At Camp Pendleton, California, Marine Corps is beginning a new program of mindfulness and meditation designed to lower the high stress levels of its troops. Mindfulness has been too often mistakenly defined as obedience, as in "if you don't mind my rules, you'll pay the consequences," or "mind your manners," and "mind your own business, or I'll give you a piece of my mind." No, mindfulness is not obedience and submission to an authority figure or to power, your commanding officer, or the king.
Mindfulness simply means paying attention in an active way to the present moment. That means being actively in the present. You learn to keep your mind on the present moment of time by focusing on slow belly breathing.
Diaphragmatic, slower breathing for relaxation
The idea is you can't fully relax when your brain is flashing back to memories of the past and ruminating on those memories while you're trying to meditate. One method of getting you to focus on the present is to calm your vagus nerve and sooth anxiety by breathing from your diaphragm instead of from your upper chest. By doing the slower paced belly breathing, you can unwind from stress. And the Marine Corps has decided to use meditation to cope with post traumatic stress disorder through learning to relax.
Meditation can be set for certain times each day and mini-meditation breaks can be taken throughout the day. Check out the January 20, 2013 Associated Press article by Julie Watson, "Meditating Marines: Military tries mindfulness to lower stress - Vitals." It also has been published on January 21, 2013 in the Sacramento Bee, "Marines to give meditation a try." The pilot project starts the week of January 21, 2013, with a goal to cut stress among the Marines.
The U.S. Marine Corps now studies one arm of holistic health practice, which is how to make its troops even tougher through meditative practices, yoga-type stretching and exercises based on mindfulness. And unlike public schools who want to introduce meditation to physical education classes, no parents are protesting that meditation has an origin in Buddhism.
Yes, meditation is inspired by some Buddhist concepts, but done as a secular exercise to reduce stress, mindfulness emphasizes active attention to the moment and keeping the mind (and brain) in the present rather than dwelling on stressful past memories while the individual is trying to relax and unwind from post traumatic stress.
The Marine Corps curriculum that would integrate mindfulness-based techniques into their training if they see positive results from a pilot project
The problem some people have with mindfulness is the worry that it is Buddhist-inspired instead of Judeo-Christian inspired in concept. But if the Marines or anyone else looks at keeping the mind in the present has little to do with one's religious training, since it is a holistic health practice that emphasizes active attention on the moment to keep the mind in the present, and is not about prayer discussions or reading various scriptures of world religions as literature.
Mindfulness and meditation is supposed to relax Marines and others because veterans are facing a rising suicide rate. There's a financial reason for the meditation and mindfulness curriculum being tested. That reason is the high cost of thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress.
After more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is burdened with stressed-out troops. This week the Marine Corps officials are testing a series of brain calming exercises. The reason the Marines chose "Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training" rather than aerobic exercise or Pilates stretches is that the military is testing the curriculum to see whether the mindfulness and meditation may enhance the performance of troops. Pressures are rising after those deployments. And veterans are returning home only to find looming budget cuts, fewer jobs offered inside military services, and still a poor job outlook in the civilian sector.
All those factors combined creates stress at home on top of the post traumatic stress service personnel and veterans experience when returning home, sometimes to more family stress from emotional and financial problems, often related to economic or family situations. The common denominator is that the stress rises at home as well as the stress carried home from the war after deployment is over and the military tells the veterans they no longer need so many soldiers.
Do you really care whether mindfulness is inspired by Eastern-based customs or religions if the meditation is secular and doesn't encourage the use of foreign languages to meditate on? You really don't need to utter a 'mantra' in any other language. You can use the name of your loved one or a word from your own faith or culture in any language. The point is you use what you like to inspire focusing on the present moment to relax.
Meditation is mental preparation to better handle stress, not a religion different from your own choice
The idea is how you look at holistic health, meditation, and mindfulness. If you look at the practice as a way to tone your brain and body to handle stress in a different way that won't break down your health, the better handle stress, you can look at mindfulness and/or belly (diaphragm) breathing as preparation for the stresses of life.
It's a way to calm down and get a handle on your body's reactions to stressors in the environment that you live with as a veteran or as a Marine or in any other military branch of service. The School Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton will offer the eight-week course to about 80 Marines starting Tuesday, January 22, 2013. For now, the course is an experiment to see whether it works at de-stressing those 80 Marines enrolled.
The course has a history of why it will be started. The experiment builds on a 2011 study involving 160 Marines who were taught to focus their attention by concentrating on their body's sensations, including breathing, in a period of silence, according to the Associated Press article, by Julie Watson, "Meditating Marines: Military tries mindfulness to lower stress - Vitals."
