Meditation in the Military

Mindfulness meditation: An effective treatment for PTSD?

Over the past nine years, more than 2 million American soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As many as several hundred thousand may now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, experts say. They struggle with anxiety, anger, depression, flashbacks and nightmares. The ailment can take years to emerge, and many more cases are likely to appear.

PTSD is usually treated with drugs, behavioral therapy and other approaches. But for many, these methods don’t work. Now, researchers are looking at a new method that might limit future cases of PTSD and ease symptoms for those who have it: meditation.

With its emphasis on cultivating tranquillity, meditation might seem like an odd fit for the military. But the researchers say that a particular type, known as mindfulness, may prove to be an important therapeutic tool to help reduce stress and increase focus.

Practitioners of mindfulness meditation focus on a single thing happening in the moment, such as breathing, for a set period of time, generally at least 15 or 20 minutes. Studies have found that for regular practitioners, mindfulness has physical and emotional benefits.

“It’s clear that mindfulness can lower stress in many contexts,” says Elizabeth Stanley, an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University who has been involved in the studies and began practicing meditation to deal with her PTSD. “We think it can work for soldiers dealing with the extreme stress of combat.”

Research on mindful meditation and PTSD

military Mindfulness meditation: An effective treatment for PTSD?

Mindful meditation may be a therapeutic tool for military suffering from PTSD. (Shutterstock)

Stanley says she believes meditation should be as much a part of basic training as learning to fire a weapon or march in formation.

The research by Stanley and her colleagues has attracted the attention of some military leaders, including the commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan.

A former Army military intelligence officer, Stanley is not a scientist, but her research collaborators are psychologists and neuroscientists. In 2010, they published the results of a pilot study that found that mindfulness protected soldiers from anxiety and other stress-related negative emotions. They have completed two other studies whose findings have not been published.

The pilot study focused on 60 Marine reservists who were going through two months of intense training before being deployed to Iraq. Some received regular instruction in mindfulness meditation and were asked to meditate for 15 minutes a day; the other group got no meditation training. The researchers found that after two months, the meditation group reported significantly lower levels of stress and anxiety.

The study found that mindfulness training had another benefit: It made the soldiers smarter. Specifically, it improved their capacity to retain new information, which is known as expanding their working memory. Participants were asked to remember letters from the alphabet while doing simple arithmetic. Those who had received the mindfulness training and meditated every day did significantly better at this task than those who didn’t receive such training, and those who meditated more did better than those who meditated less.

Marine medic Del Cochran was among those in the meditation group. Like many participants in the study, he was initially skeptical: “No one wanted to do it. We thought it was a waste of time.”

But Cochran was suffering from problems related to combat stress: After returning home from an eight-month tour in Iraq in 2004, he’d struggled. His marriage was in trouble, he was drinking a lot and he was constantly angry. So he was willing to try anything. As the meditation training progressed, Cochran said he found that he was calmer and less angry.

When his unit was deployed to Iraq in 2008, the study was put on hold. But Cochran, now 50, continued to meditate in Iraq, putting aside 15 minutes a day to practice. He says that many others in his unit did the same and that some who hadn’t had the training also took up meditating when they saw how it seemed to help with stress.

After the soldiers returned from Iraq, they were retested. University of Miami neuroscientist Amish Jha, one of Stanley’s collaborators, says that those who continued practicing meditation in Iraq showed improved working memory in follow-up tests. The researchers were surprised, Jha says, because stressful experiences tend to degrade working memory.

Cochran says he believes meditation helped him stay much calmer during his second tour in Iraq. “The first tour, I was freaked out all the time,” he says. “There was so much static. With meditation, you’re much more in tune — what is a target, what is not a target. You are much more focused on what you are doing.”

He says this increased sense of control continued when he returned home. Now a battalion medical chief for a Marine reserve unit in Cape Coral, Fla., he meditates 15 minutes a day, usually during lunch. “For me, meditation was a lifesaver,” he says.

via Mindfulness meditation: An effective treatment for PTSD?.

