meditation and the military

Veterans find peace with yoga in ‘Connected Warriors’

Boca Raton Some local veterans’ combat days are long gone, but they still have nightmares, edginess, short fuses and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Many seek help from support groups, psychologists and drugs. But some are finding that a different kind of therapy releases the tension: yoga.

Connected Warriors, a weekly class at studios in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Wellington, is filled with veterans and their families who seek to manage their stress through yoga poses. They learn how to breathe, meditate, stretch and balance with people who understand their battlefield encounters.

“I am learning to stop being on the defensive,” said Maria Mariska Allsopp, of Dania Beach, who retired after 25 years as a sergeant major in the Army. “I am making my own kind of peace.”

Allsopp, 58, was the fifth woman to go through Army airborne training, the first woman jumpmaster and the first female first-sergeant of an Army rigging company. She said she relished her trailblazer status but started having bad dreams soon after she retired and was diagnosed…

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with post-traumatic stress disorder. Memories of sexual harassment also plague her.

“In this class, I am getting something I have been missing: Trust from men,” Allsopp said.

The class has been so successful that yoga teacher Judy Weaver, of Lighthouse Point, has been training instructors to teach at studios across the state and hopes to start programs across the country. Weaver is a founder of Connected Warriors, a nonprofit organization that encourages yoga for veterans.

Weaver became sensitive to veterans’ issues after teaching yoga to Beau MacVane, an Army Ranger from Boca Raton who served five tours in the Middle East but died in 2009 of Lou Gehrig’s disease at 33. She saw how the breathing and meditation techniques she taught him remained useful even as his condition deteriorated.

“They give instant relief to the body,” Weaver said. “Whatever limitations you have, you can still get the benefits.”

Researchers are confirming that yoga’s exercises and relaxation effects help veterans’ physical problems, moods and energy levels. Several studies are exploring how yoga complements psychiatric therapy.

Preliminary results of a Defense Department study show that veterans with PTSD had fewer symptoms after 10 weeks of yoga classes twice a week and 15 minutes of practice each day at home.

This is not news to Ralph Iovino, 61, who thinks yoga has helped him heal from war trauma experienced in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He often relives his time as a rescuer on a helicopter crew.

“I would go down on the cable and get people back up,” remembered Iovino, who lives west of Boynton Beach. “If I froze or panicked, people died.”

Iovino still has shrapnel in his back, forehead and knee, and came back to the United States angry and sick from heart disease. He discovered yoga five years ago and said it has helped him slow down so he thinks before he speaks.

He said his high-blood pressure has disappeared and he is undergoing training to become a certified yoga teacher.

Bob Conway, of Delray Beach, also thinks yoga and meditation techniques have helped him calm his nerves and learn to trust. He turned to drugs and alcohol when he returned from Vietnam in 1970.

He said he always keeps his back to walls since he served in the Marine Corps as a sniper and tunnelman. But in yoga class, he is willing to get into poses facing the wall, knowing his fellow vets are nearby and supportive.

When he began learning breathing techniques with fellow veterans, “I thought, boy, is this dorky, just goofy,” said Conway, 60.

Now, “I look forward to yoga more than golf on Sundays, and golf is my religion,” he said.

lsolomon@tribune.com or 561-243-6536

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Operation Warrior teaches meditation to vets with PTSD

After the horrors of World War II, everyday life seemed impossible for one Vero Beach man.

But 20 years later in 1965 he said something pulled him through. Jerry Yellin, now 86, has started an organization that helps soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, in an unusual way and he wants to share that secret with today’s combat veterans.

His new organization, Operation Warrior Wellness, is a division of the David Lynch Foundation, which is a national nonprofit started in 2005 that pays for the teaching of meditation to at-risk populations.

The kind of meditation used is called transcendental meditation, a form practiced in India for thousands of years that requires only 20 minutes twice per day.

Yellin was a P-51 pilot in World War II who flew 19 missions over…

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Japan. His experiences left him alone and unable to talk to anyone following the war.”The sights and the sounds and the smell and the body parts are a permanent part of my memory,” said Yellin. “To have an incredibly clear purpose of what to do everyday and then one day the war is over and everything you’ve been doing falls away, life really has no meaning.”

But in 1965, two decades after World War II, Yellin said he learned to meditate and it opened his life again.

“It gives you mental power,” said Yellin, “It’s a mind strengthening relaxation technique that allows you to get in touch with yourself.”

