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Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Speak with a medical professional before seeking treatment.

What can meditation help with?

PTSD, brain injury, anxiety, stress management, muscle tension, pain management, and post traumatic fatigue

What is meditation?

Meditation is a mental training and breathing practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. There are several types of meditation including: transcendental meditation (TM), mindfulness meditation, metta or loving-kindness meditation, progressive relaxation or body scan meditation, breath awareness meditation, kundalini yoga, and zen meditation.

After starting TM, my heart and mind were calmed. I had my first full night of sleep in 21 years. I have new goals in my life, and I haven’t stopped smiling ever since my first meditation.

Carlos, Veteran, Operation Desert Storm and Liberation of Kuwait

What is meditation like?

Meditation can take many forms but deep breathing is typically at the core of the practice. Some types of meditation may be used as stand alone exercises or in conjunction with breathing training such as visualization, affirmations, body scanning for areas of tension, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenics training, mindfulness and other active meditations etc. Meditation can be sitting still with your eyes closed focusing on breath, walking in nature, repeating mantras, or even yoga. Transcendental meditation involves mentally repeating a mantra or positive affirmation. Other techniques may incorporate the use of visual imagery. Mindful meditation teaches you to control your breathing and calm your mind, to become aware of your surroundings, and to relax your body.

Most meditation research with respect to TBI and PTSD has been done with regards to mindfulness. Mindfulness as a meditation can also be practiced in a number of ways. At the most basic level it involves paying attention to your breathing and the sensations in your body. However it can include any number of activities, such as eating an orange, taking a walk, washing the dishes, taking a shower, engaging in a hobby, etc. The point is to teach you how to stay fully attentive and submersed in whatever activity you are currently doing and to constantly redirect attention back to the current activity when distractions occur. To be fully present in an activity, you may be asked to take turns focusing attention to the sounds, sights, tastes, and feelings occurring in the moment and to not let your minds “engage” with intrusive thoughts that have nothing to do with the moment.

When I came back from Afghanistan, I was angry, depressed, and suicidal. Transcendental Meditation has lifted my depression, eased my pain and given me my life back.

Luke Jensen, Veteran, Operation Enduring Freedom

What qualities make a good meditation program?

An instructor-led program in-person or online, a self-guided course or book, an application on your phone, minimal distractions, and a supportive environment. Ideally, your meditation instructor would have experience working with people with PTSD or brain injury.

Why does meditation work?

While more research is needed to confirm its impact on PTSD and brain injury, the belief is that meditation helps to calm the mind, including helping to increase mental focus and tame emotional fluctuations. It can also promote self-compassion. Meditation may also play a factor in improving brain plasticity, which is the brain's ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.

Once the skill is mastered during formal meditation practice, its use can be generalized to help you remain focused, present, and actively engaged throughout daily life. For example, when you catch yourself getting distracted by anxious thoughts, you can use those thoughts as a trigger to help redirect and focus your attention back to the current activity. Mindfulness may also be helpful for someone who is depressed, as they often “miss out” on their own fun times because instead of living in the moment they are constantly caught up in a cycle of negative self-talk. For this reason, mindfulness is a common component of cognitive behavioral therapy.

How strong is the evidence for meditation?

Although still in the early stages, there is a lot of emerging research demonstrating the benefits of meditation and mindfulness for management of PTSD symptoms, TBI related symptoms, and as an effective component of trauma-based cognitive behavioral therapy.

A recent systematic review of previous literature in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that people with mild TBI who participated in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness-based interventions reported significant improvements in mental and physical health, cognitive performance, and quality of life.

A randomized controlled clinical trial published in Lancet Psychiatry found that transcendental meditation was about as effective as prolonged exposure therapy (a more traditional PTSD treatment) at reducing PTSD symptom severity.

A review of the research in 2017 published in Psychological Journal suggested mindfulness meditation is effective for helping with PTSD. More research needs to be done to fully assess how meditation affects those with TBI and PTSD, but preliminary research on the topic remains promising.

What do patients say?

[Meditation] is a skill I can take everywhere (even during a panic attack while driving) and it forces me to focus, concentrate on the present and remove the distractions and noise from my anxiety. It helps me sleep better, quietens my thoughts and helps me organize my responsibilities and obligations..

— Shannon M., a mother with TBI

 

When I came back from Afghanistan, I was angry, depressed, and suicidal. Transcendental Meditation has lifted my depression, eased my pain and given me my life back.

— Luke Jensen, Veteran, Operation Enduring Freedom

 

For the first time since my injury, I felt understood.

— meditation practitioner with a TBI

 

 

While I’m far from healed, meditation has helped me realize I am not my thoughts, nor am I my trauma.

— Sian Ferguson

After starting TM, my heart and mind were calmed. I had my first full night of sleep in 21 years. I have new goals in my life, and I haven’t stopped smiling ever since my first meditation.

— Carlos, Veteran, Operation Desert Storm and Liberation of Kuwait

What do experts say?

Mindfulness and TM are two approaches that have been evaluated in studies and have a growing body of support. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) recognizes meditation as an evidence-based complementary health approach for treatment of, among other conditions, TBI and PTSD. The VA bases their recommendation for meditation as a complementary treatment on its safety and evidence of benefits demonstrated by previous scientific research.

Where can I find more information?

David Lynch Foundation

LoveYourBrain

Where can I go to get this treatment?

TM for Veterans

Veterans PATH

Headspace (Free for military, veterans, and their families through Blue Star Families)

Sesame Street Workshop’s Monster Meditation (meditation for children)

LoveYourBrain Yoga and Meditation for Brain Injury (teacher training)

Practical exercises

There are several meditation videos, apps, and classes available online, many are free. Some programs are more guided than others. Find the method and style that helps you best.

A simple mindfulness meditation exercise:

  1. Find a quiet place.
  2. Get in a comfortable position, lying down or sitting. Use a chair or cushion if that helps.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. If you are seated, relax your shoulders.
  5. Relax your tongue from the roof of your mouth.
  6. Take a long slow breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on your breath. Notice how your belly moves out as you inhale and in as you exhale.
  7. If your mind happens to wander (which is normal!), notice it and re-focus on your breath.
  8. Continue for as long as you like.

References

Acabchuk, R. L., Brisson, J. M., Park, C. L., Babbott‐Bryan, N., Parmelee, O. A., & Johnson, B. T. (2020). Therapeutic Effects of Meditation, Yoga, and Mindfulness‐Based Interventions for Chronic Symptoms of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being.

Hilton, L., Maher, A. R., Colaiaco, B., Apaydin, E., Sorbero, M. E., Booth, M., Shanman, R. M., & Hempel, S. (2017). Meditation for posttraumatic stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(4), 453–460.

How to Use Mindfulness for PTSD. (2020, December 2). Verywell Mind.

Nidich, S., Mills, P. J., Rainforth, M., Heppner, P., Schneider, R. H., Rosenthal, N. E., Salerno, J., Gaylord-King, C., & Rutledge, T. (2018). Non-trauma-focused meditation versus exposure therapy in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(12), 975–986.

Villines, Z. (2017, December 22). 7 types of meditation: What type is best for you? Medical News Today.

What Is The Purpose Of Meditation? (2020, April 18). Empathetic Practice.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Speak with a medical professional before seeking treatment.

 

Reviewed by Amy Shapiro-Rosenbaum, PhD, Cooper Hodges, PhD, Lyndsay Tkach, MA, CBIS, and Michelle Neary, March 2021.

The BrainLine Treatment Hub was created in consultation with TBI and PTSD experts.