AFP: War veterans say meditation could help

War veterans say meditation could help

By Sebastian Smith (AFP) – 5 hours ago

NEW YORK — Meditation might sound an unlikely activity for men trained in killing people and blowing things up in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But US war veterans say meditation could help heal the post-war mental disturbances that afflict a growing number of American soldiers, including possibly the ex-Marine who gunned down the country’s most famous sniper over the weekend.

Luke Jensen, a former undercover police officer who fell apart mentally on arrival in Afghanistan, said that after trying to commit suicide in front of his family, he agreed to try transcendental meditation — and was saved.

“There’s a lot of coping methods out there that are offered to our veterans. This needs to be one of them,” the heftily built man said in a shaking voice at a meeting of the David Lynch Foundation, which promotes meditation for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jensen said he has since taken a job in the government’s Department of Veterans Affairs, helping other stressed out vets. Just two weeks ago, one of those he worked with committed suicide.

Transcendental meditation “needs to be implemented. It needs to be an option,” Jensen told the panel in New York.

After years of being a little-talked about subject, PTSD is increasingly acknowledged as a mental health epidemic in the United States and one of the less easily quantifiable costs of America’s wars on the other side of the world.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD occurs in between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and in 31 percent of Vietnam war veterans.

Although combat is commonly assumed to be the main cause of PTSD, simply witnessing the effects of bombings, for example, or the stress of being in a hostile country, are also blamed.

Another major source of PTSD, though less often discussed, is what the government calls military sexual trauma. Veterans Affairs figures show that 23 percent of women report sexual assault in the ranks, while more than half have experienced sexual harassment.

The most frightening result associated with PTSD is the rising number of suicides, which now run at 22 a day among military veterans, according to a government study released last week.

And the problem is no less alarming among active duty soldiers, with a record 349 killing themselves in 2012 — more than were killed by the Taliban or other enemy in the field.

In the latest incident to highlight the violence engulfing former soldiers, an ex-Marine in Texas was accused Saturday of shooting dead another veteran who had devoted himself to helping comrades adjust to peaceful life.

Adding to the shock value, the victim, Chris Kyle, was an author of a best-selling book about his former exploits as a sniper with 150 confirmed kills.

In the effort to address the problem of PTSD, meditation is an outlier.

However, early studies show remarkable success, and demand is growing, advocates at filmmaker Lynch’s foundation said.

Transcendental meditation involves entering “a state of rest in many cases deeper than sleep,” said Bob Roth, executive director of the David Lynch Foundation. “This allows deeply rooted stresses to be dissolved.”

Retired rear admiral Richard Schneider, president of the private military institute Norwich University, said tests showed that cadets using the techniques increased focus in class and were better “emotionally prepared.”

The meditation instructor, a chisel-faced air force veteran called David Zobeck, said a stigma long attached to meditation was evaporating among students, who are preparing for careers as officers.

“They’re not getting the weird stares anymore,” he said.

Jerry Yellin, a fighter pilot in World War II who spoke of losing comrades and making dangerous missions in the bloody Pacific theater, said he began suffering nightmares, then behavioral problems on return home at a time when PTSD was rarely discussed.

“The hard stuff began in my life, because I didn’t sleep,” he said. “I had an addiction that ruled my life.”

Meditating, he said, “got my life back 100 percent.”

via AFP: War veterans say meditation could help.

Simple meditation techniques provide powerful benefits – Life and Arts – The Buffalo News

Centuries-old practice finds new popularity as a refuge from the stress of the everyday

BY: |

Peek into a room of meditating people, and you will be struck by their stillness. They sit, eyelids lowered, with their backs straight and hands at rest, breathing slowly and evenly.

Inside their brains, they are still and quiet, too, concentrating on their breaths, a phrase or an image.

