The human brain is one of the most resilient and sophisticated pieces of matter in the universe. Countless stories in history of individuals overcoming some of the most extreme hardships are the result of a resilient brain. Project Welcome Home Troops is working to improve the quality of life for thousands of veterans in America through their resilience building program. The organization has been featured in a recent documentary called Free The Mind. Congressman Tim Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation, also supported the organization by running a marathon for them to raise money and awareness.
I had the chance to speak with John Osborne, who is the national director of Project Welcome Home Troops, about the organization.
Can you explain what Project Welcome Home Troops is?
Project Welcome Home Troops is a project of an international humanitarian organization called The International Association for Human Values. The association creates and manages humanitarian projects, primarily in trauma relief and conflict resolution, in about 150 countries around the world. It's one of the world's largest volunteer organizations, and you can find it at www.iahv.org.
Project Welcome Home Troops started about seven years ago, when several people who were trained in stress management using breathing techniques, meditation and yoga were invited to a vets center in Orange County, in Southern California. I was one of those teachers who visited that vets center, and we a taught a group who had PTSD, and the reduction in their symptoms was amazing, both to them and to us as a result of a five-day workshop. And so we began to adapt those techniques to the particular needs of vets and their families, taught more vets and finally developed a 5-7 day workshop that we teach today, which utilizes breathing, meditation, and yoga.
Eventually, about three years ago, the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin started studying the effects of these techniques, and that research will soon be published, but the preliminary results are that these techniques in a seven-day course can result in a reduction of certain key symptoms in PTSD, such as hyper arousal, by as much as 40 or 60 percent.
Also, they tested the same subjects after six months and 12 months later, and those reductions were still there with the people who were still practicing these techniques at home.
Now that's at the University of Wisconsin, with Dr. Richard Davidson?
Correct. And there was a documentary film made about the study, which features our course and Dr. Davison's work called Free the Mind, which is being released in the U.S. in May.
Can you talk about Free the Mind and how it showcased some of the work you are doing with Project Welcome Home Troops?
The Waisman Center focuses on advanced mind body research, integrated medicine and wellness. And Richard and one of his researchers, named Emma Seppala, wanted to compare the effects of a variety of mind-body techniques, specifically on vets, so we were invited to do a whole series of courses that were very carefully monitored with a control group and subjects who were pre-screened and were given a wide variety of medical tests both before and after the course.
We were invited to teach that seven-day course, and eventually we taught a whole series of courses at Waisman. I myself taught two, and other people taught later courses, as well. A woman named Phie Ambo was already planning a documentary film on Richard's work, it was really focused on his work in the Waisman Center, and she approached me and asked me if she could film one of our courses. At first I was very reluctant, mostly because of privacy issues and the complication of having some else in the room during the course. We actually had about a three-month discussion about how the course could be filmed and what the guidelines would be, and we finally came to an agreement. She actually learned some of our breathing techniques in Europe before she came here, which helped a lot, and she came and she did a terrific job filming the course, and the course ended up being a part of the movie.
Can you explain some of the research behind the Power Breath workshop or the Project Welcome Home Troops?
The Project Welcome Home Troops Power Breath workshop consists of three different components. One is a unique combination of various breathing exercises and yoga, and another is a series of processes that we take the vets through that help them to reflect on their present situation in relationship to their experience in war and a series of homework writing assignments that also helps them to reflect, and the combination of these three processes allows them to put their experience at war in perspective and to live more fully in the present moment.
How can people help out with Project Welcome Home Troops?
The first thing they can do is to go to our website, which is www.projectwelcomehometroops.org , and there are many ways people can help. We have an initiative now where people are organizing vets courses in their own communities for us and connecting us to vet organizations. Large corporations, as it turns out, have significant numbers of vets and vet support groups. We have gone to several Fortune 500 companies recently, and they have decided they want to support Project Welcome Home Troops for their employees, and they also want to sponsor these courses for other vets in their own communities. We're sponsoring a series of community information nights where we show a movie about Project Welcome Home Troops, and vets and their families can come to those discussions.
Anyone who is interested in supporting the programs can go to our website and write to: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can get them involved. Our program is offered without charge to vets and their families, and we are currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign where we're raising enough money to train 1,000 vets and their families in 2013.