Public health unit in Japan evaluates benefits of practicing 'mindfulness'

By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsJune 14, 2012

Public health unit in Japan evaluates benefits of practicing 'mindfulness'
Col. Michael Brumage, left, commander of Public Health Command Region-Pacific at Camp Zama, leads a "mindfulness meditation" session with
community members June 14. An eight-week class was held there from January through April, and feedback from the ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan (June 15, 2012) -- The possible benefits of an increasingly prevalent form of resilience-building, as well as the widespread number of ways it can be applied throughout the military, are being evaluated following an eight-week class held here.

Feedback from 15 participants of the "mindfulness meditation" sessions was very positive, said Col. Michael Brumage, commander of Public Health Command Region-Pacific, the Camp Zama unit through which the class was coordinated.

Data from pre- and post-clinic surveys filled out by the participants here will be compiled, analyzed and combined with the results from other Army installations to form the basis of a program evaluation and survey. That evaluation will be used to help brief commanders across the Army, in hopes that each branch will endorse similar programs throughout its ranks.

"I'm hoping we can demonstrate to the Army and the rest of the military that [mindfulness meditation] is an effective intervention which merits and warrants endorsement and support from commands," said Rudy Melson, a former active-duty Soldier and currently a doctoral student in public health policy from New York Medical College who worked with Brumage during the evaluation here.

Brumage defines the concept of mindfulness as "learning how to be in the present moment." The secular practice has its roots in centuries-old Buddhist practices, but began being applied in wellness and resiliency courses in the late 1970s, championed by the likes of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and author Saki Santorelli at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Benefits in stress reduction and improved performance have prompted U.S. corporations including Google, Target, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Comcast, BASF, Bose, and New Balance to offer mindfulness training and encourage its use at work.

"Most people can relate to the idea that they spend much of their time, while physically in the present moment, mentally somewhere else altogether," said Brumage.

During the eight-week class, held from January through April, Brumage led a number of meditation sessions meant to teach participants how to align those physical and mental states. This included several exercises that differed slightly in their execution, but were mostly all intended to focus one's awareness on the present moment, the colonel said.

"It's not about clearing the mind; it's about refocusing that attention back to your breath or whatever particular sensation you are focusing on at that particular moment," said Brumage. "We eventually expand the practice of mindfulness to everything, to have it permeate your everyday life so that everything you do becomes a practice of mindfulness."

Prior to his arrival at Camp Zama, Brumage was the commander of the Schofield Barracks Health Clinic in Hawaii. While there, the colonel said the majority of his time was spent focused on addressing and devising treatment and resiliency options for deployment-related stressors faced by Soldiers and their family members.

Mindfulness-based classes, workshops and other activities began to be offered to the community at Schofield, and were "enthusiastically embraced" there, Brumage said. Based on the success and positive reception he saw in Hawaii, Brumage was eager to bring mindfulness to Japan.

Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can be helpful in treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological ailments common among service members.

"Science has shown us that people who practice mindfulness are able to get a number of health benefits from it," said Brumage. "The neuroscience behind this is also very exciting. People are actually able to thicken their cerebral cortex in areas associated with increased emotional regulation and decreased emotional reactivity."

Mindfulness meditation is already a part of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, a multi-pronged Army initiative and educational resource that aims to improve participants in five dimensions of physical and mental strength. The goal, Melson said, is for the practice to become not just a larger part of medicine in general, but also to be infused throughout the military way of life.

"The evidence and feedback that has been gathered at this command and elsewhere shows that there are receptive individuals out there who believe that mindfulness does have an essential role in completing missions that Soldiers get on a daily basis," said Melson.