Oddly, this quiet activity, done consistently, has a powerful positive effect on people, physically, mentally and emotionally. In addition to relieving anxiety and stress, meditation has been found to reduce pain, lower heart rates, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack.

As the pace of life quickens, more people are seeking relief in the centuries-old practice of meditation. Once an esoteric, religion-based practice, secular meditation is offered in many settings. It is often included in corporate wellness programs, and is being explored by the U.S. Marine Corps as a way to keep Marines healthy and improve their resiliency.

Plenty of people in this area are catching on to the benefits of meditation. Meditator Marguerite Battaglia says that Western New York boasts “a remarkable number” of meditation groups. (See sidebar.)

The benefits, which have been documented in scientific studies, are linked to physical changes in the brain, says Stephan Bodian, a psychotherapist and author of “Meditation for Dummies” (Wiley, $24.99). “From the research on meditation that I cite in the book, the indication is that meditation actually changes the brain, literally growing and shrinking gray matter,” says Bodian in a phone conversation from his Tucson home. “Meditation enhances parts of the brain that are related to concentration, memory and positive feelings of well-being, and tends to de-emphasize and shrink the parts of the brain related to fear, anxiety and negative emotions.”

The impact is gradual, Bodian says, but begins soon after people start to meditate regularly. “People who meditate may not even notice the changes at first,” he says. “But the people around them notice it. They say, ‘You are not as reactive as you used to be, you are so much mellower!’”

The physical improvements appear to be caused by a decrease in stress and anxiety, which have been proven to have damaging effects on the body.

Without meditation, “Your thinking mind goes running wild,” says Battaglia, of Buffalo, who has meditated for eight years with the Peaceful Heart Mindfulness Community, among other groups. “They call it a monkey mind; you are thinking too much and making up stories that include worries about the future or regrets about the past.”

Marine Corps officials are testing an eight-week course in “Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training,” which may help Marines regain their equilibrium after stressful events. The program was developed by former U.S. Army Capt. Elizabeth Stanley, a professor at Georgetown University, who found that meditation and yoga relieved her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What is meditation?

It looks so simple, and yet the practice of meditation is complex enough to keep people mentally occupied for years, even decades. Bodian has meditated since the mid-1970s; Dennis Hohman of Orchard Park, who belongs to the Awakening Community, a group of mostly experienced meditators, has meditated for some 30 years.

Anyone can meditate, nearly anywhere. Many experts suggest that beginners start by just sitting comfortably, closing their eyes and concentrating on their breathing.

“It sounds so simple, but it is so hard,” says Battaglia. “Set a timer for five minutes, and count one on your in breath and two on your out breath, until you get to 10, and then go back to one again, and I almost guarantee that by the time you get to six, you will forget that you’re on six, and you’ll have to go back, or you’re on 11 or 12 and you’ll have to go back to 10.”

Beginners are astonished to find how difficult it is to calm their minds and focus on their breath for just 10 breaths at a time.

As people concentrate on their breaths, they become present in their bodies, clearing their minds of fear, regret and anxiety.

With clarity comes the ability to shed burdens. “If you meditate, it becomes clear what you need and don’t need in your life,” says Battaglia. “You’ll realize you don’t need certain kinds of people, certain kinds of things. Through meditation you become less attached to things, and attachment and desire are what get us all tangled up.”

Hohman says those who meditate regularly “won’t notice the effects on a daily basis, but it’s a cumulative effect. Things that used to upset you or rattle you – social situations, employers, difficulties in life – don’t seem to throw you the way they once did, and you can handle the daily vicissitudes of relationships with aplomb, much more calmly and better relaxed.”

Hohman says he can look back and see how he has changed. “There’s been an enormous reduction of generalized fear and anxiety in my life,” he says.