Randy Mackenzie, who teaches the technique in Vero Beach, said he and Yellin have submitted literature on transcendental meditation to the Indian River Veterans Council to advertise to local vets. It is only a matter of time before the Veterans Administration recognizes the value of the technique and sets money aside for it, he said.

“Basically it’s a technique that allows people to go inwards,” said Mackenzie. “In terms of benefits for veterans, it doesn’t manage stress it relieves the stress and trauma that they may have experienced in combat.”

Transcendental meditation is among the most researched of all meditation techniques and, according to Yellin, requires instructors to have six to eight months of special training.

At a gala last month at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Museum of Art involving Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, Russell Brand and other celebrities, Yellin helped to bring awareness to the plight of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

TO REGISTER/DONATE:

To register call Randy Mackenzie at 772-539-7557. To donate call Jerry Yellin at 772-538-8886. Make all checks payable to the David Lynch Foundation.

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Battle-stressed warriors try meditation to ease anxiety

At the Warrior Relaxation Response Center, the road to recovery is paved with creature comforts.

Plush couches, soothing green walls and dimmed lights create a welcoming environment. Fountains and top-of-the-line massage chairs further set the conditions for solitary reflection.

In an unconventional approach to the demons of war, the newly established center at 2535 Airport Road encourages combat veterans to confront their battle stress with self-guided meditation and prayer.

“You cannot be relaxed and anxious at the same time,” said Antoine Johnson, summarizing the center’s benefits.

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Soldiers in Kashmir Valley receive yoga training to combat stress

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officials in the Kashmir Valley receive yoga training as a stress buster, after the Valley was hit by continuous curfews and strikes.

The officials are being taught yoga to bring down their stress levels that many feel have increased after long hours of work, which call for alertness.. Triparti, a CRPF spokesperson, said that the needs of the officers were looked after carefully.

“I know which officer is doing what shift and we also know what facilities they need after coming back from their duty. And we find ways to lower their stress levels,” said Tripathi.

CRPF officers perform meditation and various exercises to control their mental stress and to increase their physical stamina.

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Meditation in hospitals, and formidable women everywhere

Hospitals and meditation are coming together, what with the growth in mindfulness-based programs that started with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction several decades ago. Sutter Hospital, in California, is one of the latest to add a Meditation Garden.

Meanwhile, at an Asheville, North Carolina, hospital, meditation is being used to help breast cancer patients. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, a study “found patients using the body/mind/medicine therapies, including guided imaging, reported lowered blood pressure, heart rates and anxiety levels.”

In military medicine circles, the army’s plans to build up mental ‘resilience’ in soldiers serving in Iraq include a meditation room with stained glass windows.

There’s an Asheville connection with regards to Rev. Teijo Munnich, who is said to have been called “relentless” when it comes to her style of meditation, because, she says, her tradition has such a “macho” reputation. Munnich moved to Asheville in the mid-1990s and founded the Great Tree Zen Temple, where one of her intentions is to involve more women in meditation.

Not really a news story, this, but Karen Maezen Miller, “wife, mother, Zen priest and author of Hand Wash Cold” (her book will shortly be reviewed on Wildmind) has a piece in the Huffington Post on 8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child. It’s all simple, down-to-earth stuff.

Also not strictly a news piece, but Zen Abbess Myoan Grace Schireson is interviewed about her new book, Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters. Just in time for Halloween, there’s a delightful description of Zen Zombies. You’ll have to read the article for clarification!

And one more from the ladies. If you remember that recently Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler was campaigning against the practice of yoga because of its connections with eastern mysticism. Well, the five formidable women of Down Under Yoga are likely to give Mohler a heart-attack, devoted as they are to bringing yoga back to its spiritual roots. They’re concerned by the commercialization of yoga, and wish to promote yogic values of ahimsa (non-harm), and and aparigraha or non-possessiveness. “My worry is that . . . what we do in the yoga room is becoming the same as what we do outside the yoga room. Which is behaving like lunatics,” says yogini Natasha Rizopoulos. “The minute yoga is packaged and branded, you’ve lost it,” adds lawyer-turned-yoga-teacher Justine Wiltshire Cohen.

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U.S. Army adopts mindfulness meditation

In an unusual departure from traditional prescriptions for coping with high stress, the United States Army is recommending something more eclectic to its soldiers in Iraq — mindfulness mediation.

According to Major Victor Won, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, mindfulness is a simple but ancient approach to living that western medicine has begun to recognise as a powerful tool for dealing with stress, illness and other medical or psychological conditions, and it could help soldiers in any circumstance.

