Posted by Diana Moon, DCoE Public Affairs on October 30, 2013
U.S. Army soldiers patrol an area near the village of Kowtay, Khost province, Afghanistan. Clinical experts express that mindfulness can improve soldiers' ability to stay focused during tasks such as walking patrol. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)
Throughout childhood, you likely were told to: “Mind your manners” or “Mind your own business.” In other words, for your own good, whether that’s avoiding a reprimand or a fist fight, pay attention to yourself or what you’re doing. Now, we’re starting to realize that having the mental discipline to pay attention to what we’re doing has benefits well beyond saving face.
In recent years, mental discipline has taken on new meaning in the context of “mindfulness,” a meditative practice gaining ground with mental health advocates. It’s described as exercises for the brain to encourage being in the present moment, focusing on the task, and not letting the mind wander. Service members practicing mindfulness may find it also helps reduce stress and anxiety and suppress distressing or distracting thoughts, which can translate to improved performance on and off the battlefield and overall mental health. Meditation alone is said to change the structure and function of the brain to encourage concentration and lower stress.
Practitioners of mindfulness use varying techniques to achieve those ends but seem to agree that breathing and concentration are keys. By being more attentive to your breathing and concentrating on the present, experts say you’re not allowing emotionally upsetting memories, such as unpleasant flashbacks of combat, to cause a reaction. In other words, the practice helps you gain control of your emotions.