Setting the mind on idle

In his foreword to Bodian’s book, Dr. Dean Ornish writes that while “learning to meditate was one of the smartest decisions I ever made,” he is aware of the objections people who don’t meditate have about the practice. People who don’t meditate fear that it might be boring, esoteric or difficult, while Ornish counters that meditation is interesting, familiar, natural and powerful.

But how is doing nothing and thinking of nothing not boring?

“When you are sitting there, you are so busy – you can’t believe how busy you are,” says Battaglia.

People are used to being stimulated and preoccupied; the purpose of meditation is to hit the “pause” button, Bodian says: “Minds tend to find that boring initially … but after a while you start experiencing the pleasures of meditation, the pleasures of the moment for what it is right now.”

The challenge of meditation – of keeping your mind clear of intrusive thoughts – “becomes interesting,” Bodian says. “How attentive can I be? How present can I be? … You are learning a new skill, and that’s always interesting. Then eventually you start enjoying it.”

Power of the group

Western New York has quite a few meditation groups, which Hohman has seen burgeon from just one or two groups when he started meditating in the 1980s.

“What seemed to be a real catalyst was the visit of the Dalai Lama to the University at Buffalo in 2006,” Hohman says. “A number of people in meditation groups got together and worked with UB as part of community outreach. We found all kinds of people who had been in small groups or just meditating by themselves, and after that it just seemed as though the groups all grew in size.”

While many meditation groups are rooted in a spiritual tradition or even held in a place of worship, most commonly Buddhist, Bodian writes that every major faith has a tradition of meditation, including Christian prayer and Jewish contemplation.

“What meditation is about simply is being present in the moment,” Bodian says. “It cuts across all religious or spiritual traditions. Suppose you want to be more like Christ, which is one of the goals of the Christian tradition. Being present in the moment can make you more compassionate to the people around you so you can be more responsive and give more.”

Nondenominational meditation is offered in many different venues. “Nowadays it’s very common to be able to learn meditation through mindfulness groups, or in community education classes at colleges,” says Bodian. Some day spas and yoga studios, where a few minutes of mindfulness practice are often offered at the end of each yoga class, also offer meditation opportunities. “There are now corporations that include meditation in their corporate wellness programs,” says Bodian.

The key to reaping the benefits of meditation is not to do it perfectly but to do it often, says Bodian. “If you wanted to run a marathon, and you ran a mile and then didn’t run for three or four days, and then ran a mile again, you’d never get anywhere,” he says. “You run gradually and frequently and work your way up, just like meditation. If you do this on a regular basis, you are gradually able to remain aware for longer and longer periods of time. Practice is the key, like any skill.”

Simple meditation techniques provide powerful benefits – Life & Arts – The Buffalo News.

The “best” meditation is what works for you! by Karah Pino, MAcOM

The results of a research study from San Francisco State University came out in July of 2012 that asked the question: “What is the best meditation?”

Meditation practitioners around the world would say: “The meditation I do!”  and as it turns out, the research shows that it is absolutely true!

The study followed people who learned different styles of meditation and tracked the effectiveness of the meditation program.  What was shown is that those who learned a style that suited them tended to follow up with their practice better than those that didn’t particularly like the style they were taught.  But the results of the different styles were equally effective, so long as they were practiced regularly. This confirmed what I had noticed for my students over the years.  Any technique will help you deal with stress to improve your health,  smooth your relationships, and help you enjoy your life.

“A new study just published notes the importance of selecting a meditation method that is most comfortable to the new meditator, not the one that is currently the most popular. Choosing the one you are most comfortable with increases the likelihood that you will stick with it, says Adam Burke, the author of the study and a professor of health education at San Francisco State University.”Read More

Helping people find a style that works for them is the goal of the Unwind your Mind curriculum.

Unwind your Mind Meditation CD

Meditation Instruction CD

This class is designed to give an overview of the types of different techniques to people newly interested in meditation.  The four categories of meditation techniques are: Mindfulness, Visualization techniques, Sound techniques and Movement techniques.  The types of techniques introduced in the three hour class include breathing techniques, guided meditation, chanting, self observation and QiGong.