Check out the article, "Meditating Marines: Military tries mindfulness to lower stress - Vitals" to read the history of how the calming procedures worked when practiced in a mock combat situation. Also, according to the AP article, Naval Health Research Center scientist Douglas C. Johnson, who is leading the research, monitored the soldiers' reactions by looking at blood and saliva samples as well as images of their brains and problem-solving tests taken by the Marines in the study.
The important point to remember is that if blood and saliva tests show that mindfulness works at reducing stress, it's looking at the results from the inside out. You can read the results of the control group compared to the group that had mindfulness training. Results from the 2011 study are expected to be published this spring.
The present study will compare three groups of Marines, whose biological reactions will be also monitored. One group of about 80 will receive mindfulness-based training. Another of equal size will be given mental resilience training based on sports psychology techniques. The third one will act as a control group. Results from that study are expected in the fall, according to the Marine Corps officials, as noted in the AP article.
At this point, what Marine Corps officials want to see is evidence that mindfulness and meditation help the brain better react to high-stress situations and recover more quickly from those episodes. What the outcome will show will help the Marines decides whether they want to develop a training program.
The goal is to find out whether Marines who train other Marines in mindfulness and meditation will lessen stress. Will the tool prepare Marines to face stress with fewer health symptoms? Combat stress creates problems throughout people's lives such as post traumatic distress order, what World War One soldiers named "shell shock." The post-combat 'shock' disabled some of the military veterans for the rest of their lives by causing a lowered toleration for any type stress from the environment, work, or home. That lower toleration for stress can lead to avoidance of jobs that focus on contact with people in person or by phone.
Marines need a tool to regulate their own stress levels before the issues lead to problem behavior and bad health
The goal is to help Marines before stress-related health and behavior problems begin. Mindfulness needs to become a tools that protects or 'armors' Marines so they are capable of handling stress. The training needs to happen before deployment so the Marines have the tool to use when stress happens in deployment, training, or war as well as back home when they return to family or look for a job and find that there are not enough jobs to go around or to last long or pay enough. Life has stresses from road rage of others to losing one's house after being out of work or returning home and not finding a job or having huge medical expenses for self or dependent relatives.
Marines need to stop being skeptical about relaxation tools if they work at the chemical level when blood and saliva are analyzed to see whether the body perceives stress with less impact on the body and health or lifespan. Meditation also is about sitting in silence looking at your combat boots and becoming aware of sensations. If the Marine doesn't know he or she is supposed to focus on some way to keep the mind in the present moment instead of remembering past bad experiences, the (what) specific tool used needs to be explained on how it's to be used and why, when, and where.
For example, if a Marine is asked to become aware of how his or her feet touch the floor, unless the 'why' is explained along with the goal, many may not know the result is to get the person to relax, feel more upbeat, and de-stress. The Marines need to read the scientific research as to why they're taking such a course. The goal is to help soldiers think clearly under fire when quick decisions mean life or death decisions for them and others nearby.
Studies on meditation tools also are taking place in the Army
Marines and others need to be told that the practice of holistic health meditation and mindfulness is one tool to use in order to reset nervous systems after stress such as combat duty. If the soldiers read the results of validated scientific studies first before taking the course, they won't be so skeptical as to why the feel distracted from other work while doing the exercises to relax. Soldiers, like anyone else, need tools to decompress that have lasting effects.
Just ask the wives and children or parents of Marines and other soldiers returning from combat and finding more stress at home or frustration looking for work after getting out of military service. If the data is validated and the journals the data appear in are respected and credible, the Marines will take the results of medical tests more seriously.
You have every Marine doing pushups and learning how to use weapons. But offer a holistic tool for the brain, and unless the Marine sees the tool as another type of 'pushup' for the mind, the tool may not make sense unless the military person can relate the meditation to the real world experienced each day at work, at war, or at home with family. Military suicide rates are too high, and blood and saliva studies will show whether training in mindfulness and meditation will work in the long term.
How does the veteran treat others who have no authority over his future income?
Besides the medical tests, researchers also need to ask the families of veterans whether the mindfulness is working. They live every day with soldiers when the veterans and military personnel are not on their best behavior in front of commanding officers who have the power to control their economic futures.
It's how the soldier treats those who don't have the power to hire or fire them that needs to be looked at by researchers. That gives a clue to how the tool is working in real life as well as on the job. For example, do domestic violence, suicide attempts, and road rage incidences go down after the soldiers or veterans meditate daily or take mini-meditation breaks every few hours? Does the veteran see his or her spouse as having no power or control over the family money, child custody, or major household decisions?
