David Lynch offers music for meditation

Acclaimed film director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive) released a 17-track charity compilation on March 8 to support his foundation, which encourages healing through meditation. The album features exclusive tracks by Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Moby, Ben Folds, and others.

In exchange for a pledge of $18, the David Lynch Foundation, founded in 2005, will provide all of the tracks in digital format over the course of the next six weeks. Proceeds go to the organization’s global effort to teach meditation to 1 million at-risk youth and 10,000 veterans of war with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A supporter of transcendental meditation, dubbed TM for short, Lynch believes that it is the cheapest, most effective, and medication-free way of healing people who have suffered severe stress in war and any other extreme experience.

Waits’ track is a live recording of “Briar & the Rose,” composed…

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in 1993 for the play The Black Rider, cowritten by William S. Burroughs. On the website Pledge Music, you can hear a 90-second preview of the track alongside four more cuts from the compilation. Other artists included are Arrested Development, Au Revoir Simone, Mary Hopkin, Maroon 5, Neon Trees, Ozomatli, Heather Nova, and Slightly Stoopid.

Make a pledge and each week you will receive two or three of the comp’s featured tracks, along with videos, photos, and blog updates, “giving you an insider’s view into the artists’ lives and experiences,” states the website.

Last December, Lynch organized a Hollywood A-list fundraising event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for his foundation, which aims to train people in need the art of finding inner peace, said Lynch at the event.

In another one of Lynch’s musical endeavors, he recently released a pair of digital songs on iTunes: “Good Day Today,” with a melancholy electro-pop sound, and the more trance-like, rock-oriented “I Know.”

Inspired by working with his composer Angelo Badalamenti on Inland Empire, his last film in 2006, the director began experimenting with music, he told the Los Angeles Times. “One thing led to another, and I started making music even though I’m not a musician.”

In 2009, the director launched an artistic visual and musical project with Danger Mouse and the late Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse called Dark Night of the Soul.

Listen to track samples, see a video of Lynch describing the project, or make a pledge:

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Yoga class aims to heal trauma victims

wildmind meditation news

Matt Brennan, The Beacon-News: Medical studies show that trauma is carried by cells and tissue in the body. Physical activities such as yoga can help alleviate that trauma. A Geneva social worker and a yoga instructor are teaming up to offer a program helping those who suffer from PTSD to heal.

“There’s no other program out there combining the verbal and nonverbal like this,” according to Isie Brindley, a licensed clinical professional counselor practicing in Geneva.

Brindley is working with Green Leaf Yoga instructor Pam O’Brien to develop a program that incorporates the benefits of therapy with a type of yoga designed to help victims of trauma. The program they are looking to create is called Pathways to Empowerment.

They are trying to generate enough local interest to begin the class.

Sometimes someone with severe trauma has lost the connection between mind and body. Something simple such as a command to lift your left leg may not compute in the mind of a trauma victim, she said.

“It helps people come back to awareness and learning how to self regulate,” she said.

Yoga for trauma patients is different than traditional yoga in how it is taught. It involves a more sensitive approach.

“The intention is different,” she said. “With this, you never force and you never push. You’re just inviting the student to explore.”

O’Brien is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass. The class she is certified to teach is based on the research of Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on PTSD who is exploring the use of yoga to regain a physical mastery.

O’Brien is currently teaching an eight-week session of yoga geared toward trauma victims. For that class, there is a screening process to ensure that people are also seeking outside help.

With the program they are looking to create, O’Brien and Brindley will be able to more closely intertwine the yoga and therapy. Brindley said it would help to put someone in a place where they can process the information related to their PTSD without the trauma.

“It’s shifting the unconscious mind into the conscious memory,” Brindley said. “Rather than being victimized, they’re now in control.” The therapy also will help them to process the information related to the incident, she said.

Original article no longer available


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begin the class.

Sometimes someone with severe trauma has lost the connection between mind and body. Something simple such as a command to lift your left leg may not compute in the mind of a trauma victim, she said.

“It helps people come back to awareness and learning how to self regulate,” she said.

Yoga for trauma patients is different than traditional yoga in how it is taught. It involves a more sensitive approach.

“The intention is different,” she said. “With this, you never force and you never push. You’re just inviting the student to explore.”

O’Brien is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass. The class she is certified to teach is based on the research of Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on PTSD who is exploring the use of yoga to regain a physical mastery.

O’Brien is currently teaching an eight-week session of yoga geared toward trauma victims. For that class, there is a screening process to ensure that people are also seeking outside help.