Quoting the definition of the term used in the book Wherever You Go, There You Are, by popular mediation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, he said, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way or maintaining the awareness on purpose, in the present moment.”

Major Won said it would be more effective for soldiers to learn and train in mindfulness prior to deployment, as the practice will offer soldiers a means to cope with their mental stress before getting into a high-stress environment.

University of Pennsylvania researchers, with the Army’s support, were said to be examining the effects of meditation as a means to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Major Won said, “Many psychotherapists around the world have applied mindfulness, treating various psychological diagnoses such as PTSD, depression and even personality disorders.” It was “through finding peace within and clarity that you see that you are not the thoughts or the emotions that bind you and take you away into suffering,” he added.

[Narayan Lakshman, The Hindu]
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Meditation may improve drinking and substance abuse behaviors in active military personnel

Meditation may help improve drinking and substance abuse behaviors in active duty service personnel undergoing treatment in a residential program, according to results from a small study reported at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2010 Annual Meeting.

“Using mindfulness-based, breath-centered meditation may be a helpful treatment modality for service members who wish to recover from substance dependence or abuse,” said lead investigator Amy Canuso, DO, from the Department of Psychiatry at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, during her presentation.

“I would tell clinicians that this is an option that should be explored,” Dr. Canuso told Medscape Psychiatry. “I would consider including it in therapeutic programs at facilities and into therapeutic practice. Substance abuse treatment should really be a team effort with a multidisciplined approach.”

“We all want to encourage healthy living techniques, and this might just be an important piece to the puzzle,” she added.

Meditation gaining recognition

Traditional mental health therapies are often incorporated in substance use treatments aimed at both the military and the civilian sector, Dr. Canuso reported. However, she added, there is also growing interest right now in alternative-type treatments and 1 modality of treatment that is gaining recognition is meditation.

“As a fourth-year resident, I’m starting to realize that there are some things that medications can do and some things they can’t, which is also true of cognitive behavior and other techniques,” added Dr. Canuso. “For me, personally, meditation is something I practice and I was interested to see if it could work, especially in this setting.”

For this study, the investigators reviewed the records of 20 active duty service personnel (19 men, 1 woman) enrolled in a 30-day substance abuse rehabilitation program at the Naval Medical Center. These patients also underwent a once-weekly 90-minute group class for 4 consecutive weeks. The class focused on teaching specific meditation techniques to practice between meetings.

Service members with any diagnosis of psychosis were excluded from the study.

In addition to keeping practice logs and journals, the participants anonymously filled out the Stages of Change Readiness and Treatment Eagerness Scale (SOCRATES) survey both at the beginning and at the end of treatment.

Significant improvements

Results showed significant improvements between the pretreatment and posttreatment SOCRATES scores in recognition (from 17.1 to 32.3), ambivalence (from 8.4 to 12.7), and “taking steps towards change in drinking behaviors” (from 16.6 to 36.9), reported the investigators.

The same 3 areas also showed significant improvements according to Student t test results (P < .001 for all). In addition, the patients reported better sleep, relaxation, and improved frustration tolerance.

Study limitations cited included the small sample size and that no comparison with a “treatment as usual” group was conducted.

“This was a very small study, but the results have encouraged me to continue the research and see if the results we found were in any way exclusive to the use of meditation,” said Dr. Canuso. “The more information we have and the more evidence based it is, the more likely it will become a viable treatment option.”

[via MedScape Today]
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University of Wisconsin to study effects of meditation, yoga on veterans’ stress

In the seven years since he finished his stint in the U.S. Navy, Todd Dennis has rarely slept well.

Though never diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, he’s struggled with some of the symptoms, including insomnia and feelings of anger.

Dennis says those symptoms have eased since February, when he began practicing yoga and meditation techniques he learned through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.

Beginning this fall, the center will apply the tools of neuroscience – including brain imaging – in studies to determine what if any effect such contemplative practices have on veterans with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

“We’ll be looking at whether they make an impact in their lives, their overall function, their sense of well-being,” said Emma Seppala, a psychologist and research associate, who will oversee the research, some of the first of its kind.

Researchers hope to develop psychological profiles and a kind of tool kit that help them target contemplative practices in ways that are most effective.

The center’s research and its vision will be on display this weekend when it hosts events, most of them private for researchers, collaborators, donors and other supporters.

