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Changing the Brain: An Interview About Freeing the Mind

The human mind has the ability to triumph over almost impossible circumstances. Decades of research by some of the leading neuroscientists in the world is showing that the brain is capable of changing for the better.
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The human mind has the ability to triumph over almost impossible circumstances. Decades of research by some of the leading neuroscientists in the world is showing that the brain is capable of changing for the better. In the film Free The Mind: Can You Rewire the Brain Just by Taking a Breath? Phie Ambo, the director of the film, takes you on a journey through one of those most fascinating organs in the universe -- the human brain. I interviewed Phie Ambo about the film.

In the movie, it points out the sobering fact that up to 1,000 American troops who have post-traumatic stress attempt suicide every month.

It is a shocking fact that so many vets are damaged in a way that makes life unbearable after having served, but if you consider that the brain is plastic and that it changes according to what you are exposed to, then it's not so strange that the soldiers have a hard time getting back to their everyday lives. During deployment, they experience things that are extremely stressful and the whole body is alert, which can actually change the structure of the brain. It's very important to work intentionally with the brain in order to get it back to "normal" again.

Dr. Richard Davidson is a world-renowned scholar from University of Wisconsin. Can you talk about his work in the film?

I chose to do the film about Richard Davidson because I think that he has the right approach to his scientific field -- he is a meditator himself, which I think is essential in order to be able to ask the right questions on a deep level. He is working with the latest technology, and his methods are rigorous, which makes his research very reliable. He also has a playful approach to science -- his experiments are great for filming, and he is open to the possibility that meditation is not for everyone -- it's not a miracle cure!

What is the Center of Investigating Healthy Minds looking to do?

Richard Davidson founded The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds because he wanted to do research in what makes a mind healthy. Western science is focused on illness and disease; Richard Davidsons work is looking into the brains of some of the happiest people, to see what they are doing right. For more info: The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds website.

What is Project Welcome Home Troops?

Project Welcome Home troops is a breathing-based program offered by the Association of Human Values, and it's designed to help soldiers who are coming home to settle into their everyday lives again. More info: Project Welcome Home Troops.

What is the film trying to address?

The reason why I wanted to make Free the Mind was that several years ago I suffered from panic attacks and the only treatment I was offered was medication. I felt that I wanted to try something else, and a friend recommended me to try a mindfulness program. It gradually worked, and I got very curious to know what actually happens in the brain during meditation. So I started to look for a scientist who was asking the same kind of questions so I could look over his or her shoulder. It's important for me to note that I am not against medication; I think there are many ways to being healthy and everyone must make their own choice. But in order to make an informed choice people have to know what options are out there.

How receptive were the troops and children to meditation?

The soldiers were very invested in the program, which actually surprised me a lot since it's so far from their lives in the service. They really struggled, and they all showed amazing courage. During the intense breathing sessions, you get very deep into memories or experiences that you have shoved away, and that can be quite challenging! I was really moved to see how open and receptive they were to these methods that were so foreign to them to begin with.

The kids at the preschool also took in Laura Pinger's teachings with an open mind. She is a very good mindfulness teacher, and she makes it fun and exciting to do both yoga and meditation. Part of the curriculum she has developed with a researcher from CIHM called Lisa Flook is focused on kindness and compassion. To teach these things you really need to be compassionate and kind to yourself, and Laura did a great job in embodying her theory!

It's pointed out in the film that the brain is one of the most sophisticated organs in the universe. Can you explain why?

Richard Davidson often emphasizes that science has only taken the first baby steps into trying to figure out how the brain and the mind work. The brain is an extremely complex organ, and we still don't know how a conscious thought is formed. So it's important to be humble when we talk about the brain and what we know because we know so very little.

When will this film be available to the public?

Free the Mind is premiering in New York on May 3 and in Madison on May 15.

Go to Free The Mind to help out.

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