Mindfulness helps Soldiers cope

By Spc. Daniel Schneider, 366th MPAD, USD-CAugust 4, 2010

Lt. Col. Vincent Barnhart
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – BAGHDAD - Maj. Victor Won, deputy chief of staff of intelligence, and Lt. Col. Vincent Barnhart, 1st Armored Division surgeon, both assigned to Company A, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Division, meditate during a 15-minute Mindfulnes... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Maj. Victor Won
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – BAGHDAD - Maj. Victor Won, deputy assistant chief of staff in the intelligence section of 1st Armored Division, explains meditation techniques to attendees of the first lunchtime 15-minute Mindfulness session at division headquarters Aug. 2. Accordin... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

BAGHDAD - United States Division-Center is offering Soldiers an ancient alternative to traditional military methods of coping with deployment stress, known as Mindfulness.

A form of Buddhist meditation, Mindfulness has sometimes been used as a coping mechanism to help Soldiers deal with deployment stress. Though its roots are found in Buddhism, leaders say Soldiers do not need to be Buddhist to gain benefits from it.

"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. It can help Soldiers in any circumstance, said Maj. Victor Won, deputy assistant chief of staff of Intelligence, general staff section, 1st Armored Division.

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

The University of Pennsylvania has been working, with Army support, to examine and research the effects of meditation as a means to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Won.

"Many psychotherapists around the world have applied Mindfulness, treating various psychological diagnoses such as PTSD, depression and even personality disorders," said Won, who is assigned to Company A, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Division. "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, 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 currently lacks a mental fitness program, said Won. They have many physical fitness programs in place, however the Army is moving towards developing stress coping methods.

Mental fitness is similar to physical fitness. Like lifting weights or running, a daily routine of Mindfulness will help strengthen coping mechanisms, making it easier to recognize and react to negative emotions so they don't grow stronger, said Won.

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

"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," Won explained.

"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 comes when there's a discrepancy between what you want and what actually is," concluded Won. "With Mindfulness, you can choose to see things as they are and accept them as they are, and then work to improve the situation if possible."