Transcendental Meditation and PTSD
Podcast #109 — Aired November 7, 2016

In honor of Veterans Day, our guest this week on BetterWorldians Radio is retired US Army Reserve Colonel Dr. Brian Rees. Dr. Rees will tell listeners about his experience with Transcendental Meditation (TM) and how the practice is helping combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Rees will explain how TM significantly reduces anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of PTSD and how veterans can get connected with a TM teacher.

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Colonel (Ret.) Brian Rees, M.D.
Author, Detained

Dr. Rees received his medical degree and master’s degree in public health from Tulane University and is a board certified family physician. He retired from from the US Army Reserve as a Colonel after 37 years of service. A graduate of the US Army War College, Dr. Rees is a veteran of five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent eight years in hospital commands. He has also researched and written about the promotion of soldier resilience and resolution of PTSD, most recently as lead author of two published studies about the effects of Transcendental Meditation practice in resolving post traumatic stress in Congolese refugees. His most recent book, Detained was published in 2015. Currently he serves as Director of Operation Warrior Wellness of the David Lynch Foundation, and as National Director of TM4Vets, enhancing the availability of the Transcendental Meditation program for veterans and service personnel.

 

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Welcome to Better Worldians radio. Better Worldians radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. I am Ray Hansell, joined today by my co-host Mary Sue Hansell. Better Worldians radio is brought to you by Better Worldians foundation and is co-hosted by the family team that created the popular, social game on Facebook called A Better World. A Better World rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. Today, over 40 million good deeds have been done in a Better World by than more than 4 million people in over 100 countries. Now today on Better Worldians radio, we are speaking with retired US Army Reserve Colonel Dr. Brian Rees. We met Dr. Reese recently at a presentation on how Transcendental Meditation is helping our veterans and we invited him to be a guest for this special episode in honor of our upcoming veterans day. Dr. Reese, received his medical degree and Masters Degree in Public Health in Tulane University and is a board-certified family physician. A graduate of the US Army War College, Dr. Reese is a veteran of five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and spent eight years in hospital commands. He also has researched and written about the promotion of soldier resilience and resolution of PTSD, most recently as lead author of two published studies about the effects of Transcendental Meditation practice in resolving post-traumatic stress in Congolese refugees. His most recent book, Detained was published in 2015. Currently serves as the Director of Operation Warrior Wellness of the David Lynch Foundation and as a National Director of TM4 Vets, enhancing the availability of Transcendental Meditation programs for veterans and service personnel.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, Doctor Rees. Welcome to Better Worldians Radio.

Dr. Rees
Thank you very much. Good to be here.

MarySue Hansell
Glad to have you. Now you are a retired Colonel Army Reserve Doctor. Can you tell our listeners a bit about your experience overseas?

Dr. Rees
Well, 9/11 happened I was in a private practice here in San Luis, Obispo California and I knew that deployments were coming and indeed they did so, I spent 5 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know, in some ways it was great. Some ways it was a very difficult. Family separation is difficult and of course all the things that one would- might associate with being in a war zone can be challenging. My assignments mostly were taking care of detainees as it turned out which was also challenging but interesting. I spent time at Abu Ghraib and at the detainee facility in Parwan Province in Afghanistan, then also in Kandahar with a Civil Affairs Battalion which was a different, very interesting assignment. It was quite- it was varied and interesting. I had an opportunity to serve with lot of wonderful men and women.

MarySue Hansell
Yes Sir. As Ray mentioned, previously we saw your presentation. It really was quite something. I was glad to have seen it. Now can you tell our listeners about what Transcendental Meditation is? And how it became part of your personal life?

