Izquierdo Law - April 2020

IzLegal Illustrated

WHY THE MILITARY JUST GOT MORE MINDFUL The Benefits of Mindfulness

These days, the term mindfulness is more likely to conjure thoughts of smartphone apps than rooms wafting with nag-champa. Business guru Tim Ferris and journalist Dan Rather profess an almost cult- like devotion to the practice, and multinationals like Goldman Sachs, Google, and Bank of America all offer mindfulness training to their employees. Recently, another large organization has jumped on the bandwagon: the United States military. So, what’s all the fuss about? For years, mindfulness devotees professed that cultivating it as a practice could alleviate the symptoms of everything from high blood pressure to anxiety. Historically though, critics were dismissive, claiming studies on mindfulness weren’t rigorous enough because they didn’t include a placebo. Unlike participants in traditional studies, where half the group believes they are being treated but are only taking the equivalent of a sugar pill, participants in meditation studies usually know whether or not they are meditating. One researcher changed that in 2016. Neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha conducted a study where students at the University of Miami were split into two groups and then put through a series of cognitive tests. One group received mindfulness training and practiced it for a combined one hour a week, over a period of nine weeks. The other group of students received instruction about escaping worries and fake stress relief strategies. Evidence already supports that stressful environments reduce cognitive function and memory, and during the course of the study, all the students experienced an increase in external stressors — midterms and finals. When Jha retested the students at the end

infantry soldiers in Hawaii began using mindfulness this winter, for example, to improve their shooting skills and reduce the risk of civilian harm. The idea is that by strengthening working memory through mindfulness, soldiers will be less likely to make impulsive decisions. Large organizations have the resources to carefully vet the training and benefits they provide to their employees, and on the topic of mindfulness, Google, Bank of America, and the U.S. military all agree: Mindfulness works. If you’re looking for improved cognition and focus, you need to look no further than your own breath, an instructional app on your smartphone, and one hour of practice a week.

of the study, she found that the control group of students, when retested, did significantly worse on the tests later in the term. Stress had eroded their cognitive function. The group of students who received mindfulness training, however, became more accurate and focused. Jha’s findings suggest that not only is meditation a way to improve performance, but it is also a way to inoculate yourself against the effects of stressful situations. Dr. Jha continued to study the effects of mindfulness, and in 2019, she published a second study that examined its effects on a different group: soldiers in a special operations unit. This time, Dr. Jha found that not only were soldiers trained in mindfulness better able to discern important information in a chaotic environment, but they also saw gains in their working memory.

Thanks in part to Dr. Jha’s research, mindfulness is edging its way into the United States military. Army

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