the stress associated with traumatic conditions like PTSD. For instance, a peer-reviewed, random assignment study on Vietnam veterans who practiced TM (Journal of Counseling and Development, 1985: (64); 212-215), found that the technique effectively influenced the neurobiological aspects specifically affected by PTSD. The University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers demonstrated that TM practice had positive effects on symptoms associated with PTSD: instruction in the technique, followed by three months of regular TM practice, significantly reduced emotional numbness, anxiety, startle response, depression, alcohol consumption, insomnia, and family problems. The TM group also reported improvements in sleep and obtaining/keeping employment. Seventy percent of the TM practitioners reported that they no longer required the services of the veteran's center.
In a new pilot study (under review), Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experienced a 50% drop in PTSD symptoms by the fourth week of TM practice, and even greater improvements by two months and three months. This study is summarized in Jerry Yellin's new book The Resilient Warrior: Healing the Hidden Wounds of War (2011) with Dr. Sarina Grosswald.
After one month of practice, a test was done together with military psychologists in order to check the validity of the TM program. Here is a summary of the warriors' statements:
- 96% thought it was a very practical activity
- 95% said it was completely satisfying
- 92% declared they improved dealing with stress and had better performance in their actions
- 96% declared their relationships with others improved.