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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 49 activity with the changes in inflammation in the body. “That way,” Rosenkranz says, “we can start to identify the mechanisms through which something like MBSR practice might affect physiological processes asso- ciated with disease.” If you study a phenomenon in people who have a particular disease, it’s also helpful to study people who don’t have it. In that way, researchers can determine that what they observe is not something happening only in the physiology of those with the disease. In a stress-response study with healthy individuals Rosenkranz’s team put capsaicin, the active ingredi- ent in chili peppers, on subjects’ skin. It causes the release of inflammatory mol- ecules from nerve endings in the skin, which causes a “flare response.” They exposed this group of subjects to a stan- dard stressor, as above, and measured the intensity of the flare response afterward. They did this both before and after MBSR, to see if MBSR buffers the effects of that stressor on the inflammatory response in the skin. Naturally, medical research pro- ceeds cautiously and slowly. As results of this ongoing research become known in coming years, it may lead to breakthrough interventions using meditative practices for a variety of disease conditions where stress may be a key factor. EMMA SEPPALA had been passionately educating herself about veterans for a long time before joining CIHM. Reading about the suicides and other aftereffects of the trauma they had endured in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated her to want to help them. After arriving at CIHM, she received a grant from the Disabled Veter- ans of America to implement programs. Seppala started doing yoga and meditative breathing with the veterans, and found it helped them. Davidson encouraged her to start a pilot study. As a result, the center offers free programs to local veterans and is developing a research agenda to evaluate the effects of these types of programs for those returning from war zones. “One of the main issues for researchers,” she says, “is not really knowing the population they’re studying. It also makes it hard to recruit subjects because you’re spending all of your time in the lab and very little time around regular people, so to speak.” For the pilot, Seppala recruited a group of ten vets in the active group and ten in the control. She tried some meditation with them, but she quickly found that “when you ask vets suffering from post-traumatic stress to sit down and meditate, after not too long, they find it difficult to sit there and do nothing. They’re too antsy, too jumpy, and have too many recurring memories for this to be comfortable. They’re much more comfortable doing something active that relaxes them and subsequently allows them to deal with recurring memories with more ease. With post-traumatic stress, your mind is saying one thing—for exam- ple, ‘there’s no danger to me in this coffee shop’—but your body is saying another—such as ‘I’m freaked out. If I hear the bang of a coffee cup, I might just run the hell out of here.’” But when Seppala worked with breathing, it helped the vets relax into their bodies. The main “intervention” she uses with the vets is Sudarshan Kriya, a type of yogic breathing traditionally used for purification. “It’s rhythmic breathing,” she says, “that just settles you into a really deep state of relaxation.” Typically, vets with post-traumatic stress experience recurring traumatic memories, and sleeplessness is a big problem; they’re usually treated with medication or exposure therapy (simply speaking, exposing a traumatized person to what they fear, but in a safe environment), but often not very successfully. Medication has side effects and exposure therapy is very trying for many vets. ➢ page 81 Top: Melissa Rosenkranz with PET scanner. Bottom: Emma Seppala (third from right) doing breathing exercises with military veterans in the CIHM meditation room. PHOTOBYNAMITAAZAD