The only public event, though all tickets have been claimed, will be an unscripted conversation between center founder and director Richard Davidson and the 14th Dalai Lama on the subject of “Investigating Healthy Minds.”

It was a challenge by the Tibetan spiritual leader to Davidson during a 1992 meeting in India that gave rise to the center, according to Davidson. In that meeting, he says, the Buddhist monk called on him to apply the tools of science used to study such things as depression, anxiety and fear to instead study such traits as happiness, kindness and compassion.

“That was a very powerful meeting for me, and one that altered the course of my life and career,” said Davidson, a psychologist and neuroscientist who also heads the university’s Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience.

Some of the research got under way even before the center’s founding in 2008. In 1999, Davidson brought advanced meditation practitioners, many of them monks from Asia, to Madison to study how the long-term practice of meditation affects the mind. Among the findings, he said, was the presence of unusually high amplitudes of gamma oscillations, brain rhythms associated with such things as focused attention, learning and memory.

The center’s work has drawn significant support, including a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to its study on veterans, it is developing programs for school-age children and individuals transitioning from prison back into society. The student project launches in the fall with a pilot program for fifth-graders in Madison public schools.

“We’re interested in determining if simple practices can be brought into the schools to improve students’ concentration and skill in emotion regulation … both of which are necessary for kids to be successful,” said Davidson.

Seppala will be posing the same questions in her work with veterans. The findings, she said, could be used to develop programs to treat thousands of vets who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

“Twenty percent of the 2 million veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, and it’s believed the high suicide rate among veterans may be attributed to that,” she said.

The three-year study will involve 90 veterans in three groups, two of which will participate in either mindfulness meditation or yoga breathing exercises. Those in the third group will continue with their current courses of treatment.

There is, at least, anecdotal evidence that contemplative practices are beneficial for veterans. Both Navy veteran Dennis and Jennifer Kannel, who spent a year in Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said the breathing exercises and meditation practices improved their sleep and sense of well-being.

“That’s one of the big ones vets say, whether they have PTSD or not, that it helps promote sleep,” said Andrew Hendrickson, who leads a yoga-based relaxation series for returning combat troops at the Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center in Milwaukee.

“They say it helps them feel at ease, helps them deal with physical pain – all the things you would expect from a mind-body technique.

Hendrickson asks vets in his program to rate their level of distress, on a scale of zero to 100, before and after participating.

“I frequently get people who drop from 80 to 20 or 10,” said Hendrickson, who used yoga to sleep at night while working at a combat hospital in Afghanistan. “One guy with severe depression went from 60 to zero.”

For more information on the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds go to www.investigatinghealthyminds.org.

[via the Journal-Sentinel]
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Can training soldiers to meditate combat PTSD?

A University of Pennsylvania-led study in which training was provided to a high-stress U.S. military group preparing for deployment to Iraq has demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training, or MT, and improvements in mood and working memory. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware and attentive of the present moment without emotional reactivity or volatility.

The study found that the more time participants spent engaging in daily mindfulness exercises the better their mood and working memory, the cognitive term for complex thought, problem solving and cognitive control of emotions. The study also suggests that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress challenges that require a tremendous amount of cognitive control, self-awareness, situational awareness and emotional regulation.

To study the protective effects of mindfulness training on psychological health in individuals about to experience extreme stress, cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha of the Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Penn and Elizabeth A. Stanley of Georgetown University provided mindfulness training for the first time to U.S. Marines before deployment. Jha and her research team investigated working memory capacity and affective experience in individuals participating in a training program developed and delivered by Stanley, a former U.S. Army officer and security-studies professor with extensive experience in mindfulness techniques.

The program, called Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT, aims to cultivate greater psychological resilience or “mental armor” by bolstering mindfulness.

The program covered topics of central relevance to the Marines, such as integrating skills to manage stress reactions, increase their resilience to future stressors and improve their unit’s mission effectiveness. Thus, the program blended mindfulness skills training with concrete applications for the operational environment and information and skills about stress, trauma and resilience in the body.

The program emphasized integrating mindfulness exercises, like focused attention on the breath and mindful movement, into pre-deployment training. These mindfulness skills were to regulate symptoms in the body and mind following an experience of extreme stress. The importance of regularly engaging in mindfulness exercises was also emphasized.