To take this class or purchase the CD, please visit: MindUnwind.org/Meditation

mommy-and-alvin-sqKarah Pino, MAcOM has a master’s degree in Acupunture and Chinese medicine including meditation techniques for healing.  She is a meditation instructor at the University of Washington Experimental College and Mind Unwind Gallery.  Courses are offered regularly in Seattle, WA on on retreats offered through Mind Unwind.

Meditation study seeks to help cadets prevent PTSD – Nation – The Boston Globe

Study suggests meditation may help prevent PTSD

By Bryan Bender

| Globe Staff

December 02, 2012

NORTHFIELD, Vt. — It is part of a highly regimented daily routine at Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military academy and a cultivator of battlefield leaders for nearly two centuries.

Dressed in combat fatigues and boots, a platoon of first-year cadets — “Rooks” — are up early in their barracks. On the orders of their instructor, the young men and women take their places. At 0800 sharp, they sit on wooden chairs in a circle and begin — to meditate.

The first-of-its-kind training is part of a long-term study to determine whether regular brief periods of silent, peaceful consciousness can improve troops’ performance. Ultimately, researchers hope the transcendental meditation training might be made available across all branches of the military to help inoculate troops against acute post-traumatic stress disorder, which has reached epidemic proportions and is blamed for a record number of suicides in the ranks.

For an institution that demands that incoming cadets exhibit physical and mental toughness, meditation training is a radical approach. The broader military culture had long associated meditation with a leftist, antiwar philosophy. Known by its shorthand, TM was widely introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Hindu leader who once served as the spiritual guru to the Beatles.

I was very skeptical at first,” said Norwich president Richard W. Schneider, a retired Coast Guard admiral who is among several university officials who have also been trained in the technique. “I’m not a touchy-feely guy.”

‘We want to send people to war whole and for them to come back whole.’

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But the preliminary results of the study, now in its second year, surprised even its lead researchers. They have been methodically tracking the dozens of participants and several control groups of non-meditating cadets through detailed questionnaires as well as brain wave and eye scans to measure levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

“All those things decreased significantly,” said Dr. Carole Bandy, a Norwich psychology professor overseeing the project. “In fact, they decreased very significantly.”

Positive traits such as critical thinking and mental resilience improved, according to preliminary findings shared with the Globe that Bandy and her team plan to publish next year.

The project has garnered high-level attention from the Army.

“Becoming more psychologically fit is just like becoming physically fit. It is better to do it before you are injured,” said retired Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, a surgeon who until recently ran the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program and visited Norwich three times to be briefed on the work. “There seems to be no question that meditation is, frankly, good for you. I am very encouraged by the Norwich University study.”

Not everyone at Norwich is on board. Top university officials acknowledged that a few people in the university community have privately snickered over how meditation is “not Norwichy,” though there has been no formal opposition from the faculty or board of trustees.

But Reverend William S. Wick, the university’s chaplain, remains concerned that its practice could undercut the school’s Judeo-Christian foundation.

“Contrary to what is claimed by its advocates and presenters, transcendental meditation is not a neutral discipline but is, rather, philosophically, spiritually, mystically, and religiously based — having Hindu monism and a pantheistic world view as its underlying base,” Wick told the Globe in an e-mail.

Some ‘jokes about nap time’

The participating cadets, however, seem to share a single-minded commitment to the meditation sessions, which for now are voluntary.

Each of the six men and three women who attended the first of their twice-daily meditation sessions last week sit silently, focusing thoughts on their mantra, a word or phrase privately assigned to them by their instructor in August.

For the next 20 minutes they sit motionless, some with their arms crossed, others with hands resting in their laps. Some can be heard breathing, others cannot.

“Ok, let’s take a few minutes and then open our eyes. Take your time,” David Zobeck, one of two meditation instructors, breaks in.

