Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Veterans and Suicide - We Must Overcome

Mindfulness Training Helpful for the Military

Mindfulness based stress reduction is a combination of meditation and yoga and it's something I've decided to try. It's an 8 week course which focuses on the way that unconscious thoughts, feelings and behaviors influence emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health. It also combines some martial arts type movements which serve to strengthen all those muscles that have become out of shape due to our largely sedentary, couch potato, American lifestyles. 

"The MBSR program started in the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 and is now offered in over 200 medical centers, hospitals, and clinics around the world, including some of the leading integrative medical centers such as the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine, and the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine. Many of the MBSR classes are taught by physicians, nurses, social workers, and psychologists, as well as other health professionals who are seeking to reclaim and deepen some of the sacred reciprocity inherent in the doctor-caregiver/patient-client relationship. Their work is based on a need for an active partnership in a participatory medicine, one in which patient/clients take on significant responsibility for doing a certain kind of interior work in order to tap into their own deepest inner resources for learning, growing, healing, and transformation."

The University of Pennsylvania recently led a study in which MBSR training was provided to Soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq. The study demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training and improvements in mood and working memory. Here is a link to an article which describes the study and it's results, 
Mindfulness Training Helpful for the Military.

For me, the jury is still out. It's still early in the training and I'm finding that I have trouble disconnecting my mind from the myriad of thoughts that are constantly going on in my hyper-active psyche. I plan to stick with it though because I realize that I need an alternative method to calm my mind instead of the current methods I use like watching hours of mindless t.v., absorbing myself in silly online games, or chugging down a few beers after work. What I have learned so far is that there are lots of ways to meditate (or if you don't like that word, I'll call it "relaxing")  and if one isn't comfortable with sitting cross-legged on the floor, there are other methods. 

Many Episcopal and other Christian churches have labyrinths. Walking a labyrinth can be used for meditation or as a spiritual practice. I find that the ceremony of my Episcopal church service is very relaxing and meditative for me. I also enjoy hiking and the simple practice of being quiet while bird watching and appreciating nature. It is very calming to me. When I had knees, I jogged. Boy do I miss that!

Military service is stressful... and that is a gross understatement. It's critical that service members find ways to de-stress from the rigors of military life, deployments, combat action and family separation. The traditional way for military members to unwind was to head to the club and throw back a few drinks. Thankfully the military establishment has put the kibash on that practice... somewhat. At least it is discouraged. It is my hope that the military will adopt more healthful practices such as MBSR. But as we all know, the military machine moves slowly.