August saw the publication, by the American Journal of Psychiatry, of a seminal study into the effects of mindfulness training on a group of US Marines taught during their counter-insurgency training prior to deployment to Afghanistan.
This was the culmination of five years work by Elizabeth Stanley and her colleagues from the Mind Fitness Training Institute – M-Fit.
One of the difficulties in studying human experience is how to isolate individuals from external events that may affect their responses and so invalidate the findings of the studies. This is one of the reasons, along with a wide range of measures, rigorous analysis and adequate controls that makes this study so important.
The study, entitled: ‘Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment’ is available here .
A useful synopsis article from Science Daily is available here.
I can’t conceive of a group more difficult to convince of the benefits of mindfulness than the military. Here is a quotation lifted from the Washington Times from US Marine Sergeant Nathan Hampton on his mindfulness training. You can see what his initial position might have been when he was told about it.
“A lot of people thought it would be a waste of time. Why are we sitting around a classroom doing 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.”
It is important to understand the context of this study. These guys are going back into an environment that has seen them losing their friends and suffering greatly. Some of their comrades may well be suffering from PTSD or they may have recovered from it themselves The counter-insurgency traing is held in a simulated environment that is apparently just like being in Afghanistan. You can see it here.
According to the authors this is “the first study of the effect of mindfulness training utilizing multiple domains of measurement”.
There were *significant* positive differences between the mindfulness training group and the control group using the following measures:
- Heart rate
- Breathing rate
- Neuropeptide Y (stress hormone indicator)
- Interoception measured via Insula activity (body awareness, critical for effective decision making)
- The Response to Stressful Experiences Scale
I think this is a ground-breaking study and adds extremely valuable evidence to the already reliable body of evidence accruing to prove the benefits of mindfulness meditation.
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