How a Platoon Sergeant Got Her Life Back Through Meditation
LeShonda "Shy" Gill was born into a military family.
Shy was deployed to Iraq as a Chemical Operations Specialist in 2003, where her job was to find and decontaminate chemical weapons of mass destruction. In Iraq, Shy's squad was ambushed on their way home from a mission.
"As soon as the truck in front of me blew up, I knew all hell was about to break loose," Shy says. "I sustained multiple injuries to my stomach, torso and legs." Shy was the only one from her squad to make it home.
Shy quickly returned to Iraq as a private contractor, compelled by a mysterious desire to “get back.” When she finally came home for good in late 2009, her life fell apart. "I cut off everybody. I lost everything I had in less than two years,” she says. "I used to think PTSD was something people claimed to get out of going to Iraq." She now realizes that she was “dead wrong."
Shy is not alone. Today, the Veterans Administration struggles to cope with epidemic levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression, which affect over 600,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Tragically, 22 veterans die to suicide every day.
In the fall of 2011, Shy’s personal battle with PTSD approached a horrible conclusion after she was evicted from her apartment. "I stood in a window ledge and shut my eyes,” she says. “I said a prayer and was about to jump." Fortunately, she was talked off the ledge by an acquaintance who become a dear friend and mentor to her.
With continued guidance from her new mentor, Shy joined a transitional shelter in Los Angeles and began receiving help for her PTSD through Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, a nonprofit that offers stigma-free integrated therapy for veterans with combat-related trauma. In December 2012, Shy was introduced to the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, a simple, easily learned mental practice that’s being embraced by both the military and veteran communities.
The technique’s rising acceptance is fueled by positive findings from more than 340 peer-reviewed studies that show that TM relieves stress and anxiety, improves heart health, lowers heart-related mortality, and increases creativity and satisfaction with life. Further research shows that TM also leads to decreased alcohol and drug abuse.
In studies with veterans from Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq military conflicts, findings indicate that TM can reduce symptoms of PTSD by close to half within eight to twelve weeks, with equivalent reductions in depression. These dramatic reductions are likely due to the technique’s calming influence on the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight response”) and balancing influence on brain functioning—decreasing activation of the brain’s fear center and enhancing functioning of the brain’s higher reasoning and planning centers.
"I believe in my heart that Transcendental Meditation is a humungous portion of why I'm still sitting here now," Shy says. "To know that as small of a concept as twenty minutes, twice a day, can make me feel like I do now—that's a gift that you can't buy. It's an opportunity that I think everybody should be afforded."
Based on the positive results of TM among veterans with PTSD, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense have chosen to fund larger, longer-term trials on the technique.
TM courses are currently available for veterans, military personnel, and their families through Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW), the veterans and Armed Services division of our David Lynch Foundation, which was founded by film director and avid meditator David Lynch. DLF provides TM to those in at-risk populations struggling to cope with post-traumatic stress.
The Foundation’s veteran’s initiative began its work in 2010. Since then, we have reached more than 1,000 veterans and military personnel in collaboration with military institutions, VA medical centers, and veterans service organizations across the country. Our initiative's work has attracted funding support from both the Wounded Warrior Project and the Veterans on Wall Street (VOWS) Initiative. OWW also works with law enforcement officers and first responders who suffer from high rates of post-traumatic stress.
"My heart is with my soldiers, my friends, my comrades in arms," Shy says. "I know how TM can benefit others—especially my wounded warrior community. Just because you can't see a wound, doesn't mean its not there. In actuality, it's those wounds that are the hardest to heal. I've never felt this good in… life I don't think. It's given me back."
On October 17, the Foundation will host its fifth-annual Change Begins Within gala, "Celebrating First Responders and Veterans," where everyone from Hugh Jackman, Deborra-Lee Furness, Jerry Seinfeld, and FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, will help raise funds to make TM available to veterans and first responders in the Greater New York Area.
Want to enjoy the benefits of meditation? Begin by setting aside 10-20 minutes twice a day, everyday for quiet time. Click here to add this to your To-Do list.