Dr. Rees
Well, Transcendental Meditation (TM) it's a mental technique. Its practiced for 20 minutes twice a day. Just seated comfortably in a chair with eyes closed. Its easy to learn. Its effortless to perform. In my own personal experience, I've learnt it long time ago. I was a freshman in college. It was just by word of mouth. A friend of a friend had learnt TM. It sounded interesting so I thought well, to give that a go and I was instructed. The course takes about 4 days, about an hour, hour and a half each day, four days consecutively. It was very simple, very easy. It wasnt really what I expected. It was very different so I had to adjust myself to think, if I am going to continue to do this. It took about two weeks in my experience before I noticed that there were just very significant changes in my outlook. I hadn't really appreciated it before but I was very pessimist I think. This was back when the war in Vietnam was still going on and society, then we thought it was very polarized which kind of duplicated back these days.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Dr. Rees
But it seemed a very difficult time and yet it just made me feel a lot better. A lot more optimistic about everything that was going on so I thought just if they can do that, I am going to stick with it and I have for all these years.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, we have to share with our listeners that both Ray and I have been TM meditators for about, oh almost 6 months now and I do some of the shifts happening that you've mentioned. Little more positive and more uplifting in your outlook. Now how do you believe practicing TM helped you during your deployments?

Dr. Rees
Well, in fairness it may be hard to say exactly because I didnt have any deployments where I wasnt practicing TM that I can compare the deployments where I was practicing TM so I was practicing it through all of them. But I think it helped immeasurably. One of the things that you try to do when you get into combat zone, you recognize that- and similarly in many careers in medicine certainly, there are going to be sometimes when your schedule is going to be dictated to you and its going to become very irregular and you may have to work straight through for 24 or 36 or 48hours or whatever you not get a change to take rest. But by and large most of the time, you have a fairly regular routine and in fact, often in a war zone if your routine can be unpredictable. Unpredictable work schedule, you dont really have any family obligations, there is no vacations, you are not really paying bills and doing all the things that seem to occupy our daily routine. You enter, what we call a battle rhythm where you try to have a predictable and healthy schedule each day which for most people are eating healthy. Your meals are provided for you. You dont have to cook anything. You can either stay up all night and play video games and become stressed and talk to people back home or you go to bed early, you get up early, you go to the gym and you have regular exercise, you eat healthy. I found that TM just fit very well into that routine and then when something awful would happen, we would take casualties or we have service members killed or what whatever the case maybe, rather than kind of spiral down into misery, you have this technique that you can perform twice a day to kind of reset things and put some thread back on the tire. I felt that it helped immeasurably.

MarySue Hansell
I wanted to talk to you a little bit about how TM can help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now to start out can you tell our listeners what exactly is PTSD?

Dr. Rees
Well, PTSD with [00:08:44] is post-traumatic stress disorder so its a diagnosis and we are kind of stuck with D, the disorder part of that diagnosis because it is part of the diagnostic and statistical manual version 5 which is the Bible for psychiatric diagnoses and trauma related, anxiety related diagnoses falls in that category in medicine. Its a diagnosis that someone may develop if they are exposed to life threatening situation where they feel that their lives are the lives of someone else that they are with or have been at risk. This very highly charged stressful situation can leave a very deep impression which then can give raise to a whole constellation of symptoms and basically the diagnosis is based upon the constellation of symptoms. But, thats kind of the medical modern 20th and 21st century way of looking at this. Another way of looking at it, which is probably closer to reality is that post-traumatic stress, its not really a disorder. Its kind of something we would expect that if someone goes to war and has these very intense experiences, they are going to be changed by those experiences. Some of them can be moral injuries, spiritual injuries having to take someones life or having to witness the wounding or death of friends and colleagues. Those experiences are going to change people. Particularly if we combine that with the training that service personnel have gone through, put them through that experience in combat and then transplant them back into their civilian lives. What they have been trained to do and whats happened to them arent necessarily congruent with the types of things they have to deal with in civilian lives. Its sort of a mismatch. Not really whats wrong with somebody, thats what disorder seems to imply but its more just what happened to that person. When it comes to addressing the benefits of meditation and so forth, that we'll talk more about it is a matter of re-purposing the training with soldiers have been through so with that training and those experiences can be employed and re-purposed into something beneficial. Its recognized in many cultures throughout civilization that an experience of combat can lead to post traumatic growth rather than post-traumatic stress, if its managed appropriately and if its reinforced appropriately, it can be a beneficial experience which can lead to wisdom and leadership in society.

