What is meditation?
Simply put, meditation is the process of training your mind to pay attention to the present moment. Meditation is not an attempt to "turn off" your thoughts or feelings, but rather to observe them without judgment and allow them to be a part of your life. As strange as it sounds, scientists have connected meditation with reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression as well as a better overall sense of well-being.
Meditation & PTSD
In recent years, the connection between meditation and PTSD has been rigorously studied. A 2017 study found that compassion meditation had a nearly universal impact on veterans experiencing PTSD and depression. Nearly all reported a reduction in their symptoms of both conditions. A 2016 study found that transcendental meditation reduced the need for psychotropic drugs required for PTSD and anxiety in a group of veterans. For many veterans, meditation is a way to deactivate the fight-or-flight response so common to those with PTSD. It provides them with a strategy they can use anytime, anywhere to face feelings of panic, anxiety, depression, or irritability.
Types of Meditation
There are six types of meditation that are used to bring a sense of calm and awareness to one's body and mind. While many types have been studied relative to PTSD, all are effective at lowering heart rate, reducing anxiety, and restoring a sense of calm.
Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist teachings that emphasize awareness without judgment. The most popular type of meditation in the west, you practice mindfulness meditation by allowing thoughts to pass through your mind. You don't pass judgment on those thoughts, nor do you follow them to a seemingly logical conclusion. You simply acknowledge them, make a note of any patterns you may observe, and allow them to leave your mind. It helps to close your eyes and pay attention only to your breathing.
Spiritual meditation is similar to prayer in that you focus on the silence around you in connection to God or the Universe. In many cases, essential oils or incense is used to help clear your mind and help you focus on something other than silence as you settle into the practice.
For those who require additional focus in their lives, the practice of focused meditation may be ideal. It begins by focusing on what you are experiencing in one of your five senses. You may want to focus on something internal like your heartbeat or breath, but beginners often find their minds wandering during the practice. Focusing on something external like counting beads, listening to water, or looking into a fire can help you calm your mind.
While yoga is the most common form of movement meditation, any form of movement can offer you a chance to meditate. Walking, tai chi, or even running can prove meditative if done with the goal of silence.
A mantra is a phrase, word, or sound repeated either internally or out loud. The idea behind mantra meditation is that repeating a mantra for a time will allow you to become more aware of and in tune with your environment. For some people, focusing on a mantra is much easier than focusing on their breath. It's especially effective for anyone who does not like silence.
Transcendental meditation is ideal for people who love structure. Originated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, TM uses a series of words to help you focus. While TM and mantra meditation sounds similar, those who practice TM are given a specific mantra based on their gender, life experiences, birth year, or other factors. It is also typically taught by a certified TM instructor in four sessions. Sitting comfortably, TM is practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day as a way of managing stress, PTSD, anxiety, or depression.
Meditation is a simple, easy way to offer a sense of control and balance to veterans struggling with PTSD. In addition to helping them return to the rest and recover phase after a fight-or-flight experience, meditation offers a safe, effective way to reclaim control over a seemingly uncontrollable condition.