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Re: [Meditation Society of America] Marines expanding use of meditation training

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  • sean tremblay
    Very Cool ... From: medit8ionsociety Subject: [Meditation Society of America] Marines expanding use of meditation training To:
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 7, 2012
      Very Cool

      --- On Thu, 12/6/12, medit8ionsociety <no_reply@yahoogroups.com> wrote:

      From: medit8ionsociety <no_reply@yahoogroups.com>
      Subject: [Meditation Society of America] Marines expanding use of meditation training
      To: meditationsocietyofamerica@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Thursday, December 6, 2012, 5:56 PM


      Marines expanding use of meditation training

      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."

      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 a
      verage 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.

      "The initial concerns form the military were, 'Is this going
      to be a waste of time, and is this going to interrupt my
      finely honed rapid-action drills?'" Ms. Stanley said. "The
      concerns coming from the mindfulness side were, 'If you
      teach them these skills, and they become more open people,
      will it undermine their ability to armor up psychologically?
      A few people even wondered if I was trying to make, quote,
      'better baby-killers.'"

      Undaunted, Ms. Stanley sought support for a pilot program
      through her connections in the Army — the same Army that
      in the mid-1980s conducted a Trojan Warrior Project, in
      which 25 Special Forces soldiers nicknamed the "Jedi Knights" received six months of meditative and martial-arts training
      that helped them perform better than their peers on psychological
      and biofeedback tests.

      She found an advocate in Maj. Jason Spitaletta, a then-Marine reservist who was a psychology graduate student in non-military
      life. Mr. Spitaletta read Ms. Stanley's DARPA paper and brought
      it to the attention of his superiors, who agreed to participate
      in the 2008 study.

      Over eight weeks of 12-hour days otherwise devoted to mock
      firefights and exhausting field exercises, 31 Marine reservists
      were taught breathing exercises and yoga poses, how to focus
      their attention and how to prevent their minds from wandering.
      More than once, they could be seen outdoors, sitting cross-legged
      and practicing meditation.

      Amishi Jha, the researcher who evaluated the troops, found
      that the service members in the program ended up with improved
      moods and greater attentiveness — and that the individuals
      who spent additional time meditating on their own saw the
      biggest improvements.

      "It's like working out in the gym," said Ms. Jha, the
      director of contemplative neuroscience for the University
      of Miami's Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative.
      "Right now, the military has daily physical training. Every
      day, they get together and exercise. But the equivalent is
      not given to the mind. The more [these troops] practiced,
      the more they benefited."

      Brain training

      Why the cognitive boost? The answer lies in neuroscience.
      Previous studies have shown that habitual meditation:

      • Changes the way blood and oxygen flow through the brain;

      • Strengthens the neural circuits responsible for concentration
      and empathy;

      • Shrinks the amygdala, an area of the brain that controls
      the fear response;

      • Enlarges the hippocampus, an area of the brain that controls

      • In a recent, incomplete study of Marines taking an M-Fit
      course — the one Sgt. Hampton participated in — University
      of California at San Diego and Navy researcher Chris Johnson
      took blood and saliva samples from the participating service
      members and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
      to scan their brains.

      • According to a report in Pacific Standard, the troops
      recovered better from stressful training, while their brain
      scans showed similarities to those taken of elite Special
      Forces soldiers and Olympic athletes.

      "Basically, there are parts of the brain that work differently
      in high performers," said Robert Skidmore, director of operations
      for the Alexandria, Va.-based Mind Fitness Training Institute.
      "It's possible to train our minds to process things differently.
      With eight weeks of training, working memory capacity increases."

      Essentially the short-term, scratch-pad system we use to
      manage relevant information, solve real-time problems and
      regulate our current emotional state, working memory is
      roughly equivalent to random access memory in a computer and functions on a daily basis like money in a bank account:
      Use it, and it depletes until it can be replenished.

      Heavy cognitive tasks, such as scanning an alley for armed insurgents, require working memory. So do emotional challenges,
      like dealing with the stress of leaving one's family for an
      overseas deployment.

      According to Ms. Jha, depleted working memory has been
      linked to emotional impulsivity, prejudiced behavior,
      domestic violence and alcoholism.

      "It's the core resource for regulating your own behavior,"
      she said. "It's not like your psychological state or mood
      is separate."

      In the M-Fit study, troops who meditated regularly increased
      their working memory capacity; moreover, they were more aware
      of their physical responses to combat stress.

      In a fight-or-flight situation — for instance, a firefight
      — the pupils dilate to take in more information. Blood flows
      away from the stomach and into the muscles, producing the
      familiar "butterfly" sensation. Heart and breathing rates
      rise. Stress hormones course through the body.

      More importantly, blood flow in the brain is redirected away
      from the areas that control rational thought and toward the
      areas associated with instinct and survival.

      "It's really hard to access rational thought during
      high-intensity stress situations," said Jared Smyser, 28,
      a former Marine who lives in Richmond, Va., and is training
      to become an M-Fit instructor. "All this stuff happens in
      your body because we've evolved to get away from predators.
      But it's not really relevant in today's warfare. You need
      to be calm, collected, making better decisions."

      According to Ms. Stanley, meditative training can help troops
      do so by increasing efficiency in the insular cortex, which
      allows people to rapidly switch between thinking and unthinking states of mind.

      "It can be exercised when we are attending to sensations
      in the body," she said. "So a whole lot of our course is
      teaching the ability to track those sensations. People come
      into the course thinking it will ruin their ability to respond
      fast in combat, but actually, we're enhancing their ability."

      In the future, Ms. Stanley said, meditation may become as
      standard in the military as rifle practice, another way of
      making troops more effective and resilient. Next year, the
      Marines will incorporate M-Fit classes into an infantry school
      at Camp Pendleton, making the program a tentative part of its
      regular training cycle.

      Mr. Smyser, who served in Iraq in 2005, said military mental
      training is overdue.

      "It absolutely would have beneficial to me [in Iraq]," he
      said. "I was very skeptical at first, but I've seen benefits
      in my own life. I'm interested in working with veterans with
      PTSD. And if we teach this upfront, we might be able to prevent
      some of the problems we have to fix afterwards."

      Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/dec/5/marines-expanding-use-of-meditation-training/print/#ixzz2EIbFA5v6
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