Calming the storm with the power of breath

by Staff Sgt. Aaron Knowles

TAMPA, FL — “The workshop is called The Power Breath Meditation workshop,” said Col. Joel Aoki, the Command Inspector General for Special Operations Command Central, MacDill AFB, FL. “It’s conducted by an organization called Project Welcome Home Troops, which is a non-profit organization that tries to bring a sense of mindfulness to Veterans, Active Service Members, and their Families. The idea is that there is power in breathing, and these breathing techniques can be used by individuals to address everything from post-traumatic stress, to challenges with sleeping or challenges with just everyday stress.”

Aoki has participated in the workshop four times since learning about it, and with every course, he walks away with additional skills and knowledge.

“Not everyone has the same experience,” said Aoki, “Different people have different experiences. Me, personally, I had challenges. Not necessarily with PTSD, but with guilt and grief from things that I had experience during deployments and stuff that had affected me, depressed me, and had gotten to me and my family. It was stuff that was starting to bubble back up again.”

“There is medical evidence that stress is detrimental to a person’s health,” continued Aoki. “I think that most people would agree that being in the military, whether you are an active [service] member or a spouse, is a stressful situation compounded by our current situation and the situations over the past 15 years, being a military at war. Beyond all of the other stressors with being in the military, we have that as well.”

“When I went through this course, it all came out and I felt so much better at the end,” said Aoki. “Once that happened, I said ‘okay, this is powerful magic’. Then, I decided that I have got to support this and I have got to do what I can to bring this to other service members.”

Aoki has continued to volunteer his time and work with the WHTP to help bring the workshop to more and more people that need these skills.

Odyl Wittman Smith and John Holliday, Senior Faculty Members of Project Welcome Home Troops, have more than 25 years of experience individually teaching these breathing techniques.

“It’s a succinct and powerful set of tools that will serve the taker well for the rest of their life,” said Smith. “In different situations, in different scenarios, and for personal growth and self-care, and wellness. For resiliency.”

According to Smith and Holliday, traumatic experiences are not only damaging to our psychological health, but physical health, as well.

“It’s a set of tools that are unique in the sense that they allow anyone to experience more of the mechanics of their mind and physiology and how they are connected,” said John. “Which we are not really taught growing up. We are dealing with stimuli all of the time and stress all of the time, but we are not taught the ways in which we metabolize those experiences.”

“There is a specific mechanism that we are all born with, that we are not using effectively to manage that metabolism of stimuli.” Continued Holliday. “We don’t just metabolize our food, we metabolize our experiences as well and that results in toxicity in the system. The course that we offer gives tools to manage that toxicity.”

Michial Judd, a two-time retiree and Vietnam Veteran, was a recent participant in the Power Breath Workshop.

“I have diabetes real bad,” said Judd. “They say that I got it from the Agent Orange in Vietnam. One thing that I’ve noticed since I retired 5 to 6 years ago for the second time, is that my blood sugar has been surging. I have found that stress makes my blood sugar go up. Without the overtime, I have begun to experience more and more stress.”

“Back in the 70’s, I went to a doctor, and they just patted me on the back because they didn’t know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was,” said Judd. “They just said that I would get better. Fortunately, I had a job where I worked all kinds of overtime. Overtime was my way of self-medicating. I didn’t have time for PTSD. Between overtime and raising a family, I just didn’t have the time.”

Judd’s primary care provider during the 70’s, suggested that he try some breathing exercises, and it was a revelation for him. He has been using breathing to help control his stress for over 40 years. A few weeks ago, when he heard about the Power Breath Meditation Workshop, it was a clear sign that he needed to attend, in order to get his stress back under control again.

Judd absolutely believes that this is something that other veterans can benefit from and has plans to return to his PTSD group and inform the other members.

Colonel Mark Bagget, the Command Psychologist for U.S. Special Operations Command and a representative of the Preservation of Force and Family program, recently attended the workshop as well for personal and professional reasons.

“The concept of POTFF is to get [ahead] of people having problems, whether those be physical problems, medical problems, spiritual problems or psychological problems,” said Bagget. “So, instead of waiting until the problem occurs, we try to help them come in early before it becomes a problem.”

“Breathing and meditation are some of the earliest forms of relaxation and there are a huge variety of health benefits from lower blood pressure, to better concentration and attention, and having a program like this that is already in place may be something that we would be interested in. It means that we don’t have to build it ourselves. Right now, we are in the early stages of evaluating if this workshop is something that we want to do.”

According to Judd, after 40 years of breathing exercises, he has absolute faith this can help other veterans and that it is an alternative to taking prescription medication.

“I have interviewed other Veterans,” said Judd. “They all take pills, but they still have PTSD. I still have PTSD, but instead of controlling it through pills, I am controlling it by breathing.”

For more information on Project Welcome Home Troops, you can visit the site www.projectwelcomehometroops.org, and for more information on the Preservation of the Force and Family, you can visit www.socom.mil/POTFF/default.aspx.

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