Meditation for military
The military has long taught its men and women how to prepare for battle, but recent studies have led the military to seek a new defense tactic: meditation.
The studies, conducted by the University of San Diego’s Department of Psychiatry in various branches of the armed forces, show that meditation may be the best weapon to help military men and women prepare emotionally for battle and to deal with post-deployment trauma.
The meditative practices include mindfulness exercises, breathwork, yoga stretches and other programs, such as M-Fit (Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training). All have been incorporated into training for new recruits as well as for those who have been on long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hope is that the practices will reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and help soldiers manage stress levels before they become problematic.
Meditation works by reducing stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) and focusing attention on the present. By slowing down your breathing rate, you shut down your flight or fight response, and your body begins to mimic a sleeping state. Many studies have revealed that with improved focus, individuals will be better at managing their responses to stress.
“We breathe really shallow during the day,” explains Ericka Pomatto, who teaches group exercise, including yoga, at Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill. But taking deeper breaths throughout the day, such as six to eight deep breaths per minute, can make you feel markedly better. “Ten minutes of deep breathing is worth an hour-and-a-half nap,” she says.
Military personnel trained in mindfulness techniques have reported improved coping skills and faster recovery times after a simulated trauma event. If the trials during this study period prove successful, Marine Corps officials say they will launch a training program where Marines train other Marines. Results from the study are expected this fall.
But you don’t have to suffer from PTSD to realize the benefits of meditation. It has been known to help treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain and symptoms of illnesses ranging from heart disease to cancer. Studies have also shown a regular practice of meditation can be helpful for those who suffer from mental illness.
So whether you’re in the military or a civilian, the benefits of meditation can help prepare anyone to do battle with the rigors of everyday life. “The thing about mind-body exercises is there’s something for everyone. It’s just a matter of finding the fit for your personality and for you,” says Pomatto.
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