The approach is one among a variety of meditation techniques that date back thousands of years. The periods of silent reflection are intended to nurture what practitioners call “restful alertness” to improve overall mental health.

Zobeck, an Air Force veteran, works for the David Lynch Foundation, founded in 2005 by the film director to provide TM to adults and children suffering from PTSD. Since 2010, it has donated nearly $1 million to teach the technique to military veterans and their families.

The foundation is funding Norwich’s program.

“It seems like some wacko thing from the Far East but there has been so much research done, including on veterans suffering from PTSD who say they have got their life back again,” Lynch, who has been meditating for four decades, said in an interview. “It’s not a hippie thing, it’s a human being thing.”

“It’s like putting on a flak jacket against stress,” he added. “The things that used to almost kill you in the stress department have less power. For a soldier this is money in the bank.”

The meditating cadets at Norwich agree. “At first it’s silly,” said Chandler Camlin, 18, a first-year cadet from Stamford, Conn. “But at the end of that 20 minutes, you feel refreshed.”

“It feels like a whole tremendous thing off your chest,” said Dayne Valencia, 19, of Houston. “You feel so much lighter — like you told the truth after holding back for a long time.”

Before she arrived at Norwich, said Hana Kita, 18, of Titusville, N.J., “I had less activities and I was more tired. I feel less stressed now than I did back home.”

Yet the meditating cadets have also faced ridicule from fellow Rooks.

“There are a lot of jokes about nap time,” said Anthony Russo, 18, of Rockland.

But much of the razzing has dissipated since the group recently outperformed the 17 other Rook platoons in the so-called “culminating event,” a grueling competition requiring tests of mental and physical resilience. Said Russo: “That pretty much speaks for itself.”

No help with mental health

More senior cadets who have participated in the study bring a unique perspective. A few of them also serve in the National Guard or Reserves and have already been to combat.

Against the din of upperclassmen berating three Rooks running to class, Shea Burke, a 21-year-old junior who returned in February from a seven-month tour in Afghanistan, described his reaction when he learned about the study in the fall: “Are you serious?”

But the Marine Reserve lance corporal volunteered to participate. He now believes it has helped him rejoin campus life after a stressful deployment.

“You are still twisted and trying to come out of it,” he said, wrapping the fingers of both hands together and turning his hands back and forth. “It re-centers yourself.”

The native of Amherst, N.H., said he could have used it in Afghanistan and knows of other troops who need it now that they are back.

“Too many buddies are turning to substances,” he said of those who are relying on drugs and alcohol to relieve tension.

Senior Sam Lieber, 21, who was taught TM last year, said he meditated while he was completing reserve officer training last summer aboard the destroyer USS Chafee in the Pacific Ocean. “I still do it regularly when I need to recharge,” the Hampton, N.H., native said.

John Dulmage, a Norwich researcher who served in 1991 Persian Gulf War, said he wishes he had been exposed to the technique much earlier.

“They never really helped us with our mental health,” said Dulmage, 67, a 23-year Marine Corps veteran from Barnard, Vt., who is a trained nurse and the study’s chief data cruncher. “We want to send people to war whole and for them to come back whole.”

He said his recent exposure to TM has helped him cope with the loss of his wife to a debilitating disease. “It sorts stuff out for me,” he said.

Among the research project’s most influential boosters is retired Army chief of staff General Gordon R. Sullivan, a Norwich graduate and Boston native who is now chairman of Norwich’s board of trustees.

“It is a way to get out in front and expose them, in a prophylactic way, to help them handle stress before the fact,” said Sullivan, who runs the influential Association of the United States Army in Washington. “Whatever skepticism I may have had was dampened.”

Later in the training day last week, some cadets got a small taste of what might lie ahead after they receive their commissions as officers in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps.

After a drill on the football field, some gather in a corner of the fieldhouse for a role-playing exercise designed to test their critical-thinking skills. “You have two soldiers wounded,” the instructor tells them. “One shot in the head, no pulse. Another soldier is shot in the chest.”