With the program they are looking to create, O’Brien and Brindley will be able to more closely intertwine the yoga and therapy. Brindley said it would help to put someone in a place where they can process the information related to their PTSD without the trauma.

“It’s shifting the unconscious mind into the conscious memory,” Brindley said. “Rather than being victimized, they’re now in control.” The therapy also will help them to process the information related to the incident, she said.

For more information on yoga for trauma patients, visit or call 630-917-9171.

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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 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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Meditation for overcoming trauma

Award winning mental health blogger Seaneen Molloy sets out on a quest to meet people who have a different take on working with emotional distress. This month, Seaneen meets Valerie Mason-John, a writer and anger management coach who advocates ‘mindfulness’ practice for mental wellbeing.

With my feet firmly in the 21st century, I see Buddhism as something belonging to the past – irrelevant to the modern world, except perhaps to the most laid-back of hippies. As for meditation, I can’t even imagine assuming the lotus position, and humming, “Ommm…” without wanting to guffaw!

Mindfulness is said to encourage a calm awareness of, and connection to, the body and the world around us. Its practice has been used to help people suffering from depression, personality disorders, anxiety and eating disorders. I want to know if the techniques can help me, so I visit the London Buddhist Centre and meet experienced meditation teacher Valerie Mason-John.

She’s nothing like I imagined a Buddhist to be – casually dressed and with an authoritative, yet easy manner. But Valerie’s life wasn’t always so calm. She spent her childhood between an abusive home life and social care. It was a traumatic time and by her twenties she was living in the “fast lane”, clubbing and taking recreational drugs.

I ask Valerie how she made the transformation to ordained Buddhist. She says “I used to laugh at people who went on retreats and meditated. But in my late twenties, I knew I needed a change.”

Valerie recalls, “Transcendental meditation was a profound experience and after a month, I thought the world had changed. But I was changing and becoming more compassionate”.

I reflect that a lot of people with mental health problems often take anger out on themselves. But, I ask Valerie, does it always need to be destructive?

“Anger is an energy, but when we hold on to it it becomes this toxic luggage we carry”, she says, adding “mindfulness of anger allows us to be creative and constructive with it instead. When we become angry we lose mindfulness and the body sends us warnings. We need to be aware of our bodies to read these signs and realise the need to pause. Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to do something different.”

Seeing how peaceful and calm Valerie is, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous. This morning, I ate my breakfast while being beeped at by buses on the Holloway Road. Stress, for me, is a kicker into illness, but even Valerie’s story doesn’t make me want to go on a retreat to learn how to deal with it.

I want to see for myself how effective meditation is, so I ask Valerie to guide me through an exercise in body awareness. She stresses the importance of the sitting position. “You don’t have to sit in the lotus position”, she reassures me. Given that I’m short and relatively unbendy, I content myself with straddling a few cushions.

I’m self-conscious and have trouble sitting properly – I’m too tense. “Think of your body as an elastic band”, she advises. “You don’t want to be too taut, or too loose – you need that energy, and tension”.

I finally manage to get comfortable, and close my eyes. Under her hypnotically gentle instruction, I silently count one, then two, then three, breathing in and out, all the way to ten and back again. This is called mindfulness of the breath and I find it difficult not to respond to her voice. Occasionally she reminds me to, “explore quietness” – this isn’t something I’m used to doing.
I sit for a few minutes in silence, breathing in and out. Finally, Valerie tells me that if I’m ready, I can open my eyes. I do so, and it takes a moment for me to adjust to the room, even with its ambient, unthreatening lighting. I feel as though I’ve been asleep.

On my way out, I pass through the peaceful garden of the Buddhist Centre. I find myself back on the busy main road, feeling, if not transformed, then a little bit lighter. Part of me wants to rush home, to get back to work, but another part of me thinks, “What’s the hurry?”.

So I stop at a cafe, smile at the waitress and drink a cup of tea outside in the drizzle, leaving my laptop languishing in my bag. I feel like, oh dear, a bit of a hippy! The things that normally bother me, the roar of cars and the rain, don’t seem quite so important. I look at some of the leaflets I picked up and realise that I don’t need to be a Buddhist to meditate. It may not be a cure, but I did feel happier, if only for an hour.

About Valerie Mason-John
Valerie (also known as Queenie) won Mind Book of the Year award for her debut novel, The Banana Kid (previously entitled Borrowed Bodies). Besides being an ordained member of the Western Buddhist Order, she’s published a self-help book, Detox Your Heart which consists of meditation guides interspersed with her own personal stories.

