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Developing the ability to help the body regulate its physical equilibrium

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A goal in holistic health is learning how to develop the ability to help the body regulate its overall physical equilibrium (homeostasis) by becoming aware of certain bodily sensations. Researchers from the University of California - San Diego School of Medicine and Naval Health Research Center have found that mindfulness training -- a combination of meditation and body awareness exercises -- can help US Marine Corps personnel prepare for and recover from stressful combat situations. The study, "Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment," published online in the May 16, 2014 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that incorporating meditative practices into pre-deployment training might be a way to help the U.S. military reduce rising rates of stress-related health conditions, including PTSD, depression and anxiety, within its ranks.

There's a certain type of meditation known as war and peace (of mind). It's a type of meditation training that may help reduce stress disorders among US military personnel. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Naval Health Research Center have found that mindfulness training – a combination of meditation and body awareness exercises – can help U.S. Marine Corps personnel prepare for and recover from stressful combat situations.

"Mindfulness training won't make combat easier," says Martin Paulus, MD, according to the May 16, 2014 news release, "War and peace (of mind)." Paulus is a professor of psychiatry and senior author. "But we think it can help Marines recover from stress and return to baseline functioning more quickly."

Drawing on the teachings of Zen Buddhism, scientists describe mindfulnes as a mental state characterized by "full attention to the present moment without elaboration, judgment or emotional reactivity." Mindfulness training, traditionally practiced through sitting meditation, attempts to cultivate this mental state by quieting the mind of extraneous thoughts.

In the study, Marine infantrymen in four platoons at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton took an eight-week course in mindfulness, tailored for individuals operating in highly stressful environments

If you check out the photo with this article, the bar graph shows that US military personnel who received mindfulness training (red) had reduced activity in a region of the brain knowns as the insula, also known as the insular cortex, which acts as the brain's connector strip. Meditation appears to change how people's brains respond to and recover from highly stressful events.

The course included classroom instruction on meditation and homework exercises, as well as training on interoception – the ability to help the body regulate its overall physical equilibrium (homeostasis) by becoming aware of bodily sensations, such as tightness in the stomach, heart rate and tingling of the skin.

"If you become aware of tightness in your stomach, your brain will automatically work to correct that tightness," Paulus explains, according to the May 16, 2014 news release, "War and peace (of mind)." Participating Marines, along with others who had not undergone mindfulness training, then spent a day in mock immersive combat at a 32,000-square-foot training facility staged to resemble a rural Middle Eastern village. During the day's exercises, Marines patrolled the village, met village leadership and responded to a highly realistic ambush.

The scientists found that the heart and breathing rates of those who had received mindfulness training returned to their normal, baseline levels faster than those who had not received the mindfulness training. Blood levels of a tell-tale neuropeptide suggested that the mindfulness-trained Marines experienced improved immune function, as well.

Subsequent magnetic resonance imaging scans revealed that the mindfulness-trained Marines had reduced activity patterns in regions of the brain responsible for integrating emotional reactivity, cognition and interoception. Lori Haase, a postdoctoral fellow in Paulus' lab and a co-author of the study, said similar brain activity patterns had been observed in high performance athletes and Navy seals.

High-activity levels in these areas of the brain, she noted, are associated with anxiety and mood disorders. The scientists hypothesize that reduced brain activity in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate may be characteristic of elite performers in general.

"That we can re-regulate the activity in these areas with so little training is this study's most significant finding," Paulus says, according to the news release. "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."

This research was funded, in part, by the Office of Naval Research Code 30 and Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Co-authors include Douglas Johnson, Naval Health Research Center, Warfighter Performance Department and UCSD Department of Psychiatry; Nate Thom, Naval Health Research Center, Warfighter Performance Department; Elizabeth Stanley, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and Mind Fitness Training Institute; Alan Simmons, Pei-an Shih and Wesley Thompson, UCSD Department of Psychiatry; Thomas Minor, UCLA Department of Psychology; Eric Potterat, Naval Special Warfare Command. You also may wish to check out the website of the University of California - San Diego.

If you check out the photo that comes with the news release, the bar graph shows that US military personnel who received mindfulness training (red) had reduced activity in a region of the brain known as the insula, also known as the insular cortex, which acts as the brain's connector strip. Meditation appears to change how people's brains respond to and recover from highly stressful events.

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