Consulting their handouts, the cadets have to make some quick decisions.

“We have spent nearly 200 years preparing them physically to be military leaders,” said Schneider. “What we have never spent any time doing is making them emotionally prepared for battle. We are waiting until the end of the fight. Why not give it to them before they get into the fight?”

Schneider acknowledged that it is “going to take years to track these guys to see how they do.”

But he doesn’t want to wait that long. “My plan is to make it available to anyone who wants it,” he said. “I’m not yet to the point of requiring it [but] if this works I will be shouting from the rooftops.”

via Meditation study seeks to help cadets prevent PTSD – Nation – The Boston Globe.

 

Marines expanding use of meditation training – Washington Times

Mind Fitness Training found to help troops improve mental performance under stress of war

While preparing for overseas deployment with the U.S. Marines late last year, Staff Sgt. Nathan Hampton participated in a series of training exercises held at Camp Pendleton, Calif., designed to make him a more effective serviceman.

There were weapons qualifications. Grueling physical workouts. High-stress squad counterinsurgency drills, held in an elaborate ersatz village designed to mirror the sights, sounds and smells of a remote mountain settlement in Afghanistan.

There also were weekly meditation classes — including one in which Sgt. Hampton and his squad mates were asked to sit motionless in a chair and focus on the point of contact between their feet and the floor.

“A lot of people thought it would be a waste of time,” he said. “Why are we sitting around a classroom doing their weird meditative stuff?

“But over time, I felt more relaxed. I slept better. Physically, I noticed that I wasn’t tense all the time. It helps you think more clearly and decisively in stressful situations. There was a benefit.”

A U.S. Marine stands guard in Kuwait. Next year, the Marines will incorporate Mind Fitness Training classes into an infantry school at Camp Pendleton, Calif., making it a tentative part of the regular training cycle. (J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times)

That benefit is the impetus behind Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (“M-Fit”), a fledgling military initiative that teaches service members the secular meditative practice of mindfulness in order to bolster their emotional health and improve their mental performance under the stress and strain of war.

Designed by former U.S. Army captain and current Georgetown University professor Elizabeth Stanley, M-Fit draws on a growing body of scientific research indicating that regular meditation alleviates depression, boosts memory and the immune system, shrinks the part of the brain that controls fear and grows the areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotional regulation.

Four years ago, a small group of Marine reservists training at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., for deployment to Iraq participated in the M-Fit pilot program, taking an eight-week mindfulness course and meditating for an average of 12 minutes a day.

A study of those Marines subsequently published in the research journal Emotions found that they slept better, had improved athletic performance and scored higher on emotional and cognitive evaluations than Marines who did not participate in the program, which centers on training the mind to focus on the current moment and to be aware of one’s physical state.

The Army and Marines have since commissioned separate studies of larger groups of troops receiving variations of M-Fit training, the results of which currently are under scientific review and likely will be published in the next few months.

“The findings in general reinforce and extend what we saw in the pilot study,” said Ms. Stanley, an associate professor of security studies at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. “These techniques can be very effective in increasing situational awareness on the battlefield, in not having emotions drive behavior, in bolstering performance and resilience in high-stress environments. I’ve seen effects in my own life.”

Military meditation

A former Army intelligence officer, Ms. Stanley served in Korea, Macedonia and Bosnia. Subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she struggled after leaving the military and enrolling in graduate programs at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of prescription medication, she began to research mindfulness and quickly became convinced that the mental and emotional health benefits of meditation could help not only her, but also other service members.

Ms. Stanley wrote a paper for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), essentially arguing that meditative techniques similar to those used by Buddhist monks were both necessary and appropriate for today’s military — from drone pilots coping with information overload to infantrymen conducting dangerous and stressful counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.

Story Continues →

via Marines expanding use of meditation training – Washington Times.