Have you ever heard someone use the expression just breathe? Well, they weren’t kidding. Using meditation as a basis for breathing can reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Meditation is a viable treatment for PTSD because it is a practice that can be done from the comfort of our home, it is cost-effective, and has a tremendous amount of health benefits.
Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, which can include techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. Meditation often involves an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way and is often used to clear the mind. Meditation has a calming effect and directs awareness inward until pure awareness is achieved, described as "being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself." There are many different types of mediation but one form of meditation which has increasingly becoming popular is breathing-based meditation.
In a recent research study by the Journal of Traumatic Stress, U.S. Military Veterans participated in a randomized controlled study focused on breathing-based meditation. The findings of this study suggested that the breathing–based meditation used, Sudarshan Kriya, reduced PTSD symptoms, anxiety, self-reported hyperarousal symptoms and re-experiencing trauma. Sudarshan Kriya breathing-based meditation is a powerful yet simple rhythmic breathing technique that incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath, harmonizing the body, mind, and emotions. These findings are promising because PTSD symptoms influence the quality of life in returning veterans.
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Another popular type of mediation is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is designed to increase awareness of the present moment by focusing the person’s attention on the breath. There are several types of mindfulness meditation that differ slightly in posture, hand or leg positions, and eyes being open or closed, but all universally involve the person sitting still and observing the breath. When thoughts arise, the meditator is instructed to neutrally acknowledge their thoughts as they come and go, but to always bring attention back to the simple process of air going in and out, in a natural and relaxed way.
A study that focused on an 8-week mindfulness meditation found that participating Veterans demonstrated significant improvements in depression, PTSD, anxiety symptoms and overall mental health-related quality of life. According to the Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging Journal, Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital suggest that participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress and that spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises can have noticeable effects on the brain.
PTSD symptoms cannot only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program, but this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in parts of the brain that process memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. Connecting to these mindful awareness opportunities may provide lasting effects and comfort for those suffering from PTSD.
A recent article from the Huffington Post revealed that Camp Pendleton was testing "Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training" for their curriculum. These exercises would not only promote stress reduction, but would also enhance the service members' performance.
For those looking to try meditation on their own, there are quite a few resources for beginners. Headspace, MindBodyGreen, and UCLA Mindful Research Awareness Center can give you an idea of breathing-based and mindful meditation.