MarySue Hansell
You know Colonel, how prevalent is PTSD? Do you have any percentages for it? You do hear about it but I never really knew how many were involved.

Dr. Rees
Well, quite a few. Currently, its estimated at the percentages of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who would meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress, its around- between 15 and 20%.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, thats a lot.

Dr. Rees
Its a big number and if you think that a couple of million people have served, we are talking about between a quarter million and a half a million people, thats in these current wars and of course we have probably as many from war in Vietnam. Of course, as time goes we are losing veterans from Korea in World War II but quite a few of them of course also suffered from post-traumatic stress.

MarySue Hansell
Now how can TM help these veterans?

Dr. Rees
Well, I think there are probably two ways of looking at that. One is, simple way that we look at TM in our modern culture and modern medical model. That is, its a stress reduction technique. It provides a very deep state of rest. The mind has an active state with which we are all familiar because thats what we attend to most of the time, day in and day out from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night we are busy thinking about things. We have this very active aspect of mind. But it also has a silent aspect. That is something that we cannot too experience very much. We dont seem to value it that much in our culture. But its available. The mind and body are intimately connected so if the mind settles down which is what this technique allows people to do. When the mind settles down the body takes a very deep state of rest and the rest is very restorative and can release deeply rooted stresses that can occur not just in combat but also just in the slow burn of stressful modern living. Thats one simple, somewhat superficial way of looking at it but most of the studies that have been done with regard to TM over the decades have documented that it provides us very deep state of rest and rest helps to release and address stress. Thats one simple way of looking at it. But I think another subtler way is to recognize that this active state of mind when we allow the mind to settle down in the meditation and become less and less active, it can become very inactive, very quiet and can experience its own inner nature which is free of all of the clutter and cluster of thinking. We transcend gross conscious thinking and we can transcend the subtler levels of thought and can transcend thought altogether and just experience the source of thought in this field of consciousness which is at the basis of all our thoughts and experience. Experience which is very subtle, very charming, its an inner, restful alertness, wakefulness without content, you are not asleep, you are awake inside but not thinking all these thoughts. That experience is a field in which there are no conflicts or there is nothing irreconcilable. There is none of this, you know I should have done this and I could have done that and I just cant live with the fact that my friend was killed and I wasnt and I should have been able to do something that I didnt or I did something and after I pulled the trigger I couldnt bring that around back and it hit the worst person and I have to live with that. All these things that can be very awful. But veterans [00:15:55] is fine. Its very difficult to live with. When they experience that very subtle experience inside which is without conflict, it has a restorative effect and help them to appreciate not on the level of thinking about it but on the level of their own experience. That their own inner nature is free of conflict and that seems to be very restorative and I think thats at the basis of the benefits that we see for veterans with post-traumatic stress.

Raymond Hansell
Well, both Mary Sue and I can speak to the efficacy in a situation which is not a war zone so we can only imagine the positive impact that the kinds of things that we are experiencing in our just day to day stressful world that we live in here could be so much more effective and helpful in this strifeful centers of war zones for our veterans so, we are going to talk more with Dr. Brian Rees about how Transcendental Meditation can help and actually is helping veterans who are suffering from PTSD, in a moment. But right now, I'd like to take a moment, a brief break to tell our listeners a little bit our game on Facebook called a Better World. A Better World encourages habits of goodness, positive mindsets and giving to social causes to make a positive difference in the world. Players in the game do things like express gratitude, share random acts of kindness and send get well notes to real world sick children and many many more. Each month, we partner with a different charity and challenge our players to do a certain number of good deeds within the game. When they do, which they have always done, we release funds to our charity partner of the month. We'd like to congratulate our players for a successful partnership with Integral Heart foundation. Because our players completed over 150,000 good deeds last month, we release funds to provide meals for 60 students in the Guatemala facility for the entire month. We are excited to announce that Dining for Women is our charity partner of the month for November when our players reach our do-good goal there. We'll release funds for grass root projects in developing countries to empower women and girls and promote gender equality. You can find out more at abetterworld.com. Now lets get back to our conversation with Dr. Brian Rees.

