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Erric Solomon

Free the Mind: Rewiring the Brain through Watching the Breath

Danish filmmaker Phie Ambo’s compelling new documentary “Free the Mind” is not only transformatively moving but informative and hopeful.  There's something restorative about watching the gentle, compassionate story highlighting the use of the non-pharmacological methods of mindfulness, yoga and meditation to overcome the anxiety and trauma suffered by the film’s subjects.

 The movie unfolds by shifting between the stories of three protagonists: Steve, an Afghanistan war veteran haunted by his time as a military intelligence interrogator, Will, a lovable ADHD 5-year-old with a fear of elevators and Rich, a former battalion leader in Iraq struggling with dreadful memories of combat, guilt and a subsequently collapsed marriage.

Although all three have drastically different problems to overcome, it all boils down to the same scientific answer: Mindfulness of the breath, meditation and yogic exercises rewire the brain in a very positive way. Through meditation, the film’s subjects go through a profound cognitive shift and begin to experience that although we have thoughts and emotions, we are not thoughts and emotions. Obviously the program that the adult veterans follow is a more intense program compared to what the child goes through. The vet program is part of a rigorous scientific study overseen by two of our favorite contemplative neuroscientists Dr. Richard Davidson and Dr. Emma Seppala. When the camera follows Dr. Seppala we get a sense of how ingeniously the study is able to scientifically document its findings. Dr. Davidson appears throughout the film giving simple yet profound explanations of the science. At the end of the film, Steve is sleeping without Ambien for the first time since coming home, Rich is much happier and optimistic and Will is able to control his emotions much more successfully as evidenced by his new found ability to ride an elevator panic-free.

In addition to a moving story, the movie entertainingly explains the science simply yet elucidating the profound implications. Unfortunately, since the science is still in its infancy, the viewer is left with more hope than with absolute conclusions. But that’s far more than you can say about most of the popular drug-based treatments which often don’t work and whose side-effects we are still learning about.

The film is playing or about to play in cities in the US, which you can find clicking here. For people in other parts of the world you can find out more at the movie’s website, and for a small fee you can even  watch it online. Don’t miss this film!

Here’s a trailer: