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‘Mindfulness’ Helps Soldiers Cope in Iraq

By Army Spc. Daniel Schneider
U.S. Division Center

BAGHDAD, Aug. 3, 2010 – U.S. Division Center officials here are offering soldiers an ancient alternative to traditional methods of coping with deployment stress.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Victor Won and Army Lt. Col. Vincent Barnhart meditate during a 15-minute “mindfulness” session at U.S. Division Center headquarters in Baghdad, Aug. 2, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Schneider

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“Mindfulness” is an option soldiers can use to deal with deployment stress.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way or maintaining the awareness on purpose, in the present moment,” according to the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness is a simple but ancient approach to living, which Western medicine has begun to recognize as a powerful tool for dealing with stress, illness and other medical or psychological conditions, and it can help soldiers in any circumstance, said Army Maj. Victor Won, deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence in 1st Armored Division’s general staff section.

“It would be more effective for soldiers to learn and train mindfulness prior to deployment,” Won said, “since the practice will offer soldiers [a means] to cope with their mental stress before getting into a high-stress environment. However, practicing the meditation on a regular basis will help anyone, no matter where they are.”

University of Pennsylvania researchers, with Army support, are working to examine the effects of meditation as a means to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, Won said.

“Many psychotherapists around the world have applied mindfulness, treating various psychological diagnoses such as PTSD, depression and even personality disorders,” he added. “It is through finding peace within and clarity [that you] see that you are not the thoughts or the emotions that bind you and take you away into suffering.

“Once practitioners develop strong awareness and learn to self-observe their thoughts, feelings and actions,” he continued, “the individuals have the power to choose how they want to feel and apply the right attitude toward all aspects of their lives. That’s where the healing power comes from – within our own minds.”

The Army is moving toward developing stress coping methods, Won noted. Mental fitness is similar to physical fitness, he explained. Just as running or lifting weights can improve physical fitness, a daily routine of mindfulness will help to strengthen coping mechanisms, making it easier to recognize and react to negative emotions so they don’t grow stronger, he said.

“Rather than dwelling in the past or the future,” Won said, “mindfulness is learning to work in the present moment in a less reactive, less judgmental manner.

“In the present, you have the power to make changes to the situations affecting you. During the future or past, nothing can be done as we are not there,” he continued. “We know what is happening in the present. What is going to happen in the future will always be a mystery, and our past cannot be changed, no matter how hard we wish it to change.”

Stress, he added, comes when a discrepancy exists between what someone wants and what actually is.

“With mindfulness, you can choose to see things as they are and accept them as they are,” he said, “and then work to improve the situation if possible.”


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