Dr. Rees
Yes, there is. We have a number of studies, probably about half a dozen or so at this point which have documented that TM can help post-traumatic stress. Some of these are fairly high quality which you had mentioned in the introduction that I had an opportunity to participate and had to do with Congolese refugees in Uganda. There we took these refugees and randomized them either to learn TM or to be on a weightless control. After 30-days, 90% of the ones that had been randomized to learn TM had been instructed in TM, had marked reduction in their post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms matter of factly, fell from the highly-stressed level down to a level that is recognized as being quote-unquote non-symptomatic. They had marked improvement. There symptoms were well sustained over 4 months and the follow up study we would do some of our controls and replicated our 30-day data. Also, found that 2/3rds of the benefits that was going to come within that first month actually occurred even the first 10 days. It was very, very prompt. Its been studied in the VA and among veterans of Iran and Afghanistan. Its been studied in Vietnam, Veterans. First study was published back in 1985 so we have some good data to show that it helps consistently. It has been shown to help. Now those data, the volume of research is not as extensive. It doesnt involve the hundreds of people who've been involved in the studies that have looked at the current gold standard treatments that are being offered in the VA in DoD. But there was a study just last year which showed that the current gold standard treatments for veterans who has the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. Who complete, who are enrolled in those treatments and complete the best treatments that the current medical model has to offer. 2/3rds of those veterans retain the diagnosis after they've completed treatment. Our current gold standard treatments are helpful for some people. They offer by people who are highly motivated to do good but they are not quite satisfactory. I think we do have good evidence, the effect size in our studies with TM are actually as large if not larger than those gold standard treatments so I think it needs to be in the conversation for veterans with post-traumatic stress.

Raymond Hansell
Absolutely. Can you share a story of someone you've worked with who has personally benefitted from TM?

Dr. Rees
Well, I could share a number of them. I think for privacy sake, maybe I'll sort of smoosh a couple of few guys together. But let me mention a couple of guys and they had a similar experience. Its between combat veterans who had lost friends and both of them as it turns out had the unfortunate experience of being in ambushes and the order was, if anything is moving out there thats not us. Because we are all here, so anybody else are bad guys and go ahead and fire. As fortune, would have it, they saw a movement, saw the person and fired and it turned out to be a child, who obviously isnt what they had in mind when they pulled the trigger. But once that round starts going down range theres nothing you can do about it. They had to live with that. Thats just about as bad it gets, as far as you sign up, you go through whatever you went through in your childhood and pre-morbid post-traumatic stress is a common experience specially in our volunteer force which is sort of economically driven to select individuals who are not rich and well off and many of them dont have the best of the background that they've come from. Before they entered of the military and they entered with the idea of serving and they go to serve and then they have some just awful experience like this in combat which just exacerbates this post-traumatic stress. Thats something thats hard to talk yourself through and talk yourself out of. Thats what happened. There is no getting around it. Theres no undoing it. They just felt terrible and the curious thing, just kind of fall through on that, each of them of course feels terrible about themselves and has no excuse what he did. Of course, if you talk to the one guy about the other guy and say, well this guy also did this. He should probably feel awful too. Of course, no he shouldnt feel awful. There is nothing he could have done about it. It absolutely was not his fault. Its just the [00:24:04] was dealt and they are exactly right about that. They'll be very unforgiving to themselves. At any case, they've learnt TM. Have this experience without talking about, you shouldnt feel guilty about this. It wasnt your fault. It was just fortunes of war and all that sort of thing. Which are just on the superficial level of talking and it can be helpful but it really doesnt get it that core level where the stress is located deep inside. But when they have this experience of this field of consciousness which lies at the source of thought and underlies all of the experience and in that field- all of these conflicts are unified and reconciled. Its not an intellectual exercise. Its just something that they begin to experience and the qualities of that infuse into their lives. Doesnt mean that it didnt happen. Doesnt mean that they cant recognize what an awful thing it was. The memories are still there. But its just the difference between having a memory still there and having to live there, intrusively day in and day out. Having these thoughts coming out throughout the day and interrupting sleep at night. That was very liberating for them.