Here's how to do a secular meditation for holistic health practice and to increase your power of concentration
First, you choose a word that has a special meaning to you in a language you understand. That word, in any language could simply mean 'peace' or 'health.' Meditation is supposed to relax your brain/mind more than sleep. Meditation can be done before you start any work, study routines, hobbies, or travel by taking five-minute mini-meditation breaks to quiet your mind.
When you meditate, the first change in your body is to increase your power of concentration so that you spend your time living in the present moment while meditating. The reason to meditate is to offer your brain a relaxing change from past memories floating up, flashbacks, or reminders of what you have to do next, or to take a step away from any event in the day that disturbed you. When you focus your attention on meditating, you can accomplish that period you set aside for relaxation.
Meditation may increase awareness of what's happening inside your body
Also, when you focus your attention on an experience such as meditation, you can accomplish it more effectively by allowing the meditation experience to increase your awareness of what's going on around you after the meditation is done. But while you're meditating, you increase your awareness of what's going on inside of your body. The reason some people meditate is to enjoy something more fully when you pay attention to or focus on that action, for example, eating a specific meal or favorite food.
If you're on a special diet, meditation allows you to pay attention to what you're eating. A lot of people eat while reading, watching TV or listening to the radio instead of paying attention to what's being eaten or how much has been devoured such as how many servings or portions of a favorite food at one sitting. The goal is to pay attention to how food affects you. As you focus you can better figure out when you've had enough to eat.
Your mind quiets and relaxes when you meditate
The reason to meditate is to quiet your mind. But too many people use meditation time to allow thoughts to well up of events that instead of calming them, raise their blood pressure or anger level or feelings of fear. Keep telling yourself that the reason for meditation is to help your mind become quieter.
The result is supposed to be peace, joy, and nourishment of your mind as you live in the precise moment you meditate. Studies have shown meditation is supposed to provide deeper relaxation than when you sleep, which may be full of fearful or frustrating dreams, running, or other activities that don't provide the relaxation you want when you awake. Meditation is not sleep. It's about getting a clearer picture of yourself by paying attention and focusing on the moment as you meditate.
Focusing attention on your self-worth to get rid of lack of awareness
As you pay attention, you can improve the picture you have of yourself and your abilities and skills. Paying attention helps to get rid of any distorted pictures you may have of your self or your body image, for example. Secular meditation for holistic health is about focusing on attention to your self-worth. Meditation helps you get rid of your lack of awareness. Your reason to meditate is to increase feelings of well-being by living in the present moment as you meditate on self-awareness and well-being.
As you focus on living in the present moment, your brain can relax without going back to the past and pulling up memories or into the future of what you must do the next day to make sure you're taking care of yourself properly. Meditation is used to help clear up your lack of awareness about yourself. The method is to bring you into the present moment instead of dwelling on past events or future fears.
Living in the present moment during meditation
As you meditate you focus on how to live life more fully, saying to yourself each moment matters and is holistic in health. The present moment gives you the ability to live, to change, or to explore possibilities. You can look for patterns in the present and connect the dots after the meditation is done.
What those moments of meditation do for you is to allow you to feel what transcendence is like. You can transcend past choices or mistakes. Meditation gives you power, the power to heal any isolation you feel, any disconnectedness so that you can feel at one with the energy inside of you and around you.
Too many people feel isolated, especially during festive times. But living in the moment through meditation, perhaps followed by slow exercise that helps with balance can be helpful. You don't need a foreign language word to meditate on if it's unfamiliar to you. You can meditate on words such as, peace, health, or joy.
How meditation helps you connect to awareness and get rid of feelings of isolation
If health or joy has too many fearful connotations for you or brings up memories of isolation or lack and scarcity, just meditation on 'peace.' Religious people can use a word such as 'amen' or anyone can use the word, 'one.' But 'peace' seems to work universally in whatever language is your most comfortable to use for meditation.
Minds constantly run through a medley of thoughts during meditation instead of focusing on the present moment or their slow, regular breathing. But when you repeat a sound over and over such as 'peace' and 'one' or any word or two of your choosing, the one sound you use to repeat to yourself helps your mind quiet down during a half-hour meditation.
What you want to accomplish is a feeling or sense of peace and well-being. So you can choose a word that allows your mind to focus on peace and well-being. The feelings are inside you if you look for the sense of peace and well-being inside yourself. All you need to do is quiet your mind and focus, and your body supposedly also quiets down to experience that feeling of peace, at least during the meditation experience.
For further information on how meditation relaxes the body more than sleep, check out the site, Meditation FAQ. You also can look at the book, Meditation Made Easy, Harper One (2001). The book also shows you how to integrate "mini meditations" into spare moments of the day, from savoring morning beverages to taking advantage of the five minutes before a meeting.