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Tuesday, July 01, 2014


"Mindfulness training won't make combat easier. But we think it can help Marines recover from stress and return to baseline functioning more quickly."
"That we can re-regulate the activity in these areas with so little training is this study's most significant finding. Mindfulness helps the body optimize its response to stress by helping the body interpret stressful events as bodily sensations. The brain adds less emotional affect to experiences, and this helps with stress recovery."
Martin Paulus, M.D., professor of psychiatry

Mindfulness is considered by scientists to describe a mental state characterized by "full attention to the present moment without elaboration, judgement, or emotional reactivity". Brain activity patterns have been observed in high-performance athletes and Navy Seals representing high activity levels associated with anxiety and mood disorders. Scientists hypothesize reduced brain activity in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate may characterize elite performers generally.

If it works to the advantage of high performance athletes focusing intently on their bodies through techniques they establish to relax the mind and remove high stress levels to produce a calmer interior resulting in a finer performance engaging both mind and body, why not anyone else under great stress? It is the kind of motivation that moves many people to practise transcendental meditation as a method whereby calm can be restored to the mind, and relaxation to the stressed body/mind.

The May 16 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study produced by researchers from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine and Naval Health Research Center, finding that mindfulness training representing a combination of meditation and body-awareness exercises, can be useful in assisting U.S. Marine Corps personnel in their preparation for combat duty, and later, for recovery from the deleterious effects of stressful combat situations.

Traditionally practised by way of sitting meditation, mindfulness training attempts to cultivate a mental state of attention to the moment, cleansing the mind of other, extraneous thoughts to ensure pure focus without emotional reactivity for the purpose of ridding the mind of thoughts unrelated to the primary goal of achieving perfect calm.

Marine infantrymen of four platoons located at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton took part in an eight-week course in mindfulness for the purposes of the study. The course was tailored specifically for those operating within highly stressful environments. Unquestionably, no occupations are more freighted with stress than those engaged in combat duties as professional soldiers.

Classroom instruction on meditation was augmented by homework exercises and training on interoception; the capability to aid the body regulate its physical equilibrium overall (homeostasis) through becoming intensely aware of bodily sensations that include tightness in the abdomen, the heart rate, and tingling of the largest organ of the human body; the skin.

A day was spent in mock immersive combat at a 32,000-square-foot training facility in California theatrically staged to appear similar to a rural Middle East village. Marines patrolled the village, met village elders, and responded to a realistic ambush as part of the exercise in which those who had not undergone mindfulness training also took part.

Scientists found heart and breathing rates of those who had received training returned to their normal baseline levels more swiftly than those who hadn't received the mindfulness training. A telltale neuropeptide in the blood appeared in levels suggesting the mindfulness-trained Marines were capable of improved immune function, as an added benefit.

Magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) further revealed that the mindfulness-exposed Marines experienced reduced activity patterns in those regions of the brain responsible for integrating emotional reactivity, cognition, and interoception. The kind of brain activity patterns seen in high performance athletes.

"If you become aware of tightness in your stomach, your brain will automatically work to correct that tightness", explained Dr. Paulus, senior author of the study.

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