ARLINGTON, Va. – Increased awareness during routine tasks like brushing their teeth may help Soldiers alleviate stress, exercise gratitude and live in the present. It’s a practice called mindfulness and Soldiers in the Army Recovery Care Program are learning about it as part of their adaptive reconditioning.
The Department of Veterans Affairs defines mindfulness as “a way of thinking and focusing that can help you become more aware of your present experiences.” The VA breaks mindfulness into two parts: “paying attention to and being aware of the present moment” and “accepting or being willing to experience your thoughts and feelings without judging them.”
The Schofield Barracks Soldier Recovery Unit, Hawaii, and the Fort Belvoir SRU, Virginia, have incorporated mindfulness into their adaptive reconditioning programs.
"It helped me focus on the now and close out outside noise," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Alexandre, a Soldier assigned to the Schofield Barracks SRU.
Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Cathy Powers, leads the Fort Belvoir SRU’s mindfulness group. She said mindfulness is about being in the moment, recognizing the good and bad aspects of each day, identifying feelings and learning how to handle it when bad things happen. She sees similarities with practicing gratitude, which helps Soldiers recognize that even the worst day is not 100% bad and that there is always something for which to be grateful.
“It makes difficult journeys a little bit easier by being mindful and being aware of the good while you are going through it,” she said.
The Fort Belvoir SRU mindfulness group used to meet in person, but shifted to an email distribution at the outset of the new coronavirus pandemic. These days, they meet weekly on a virtual platform to explore topics, such as breathing or gratitude, and learn how to incorporate them into everyday life.
Powers said that breathing, observance and meditation are tools that can help Soldiers achieve a more mindful state. She also shared a mindful tooth brushing exercise as an example. It’s practiced through two minutes not just brushing, but also sensing the feeling of the toothbrush, the flavor of the toothpaste and analyzing current mood and feelings.
Maj. Dan McKeon didn’t know about mindfulness before he was assigned to the Fort Belvoir SRU, but took an interest in learning about it once he started the program.
“I wasn’t expecting the healing power that it would have,” he said.
McKeon attends the SRU’s weekly group as often as he can and also practices meditation and mindfulness on his own.
“It allows you to kind of stop and refocus yourself on things you can control,” he said.
The Schofield Barracks SRU sends its Soldiers mindfulness exercises via email and offers yoga and Integrative Restoration (iRest) classes, both of which incorporate mindfulness practices. The unit book club is also reading a book that discusses the subject.
"Mindfulness strategies have been an important emphasis in our program,” said Adaptive Reconditioning Support Specialist Janalyn Dunn. “At the soldier recovery unit, it can be challenging to focus on the present. So much treatment is necessarily focused on reviewing what impact trauma in the past—whether physical or psychological—has on opportunities in the future.”
She said that they honor the present through reconnecting with their senses through yoga, practicing iRest meditation, and reading and discussing principles of mindfulness as presented in their current book club choice.
“This helps to alleviate stress that is often felt by fixating on things that we cannot, at this moment, control,” Dunn said. “There is a time and place to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Mindfulness activities simply invite a balance and encourage individuals to not forget that the most powerful moment we have, is the moment we have right now."
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.
Note: Adaptive Reconditioning Support Specialist, Janalyn Dunn at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii Soldier Recovery Unit contributed to this article.