Matt Smith had never heard of Transcendental Meditation a few months ago, but now it's giving him his life back.
When he was discharged from the Army last summer, after more than 10 years of active-duty service and deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Smith -- a local veteran who asked that his real name not be used -- sought help for post traumatic stress disorder at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Iowa City.
He said they gave him medications, which he'd rather not take. Then one VA counselor suggested he try TM. "I had never heard of it before," he said.
Mr. Smith said he researched it online and learned how to do it in Davenport in mid-March.
He said he saw a big improvement within a few days. "I know it's going to get better. I just want to become me again."
Veteran Jerry Yellin, 92, also said he saw an improvement in his PTSD within a few days of learning TM. He now lives in Florida, but he lived in Fairfield, Iowa -- the U.S. headquarters for TM -- for 26 years.
He said TM finally gave him the "relief" he had been seeking for 30 years, ever since he was discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1945, after the end of World War II.
Mr. Yellin said he joined the Air Corps (now the Air Force) when he was 18, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
After training, he began flying missions in the Pacific, and on Aug. 14, 1945, Capt. Yellin flew the last combat mission of the war over the Japanese island of Honshu. He was discharged in December of that year.
"One day a fighter pilot, the next a civilian," he wrote on his website, captainjerryyellin.com/about-jerry-yellin/.
"No buddies, no airplane, nothing to hold on to, and no one to talk to. Life, as it was for me from 1945 to 1975, was empty. The highs I had experienced in combat became the lows of daily living.
"I had absolutely no connection to my parents, my sister, my relatives, or my friends. I listened to some of the guys I knew talk about their experiences in combat, and I knew they had never been in a battle, let alone a war zone," he wrote. "No one that I knew who had seen their friends die could talk about it.
"The Army Air Corps had trained me and prepared me to fly combat missions, but there was no training on how to fit into society when the war was over," he wrote.
"I was depressed, unhappy, and lonely, even though I was surrounded by a loving wife and four sons. That feeling of disconnect, lack of emotions, restlessness, empty feeling of hopelessness lasted until 1975" -- the year he learned TM.
Mr. Smith joined the Army in 2004 and was a member of the military police for the first three years. He was sent to Iraq for 15 months in 2006 and 2007, where he was involved in many mortar attacks and firefights.
He signed on for another stint and was sent to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.
Mr. Smith, 31, now works as a civilian for the Army at the Rock Island Arsenal.
He said his post traumatic stress started when he saw a fellow soldier shot in the head by a sniper in Iraq. He was the truck commander, but he "froze" and couldn't direct his men's response, although all did their jobs properly, he said.
Another time, Mr. Smith was in a convoy headed to Baghdad when the lead truck hit an explosively formed projectile, or penetrator (EFP). He said although no one was killed, he froze again when he saw the devastating injuries some of the men suffered.
On top of incidents like those, he said, soldiers often were sleep deprived because of recurring rocket and mortar attacks.
The Army and Department of Veterans Affairs are studying how TM can help active military members and veterans with PTSD.
Mr. Smith said they are teaching TM to some soldiers so they can deal with the stress of war as it occurs, rather than after they are released. It should be taught to all soldiers, he said, and those with PTSD shouldn't be afraid or embarrassed to discuss it.
Mr. Yellin said TM, not drugs, is the answer for PTSD. Millions are spent on antidepressants for those with PTSD, but treating the problem with drugs just creates drug addicts, he said. "TM is a natural process. It's quick. It's easy, and it works."
Mr. Yellin -- who was inducted into the U.S. Air Force Hall of Fame in 2014, and will be honored at the World War II Museum in New Orleans in June -- now gives 20 to 25 talks around the country each year on treating PTSD with TM.
The David Lynch Foundation (davidlynchfoundation.org) helps military and ex-military members and their families get access to TM classes through its Operation Warrior Wellness program (operationwarriorwellness.org).
The foundation estimates that more than 500,000 troops deployed since 2001 suffer from PTSD.
A study titled “Impact of Transcendental Meditation on Psychotropic Medication Use Among Active Duty Military Service Members With Anxiety and PTSD" was published in the January issue of the journal Military Medicine.
The study included 74 active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety disorder. Many had experienced multiple deployments and were seeking treatment for PTSD at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Fort Gordon, Ga.
For the study, half the service members practiced TM in addition to their other therapy, while the other half did not. After a month, 83.7 percent of the meditators had stabilized and reduced or stopped their use of psychotropic drugs to treat their PTSD.
In the group that did not meditate, 59.4 percent had stabilized and reduced or stopped taking psychotropic drugs for PTSD, while 40.5 percent had begun taking higher dosages of medication.
Similar percentages were found in a six-month follow-up.
"Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation provides a habit of calming down and healing the brain,” the study's lead author, Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, said in a news release. He is a physiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, and a TM practitioner.
"TM has given me my life back," Mr. Smith said. "I can be a better husband, a better father and a better friend. Without TM, I think I would be on a roller coaster spiraling out of control."
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