“Our findings suggest that, just as daily physical exercise leads to physical fitness, engaging in mindfulness exercises on a regular basis may improve mind-fitness,” Jha said. “Working memory is an important feature of mind-fitness. Not only does it safeguard against distraction and emotional reactivity, but it also provides a mental workspace to ensure quick-and-considered decisions and action plans. Building mind-fitness with mindfulness training may help anyone who must maintain peak performance in the face of extremely stressful circumstances, from first responders, relief workers and trauma surgeons, to professional and Olympic athletes.”

Study participants included two military cohorts of 48 male participants with a mean age of 25 recruited from a detachment of Marine reservists during the high-stress pre-deployment interval and provided MT to one group of 31, leaving 17 Marines in a second group without training as a control. The MT group attended an eight-week course and logged the amount of out-of-class time they spent practicing formal exercises. The effect of the course on working memory was evaluated using the Operation Span Task, whereas the impact on positive and negative affect was evaluated using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, or PANAS.

The Positive Affect scale reflects the extent to which a person feels enthusiastic, active and alert. The Negative Affect scale reflects unpleasant mood states, such as anger, disgust and fear. Working memory capacity degraded and negative mood increased over time in the control group. A similar pattern was observed in those who spent little time engaging in mindfulness exercises within the MMFT group. Yet, capacity increased and negative mood decreased in those with high practice time over the eight weeks.

The study findings are in line with prior research on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, programs and suggest that MMFT may provide “psychological prophylaxis,” or protection from cognitive and emotional disturbances, even among high-stress cohorts such as members of the military preparing for deployment. Given the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health disturbances suffered by those returning from war, providing such training prior to deployment may buffer against potential lifelong psychological illness by bolstering working memory capacity.

In the several months prior to a deployment, service members receive intensive training on mission-critical operational skills, physical training and “stress-inoculation” training to habituate them to stressors they may experience during their impending mission. They also must psychologically prepare to leave loved ones and face potentially violent and unpredictable situations during their deployment.

Persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals, have been shown to deplete working memory capacity and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. The research team hypothesized that MMFT may mitigate these deleterious effects by bolstering working memory capacity.

The study, published in the journal Emotion and also featured in the most recent edition of Joint Force Quarterly, the advisory journal for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was funded by the John W. Kluge Foundation and the Department of Defense.

[via University of Pennsylvania]
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Meditation may boost mood and mental toughness

LiveScience: Meditation exercises could boost mental toughness in soldiers readying for war, keeping them from becoming overly emotional, according to new research.

The study found that mindfulness training, which teaches people how to stay alert and in the moment without becoming emotional (giving them a kind of “mental armor”), improved the moods of U.S. Marines preparing for deployment to Iraq. Practicing mindfulness also improved a type of memory that enables people to complete complex mental tasks.

The key is practicing these mindfulness exercises daily, just as you would any other exercise, according to study co-author and University of Pennsylvania cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha said in a statement.

The study involved 48 Marines who were headed to Iraq. During the eight weeks before deployment, 31 of the participants spent two hours in mindfulness training classes each week, while the other 17 men had no mindfulness training. The Marines, all men, were also assigned “homework” – a 30-minute mindfulness exercise each day.

The exercises included include focused breathing and meditation-like sessions. (Past research has found such exercises decrease stress and even prevent relapses in patients with depression.)

During the training, the soldiers answered questionnaires about their moods and took a math and memory test to check their working memory. Working memory, which allows for short-term retrieval and storage of information, is closely related to the kind of mental control used in mindfulness. Jha wanted to know if mindfulness would improve soldiers’ ability to control emotion by improving working memory.

The stress of deployment did decrease the Marines’ working memory, Jha found. But those who did their mindfulness homework diligently actually saw a slight increase in working memory capacity. Compared with soldiers who didn’t have the training and those who didn’t do their homework, mindfulness practitioners also reported more positive moods and fewer negative moods.

“Their findings really support the idea that you’ve got to work at it for mindfulness to have this positive impact,” Susan Smalley, the director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, told LiveScience. “You not only have to learn it, but you have to practice it.”

The research didn’t offer a definitive answer as to how mindfulness education changes a person’s mood, Smalley said, and more studies are needed to find out if the results can be replicated in larger groups of people. If further research comes to similar conclusions, mindfulness could be used to prepare for typical life stressors, like care-giving for an elderly parent or giving birth.

The results could also benefit other people who require periods of intensive physical, mental and emotional demands on the job, such as firefighters, police officers, other first responders and crisis workers, the researchers say.

“Mindfulness training might be a nice protective addition to our lifestyles,” Smalley said.

The research was published in the February issue of the journal Emotion.

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