Visit Valerie Mason-John’s personal blog explores issues around meditation, anger and identity.

[via BBC “Ouch!”]
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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

[via the Journal-Sentinel]
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US disaster victims take up yoga to combat stress

Times of India: The US has turned to yoga and meditation to help natural disaster victims get over the trauma and rebuild their shattered confidence. And this exercise seems to have yielded a positive result as well.

Brian Michael Jenkins, director of the National Transportation Security Centre at the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Diego, California, said they started taking yoga classes for victims of a devastating forest fire that ravaged large areas of San Diego in 2007-’08. After being evacuated from their homes, the residents were put up in camps where they went through a tough time, trying to come to terms to the losses – it was then that yoga was introduced in the camps to help them overcome stress and tension.

“We had thousands of people suffering from stress and tension. The blaze had wreaked havoc and there was panic everywhere. We set up counselling centres where yoga came as a huge help in calming down the people,” Jenkins said.

He said other countries, including India, where yoga originated, could use meditation to mentally rehabilitate victims of natural disasters.

Jenkins is in the city as part of a US team of transport planners, who conducted workshops on security in transport system, which was organised by the MMRDA. Jenkins said during the fires in San Diego, they had to evacuate over a million people and send them to camps. The people, all huddled together, were worried sick about their homes being consumed by the blaze.

“We managed to evacuate and accommodate over a million people from homes, hospitals, medical clinics and old-age homes and shepherd them into large baseball stadiums in 24 hours. We had a range of services with doctors and nurses, manning medical systems. We also had centres for yoga and meditation at these camps run by volunteers. The yoga instructors came from different states to help the victims,” he said.

Times of India

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PTSD treatment for monks

NPR: Dr. Michael Grodin discusses his experiences treating Tibetan monks who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Many of the monks were imprisoned or tortured because of their resistance to the Chinese presence in Tibet, and now some of them experience “flashbacks” while meditating. Read more and listen here.

Grodin hypothesizes that meditation may reduce the brain’s ability to inhibit unpleasant thoughts and memories. His treatment combines elements of Western and Tibetan medicine and therapy. Grodin wrote about his findings in the March issue of Mental Health, Religion, and Culture.

A professor of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University School of Public Health, Grodin is the medical ethicist at Boston Medical Center and the co-director of the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights.

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Stressed Gazans turn to meditation after war

The Seattle Times: The recent scene in a hotel ballroom broke several cultural taboos, such as not letting loose in public, particularly in mixed company. But the dozens of counselors and social workers, stressed and overworked since the recent Gaza war, eagerly cast convention aside to learn about relaxation techniques. “We are teaching very simple tools of self-care,” said Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who runs The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and offers a parallel trauma program in Israel. Read more here.

Since 2005, he’s taught 90 Gaza health professionals who have reached thousands of patients with meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback and support groups in which participants express their feelings in words, drawings and dance.

“My house became like an asylum after the war,” said Naima Rawagh, who works with abused women and said she was flooded with requests for help after the Israeli offensive. She and other counselors are finding ways to connect with the conservative Muslim society.

Ibrahim Younis said he uses passages from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to illustrate key points such as the need for exercise and proper eating.

Rawagh said she switches to tapes of chirping birds if patients complain that moving to music is “haram,” or forbidden by Islam.

But mostly, Gazans appear open to what may seem like strange ideas. Many are eager to gain a sense of control after 21 months of border closures after the militant Hamas group seized Gaza and after Israel’s three-week offensive that ended in January.

“We are here now because the demand has increased exponentially ever since the blockade on Gaza,” said Gordon, who has run similar workshops in postwar Kosovo and for homeless teens in the United States.

Some 140 counselors and health workers participated in this week’s sessions in Gaza City. In a second round, several months from now, they’ll learn yoga and other techniques.

On Monday, they heard a lecture about deep breathing, with women sitting on the left side of the ballroom and men on the right. They were asked to close their eyes and take deep breaths for guided meditation. Some just folded their arms.

Then the Gaza chief of the program, Jamil Abdel Atti, asked them to stand and flap their arms while breathing vigorously, with eyes closed. Some giggled, made halfhearted attempts or even sneaked out, but most made a serious effort.

Fatima Suboh, a 48-year-old university teacher, beamed afterward. “I feel high energy, I feel that my blood is working,” she said, acknowledging she felt a little self-conscious at first.

Social worker Ghada Assad, 33, said she’ll take home what she is learning and use it with her children and clients “so we can laugh and we can have some relaxation for our muscles and some energy for our bodies.”