Raymond Hansell
There was just a PBS special on the other night about a specific portion of the Korean war that when McCarthy was still involved and some of them just the terrible-weeks long attacks and massive casualties on both sides and just a trauma. The people that were actually asked to participate in recounting their memories were in their 70's and I would venture to say maybe at this point in their 80's or so and when they recounted these battles, it was as fresh as if they just came from it. You could see that, had they had this opportunity all these years, even going back that far, as I think you mentioned earlier about the Korean war and Vietnam war etc. that there could have been an impact, so I am really excited to see as we move forward to how we can bring TM to the veterans in much bigger way. Now for the veterans suffering from PTSD, to get involved with this, theres some cost usually associated. How do they get underway with this?

Dr. Rees
Probably the best way to start would be to go to the website, tm.org and that will get them plugged in, they can look at whats there, there are links there to TM for veterans. Also, they could go to the David Lynch foundation website and there are links there to the military and they can go through there and without having to talk to anybody if they dont want to just in and have someone try to sell them something, they dont have to do that. They can just go to this website, look through and look at veterans from their own service and their own rank and their own wars are saying about what their experience has been. If it resonates with them, there is an opportunity to put your zip code in and it will search and it will put you in touch with a teacher. Now typically there is a fee to learn TM because TM teachers have to live and pay the rent and all that, like anywhere else but we do have the still in profit [00:27:44] modelled out, that takes away through the day with Lynch foundation which wherein, we try to raise money and then have that money pay for the cost for instruction for populations at risk such as veterans and first responders and runaways and other people who are at need for this technique that may not be as a means to pay for it. Of course, if somebody is gone into business and he is a millionaire, then go ahead and pay full retail, do it but its a policy of the organizations that are teaching TM, to do their very best not to turn away veterans[00:28:24] who have been pre-successful at that without being able to raise money to pay money for instruction for any veteran who wants to learn TM.

Raymond Hansell
For our listeners we recently highlighted a Bob Roth who has up to David Lynch foundation, so you can also go to abetterworldians.com and see or listen to the program that highlights the work that David Lynch, the famous film producer has done to bring TM to the masses of people that might otherwise not afford it and I think the veterans are a part and parcel of that. I encourage you to take a look at that. Now you've wrote a book called the Detained which you profiled at this presentation recently that we saw was really good. Excellent book. Also, you presented it in such a way that it made for a compelling- but long away you also indicated that you are donating all the profits from the book. Can you tell our listeners about the two programs in TM that will benefit and how people can purchase the book?

Dr. Rees
All right. Well to start with the last point first, as far as purchasing it you can do it online at amazon or any online retailer with your favorite one, you can go ahead and find it there. Again, the title of it is, Detained, I am the author. The subtitle is e-mails and using from a spiritual journey through of the great Kandahar and other garden stops. Subtitle will make it fairly unique. Not many other books named that. You can get hold of the book that way or you can walk into a brick and mortar store and say you dont have it on the shelf, then you can ask them and they'll order it for you. Whichever way you want to do it. Thats the way to get hold of it. All of the profits from the book will go to support programs for veterans that are looking to make transcendental meditation more available and accessible for veterans. It would go either to the David Lynch foundation or to TM4 Vets. Those are the two organizations that are most involved in promoting this. David Lynch foundation is kind of a profit [00:30:41] that looks to raise money to help pay for instructions and then TM4 Vets is the organization that actually does the execution and to get the teachers in the right place for institutional programs and can help to fund money out for scholarships and grants and so forth to help local centers support their local veteran population.

