WASHINGTON, U.S., December 5,2012 (Washington Times): 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.
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 memory.
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