Throughout the workshop, participants shared war stories.

Participants in one group, led by a woman in her 20s with a beaming smile, sat in a circle on the carpet. They started by “checking in,” or telling the group how they felt – breaking another cultural taboo against being too forthcoming with strangers.

Younis and Rawagh say it’s an effective way of easing trauma in a short time.

After the war, Younis paid visits to victims’ homes and started arranging support groups by category, such as new widows.

“The demand is huge,” said Gordon, who during breaks gave acupuncture treatments to those who ask.

In a remarkable scene for Gaza, a woman in a black robe and face veil walked up to him in the lobby and asked if he could work on her.

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Tibetan meditation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Miami and Ohio State university researchers are using an ancient technique to investigate the impact of Tibetan meditation on victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

With a $98,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health, Deborah Akers, Miami visiting assistant professor of anthropology, is working with co-researchers from Ohio State on a project titled “Treatment of Trauma Survivors: Effects of Meditation Practice on Clients’ Mental Health Outcomes.”

Akers and co-researchers Moyee Lee, professor of social work, and Amy Zaharlick, professor of anthropology, are working with women diagnosed with PTSD who live in Amethyst House, a women’s treatment program for alcohol and drug addiction in Columbus. Tibetan monk Geshe Kalsang Damdhul of the Institute of Higher Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, India, will assist as a meditation instructor.

“Participants are being taught specialized meditation techniques and will be guided through meditation for a period of six weeks,” said Akers. Results could then provide a new option for treating other victims of PTSD, such as combat soldiers returning from war or victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

“This project charts new ground, bringing a holistic perspective to the treatment of PTSD,” said Akers. She added that though meditation has been used in a variety of therapeutic settings in the West, such as reducing stress and coping with pain, its application in the treatment of mental illness, including PTSD, has not been extensively explored.

“Whereas in the West treatment of PTSD may require years of prescription medicine and counseling, the Tibetan approach has been successful within one to two years by focusing on the spiritual connection between the mind and the body that seems to allow the patient to process the trauma more effectively,” said Akers. “Moreover, unlike Western medical therapies, meditation is free and can benefit individuals who cannot afford extensive therapy or medicine over long periods of time. The Tibetan approach is empowering, as it offers PTSD patients an alternative and less invasive form of therapy and enables them to participate in their own treatment.”

The project grew from a Miami U. summer field school program, “Peoples and Cultures of Tibet,” conducted in Dharamsala, the residence of the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, and location of the Tibetan government in exile. During the field school, Akers and Miami students learned about how Tibetan monks minister to political prisoners and victims of torture who suffer from PTSD.

Several Miami pre-med and anthropology students are assisting in the Columbus project, gaining hands-on research experience.

“The PTSD research project and the summer field program in Dharamsala exemplify Miami University’s continuing interest in South Asia,” said Akers.

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Relieving stress could be just a breath away (Ledger-Enquirer, Georgia)

Hilary E. MacGregor: New Age flute music plays softly as people file into an apartment in West Los Angeles, remove their shoes and seat themselves quietly on Oriental carpets on the floor. A picture of a bearded guru in white robes sits at the front of the room with a tiny offering of fresh flowers. There are 14 students, and they have come here to learn to breathe.

Known as the “Art of Living,” this intensive breathing course will last six days. The class has drawn people ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. There is a builder, a businessman, a masseuse, an acupuncturist and a Jacuzzi engineer. It includes some who are seeking relief from asthma, chronic pain and depression, and others who have come because they heard about it from a friend. One man came after seeing a flier at a Whole Foods market.

Students of the program say the breathing technique can bring greater awareness, a fuller and happier life, less stress, greater mental focus, and a bevy of other health benefits. But there is scant research so far to support those claims.

Now, a handful of doctors and psychiatrists in this country are touting the benefits of the special breathing technique taught in the course to help relieve depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and anxiety.

One of those is Dr. Richard Brown, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After Brown published a book in 1999 about holistic approaches to depression, people from the “Art of Living” contacted him and explained their program. Impressed with what he heard, Brown later began recommending the program to many of his patients.

“Many of them were transformed,” Brown says. “I didn’t expect that.”

Brown eventually took the course, then started teaching the program to, among others, fellow mental health professionals in New York. He’s also become the program’s main spokesman in the medical community.

Earlier this year, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey on Americans’ use of alternative and complementary medical therapies and found that 12 percent of adults reported that they had done some type of breathing exercises in the past year.

