WASHINGTON – Wild and reckless — that’s how Iraq Army veteran David George describes his lifestyle after returning from combat. He says he hit rock bottom after five years of living with untreated post traumatic stress disorder.
“I was really at a low point. I didn’t know if I was going to go drink until I was dead under a bridge or go to school. It was just one or the other,”says George, who was injured after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive at the gates of an American military base in Tel Afar, Iraq on Dec. 3, 2003.
A Maryland native, George says he heard a local radio commercial about a study paying veterans to try transcendendal meditation. Though he thought it sounded “hokey,” George called the number.
“The first time that I did it, I just remember a weight was lifted off my chest. I didn’t realize that the anxiety was crushing the life out of me,” George says.
He describes transcending thought for the first time as reaching the natural high he had been trying to attain previously with drugs and alcohol.
George is one of thousands of veterans finding transcendental meditation, or TM, as the answer to relieving their PTSD symptoms without losing independence.
Veterans spend a few hours learning how to meditate with certified TM instructors and can work on the skill independently after that. Veterans never have to take a pill or go through Veterans Affairs for health care, George says.
The meditation is done using a mantra specific to the individual. It is done sitting, with the eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day, says Sarina Grosswald, director of research for the David Lynch Foundation of Operation Warrior Wellness.
The exisiting science is so positive, the Department of Defense is investing in further study of TM. The DOD is providing a $2.4 million grant to study the effect of the TM technique among veterans at the San Diego VA Hospital.
“When the mind and body are relaxed, the body begins to renew, rejuveniate and heal itself,” says Grosswald.
In brain scans taken during TM, the prefrontal cortex of patients’ brains lit up, she says.
“The kind of symptoms that we see with PTSD, difficulty with memory, difficulty with impulse control, concentration, all of those things are a result of impairment to that part of the brain the prefrontal cortex,” Grosswald says.
While many find the idea of calming their mind daunting, George says it gets easier with practice.
“After two months I think, it kind of became easier. When I started my mantra it would be complete emptiness, time would completely go away and the next thing you know I had been doing it for a half hour and didn’t mean to,” George says.
TM has also been found to improve sleep, focus, memory and the overall immune system of the body.
D.C. Veterans Association members practicing the TM program are hosting a health conference in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday, Aug. 17.
Veterans who attend the event will be eligible to learn the TM technique for free through a grant from the David Lynch Foundation’s Operation Warrior Wellness.