Raymond Hansell
Excellent. We ask this question of all our guest each week, so how do you hope that TM can help make the world a better place for veterans with PTSD?

Dr. Rees
Well, there are three things that come to mind. One is, what we've already talked about. This remediation of post-traumatic stress which by helping re-address these deeply rooted stresses allows these veterans to become the people that they really are. To become the people, they want to be. They want to be loving husband or wife, father, mother. Thats the person they want to be and yet this stress gets in their way and there training that they've had that hasnt been repurposed. It hasnt been channeled in the right way tends to flare up at times that seem to be inappropriate for our civilian lives. As we remediate that, release that stress and can repurpose that training, then we find that people get along better, they become that loving husband and father, they get along better with their family members and they dont self-medicate and isolate. They become more engaged and they have this wealth of experience and they have been to the most severe in school they have already they contribute to society and demonstrate leadership in society once they kind of get out from behind this 8 balls. Remediation of post-traumatic stress is one  area that I think it can help. Another area is the prevention of post-traumatic stress. Meditation traditionally, tradition that it comes from Vedic tradition of India. It was first given to the warrior cast. It was out of a recognition that warriors are the ones who need it the most. They have to be able to be orderly inside on the level of their own awareness and they have to be able to propagate that orderliness within society and then if this order breaks out they have to be the ones to restore order and sometimes that involves close combat within enemy and if you are going to do that and perhaps has to take someone elses life, you need to have the broadest and most subtle awareness to be able to do that only when its appropriate, put limits on it. Do it in the right way and then recover from that. I think my fantasy if it is, time goes on, a decade from now or two or however many, that transcendental meditation will be available as part of entry level training for anyone who is going to become a soldier, sailor, airman, marine or policeman. Because they are often subject to the same stresses that people have in combat.

Raymond Hansell
Certainly.

Dr. Rees
Then there is a chapter in the book which derives from a research paper that I wrote for the Masters Degree which you get when you graduate from War College which has to do with the effects of group practice of an advanced technique of transcendental meditation, which has been shown not only to have these beneficial effects restoring order and allow meditators family and small group that he works with and lives with, but groups of persons practicing this advanced technique can be inserted into hot stops and this has been done over 51 times and has reproducibly have this effect in a very predictable way. Having these groups going to areas of stress and distress in combat zones and elsewhere, they have the effect of changing the trends of time within that society, decreasing combat thus decreasing conflict, promoting coherence, promoting beneficial effects in society. That would be a great effect to have and we could reduce these stresses that tend to lead to the suicidal outbreaks which tend to put our young men and women at risk and put them in harms way in combat zones.

Raymond Hansell
Excellent. Really wonderful work. You can learn more about Dr. Rees's work by going to TM4Vets.org. Dr. Rees, thanks so much for joining us today, on Better Worldians radio. This was a great program and I think that there the work that you are doing and the TM is doing is extraordinary so I am happy to be a part of profiling on todays special broadcast in honor our Veterans Day, upcoming celebration.

Dr. Rees
Ray, thank you very much. It was great to be with you.

Raymond Hansell
Very welcome. Very welcome. Better Worldians radio is brought to you by Better Worldians foundation. A 50 (c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. Essentially, we believe in planting flowers not just pulling weeds so we focus on positive thinking, positive values and positive actions. In short, our vision is to bring out the better worldian in everybody. So that we can all make it a better world. But we cant do it all, without your help. Donations support our Better Worldians radio podcast as well as go towards developing new features like articles, videos, blogs and more. Go to betterworldians.com to view our many many or to listen to our many many broadcasts. I think we've had over a 110 or 115 of them so far and become a part of this important mission. Until next time, everyone please be a better worldian. [Music]