Studies of yoga, which places a lot of emphasis on breath, have demonstrated its effect on reducing blood pressure, relieving anxiety and boosting the immune system. Eastern exercises such as tai chi and qi gong also incorporate focused and deep abdominal breathing.

But it is difficult to design a research study that would weigh the health benefits of purposeful breathing techniques by themselves.

The Art of Living is a meditation and yoga practice started by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (he is no relation to Ravi Shankar, the Grammy Award-winning sitarist who rose to international fame when Beatles star George Harrison became his student). The 48-year-old Art of Living founder once studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru famous for teaching Transcendental Meditation. Art of Living’s Shankar says the centerpiece of his breathing program known as the Sudarshan Kriya came to him in 1982, during a 10-day period of solitary silence.

As Shankar tells it, during his time of solitude, he perceived that the different rhythms of breath had a connection with different states of mind. He came to believe that this practice could help people with their suffering, and so began to teach the breathing technique to others.

Today, the Art of Living Foundation claims that its volunteers have taught 2 million to 3 million people in 142 countries. The course includes 16 to 20 hours of instruction in a simple breathing technique that can be practiced daily at home. About 50,000 people have gone through the program in the United States, the foundation says.

John Osborne, president of the Art of Living Foundation in the U.S., believes the course has grown in popularity because it fits the needs of the times. The breathing, he says, offers a powerful way to counter stress, and the course’s spiritual lessons appeal to people who may be feeling a sense of alienation and powerlessness.

The program received a publicity boost after 9/11, when the Art of Living ran a full-page ad in the New York Times a month after the terrorist attacks, offering the course free of charge to New Yorkers. Ten teachers were flown in from around the country, and during the next several months, more than 1,000 people, including firefighters and police officers, took the course.

Before beginning the class in West Los Angeles, all students pay $250, commit to completing the course and sign a non-disclosure statement, promising not to reveal the contents of the course.

The technique “is simple,” Osborne says. He adds somewhat cryptically: “But if done wrong, people might try it at home and they might hurt themselves.”

The teachers, Josette Wermuth, an instructor at Los Angeles High School, and Phylis LeBourgeouis, a lab technician at the University of California, Los Angeles, tell the class to avoid alcohol for the duration of the course and to stick to a vegetarian diet.

There is a strong touchy-feely aspect to the course. The teachers seem to glow with happiness, and they never stop smiling. We begin by walking around the room, looking into one another’s eyes and saying, “I belong to you.” Over the next six days, we sit in small groups and talk about expectations, responsibility, happiness. The intimate philosophical discussions initially make some students uncomfortable.

On the first two days, we learn the “pranayams” three positions of sectional breathing. All three positions hands on hips; thumbs in the armpits, elbows folded out; arms folded above our heads involve inhaling, holding and slowly releasing the breath. Then we do a fourth breath work, called ‘bellows breath,’ in which we shoot our arms overhead to move energy through the body. The deep breathing of the “pranayams,” as well as the bellows breath, is based on ancient yogic techniques.

It is not until the four-hour weekend sessions that we learn the Sudarshan Kriya, the active breathing technique that is the heart of the course and is, according to the Art of Living Foundation, unique.

Before we begin, our teachers tell us our hands might grow numb, our body temperatures might drop. It is the middle of a stifling heat wave, sticky by 10 a.m. Someone opens the windows. Shankar, we are told, has decreed that the Kriya must always be done with fresh air.

With that, Wermuth slips in a cassette tape of the guru. From far away, Shankar begins to guide us through the breathing in his melodic voice. We breathe in cycles, slow, faster, fast, until it feels like controlled hyperventilation.

“The rhythm of the breath is linked to emotions,” Wermuth tells us. “There is a specific rhythm for every shade of emotion.”

At the end, we lie on our backs.

The second day, we do the Kriya, the effect is more dramatic. A few people cry. One man says his hand became immobile; another says he felt temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Our teachers don’t explain much about why this might be happening. But clearly, something seems to be going on.

Shankar recommends students carry on the breathing practice for at least six months. The daily regimen takes about 30 minutes.

By the end of the six-day course in West Los Angeles, some students already were reporting changes.

Rasik Raniga, a hotel manager who took the course hoping for relief from asthma, claimed he already was able to cut down on the use of his inhaler. Michael Miller, a home builder who said he had been feeling depressed, found himself feeling better after three days. Analilia Silva, a businesswoman who came to the course at the suggestion of a friend, described the change as subtle: “It’s like when you start exercising,” she said. “And you suddenly feel better but you don’t know why.”

Original article no longer available

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