Marine Corps turns to yoga to toughen its troops

In a search for ways to combat post-traumatic stress as well as a rising suicide rate, the U.S. Marine Corps is turning to yoga practices to help toughen up its troops.

Details are at this AP story (which popped up at the Washington Yakima Herald):

Marine Corps officials are testing a series of brain calming exercises called “Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training” that they believe could enhance the performance of troops, who are under mounting pressures from long deployments and looming budget cuts expected to slim down forces.

“Some people might say these are Eastern-based religious practices but this goes way beyond that,” said Jeffery Bearor, the executive deputy of the Marine Corps training and education command at its headquarters in Quantico, Va.. “This is not tied to any religious practice. This is about mental preparation to better handle stress.”

The School Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton will offer the eight-week course starting Tuesday to about 80 Marines.

The experiment builds on a 2011 study involving 160 Marines who were taught to focus their attention by concentrating on their body’s sensations, including breathing, in a period of silence. The Marines practiced the calming methods after being immersed in a mock Afghan village with screaming actors and controlled blasts to expose them to combat stress. Naval Health Research Center scientist Douglas C. Johnson, who is leading the research, monitored their reactions by looking at blood and saliva samples, images of their brains and problem-solving tests they took.

Another 160 other Marines went through the mock village with no mindfulness-based training, acting as the control group. Results from the 2011 study are expected to be published this spring.

The latest study by Johnson will compare three groups of Marines, whose biological reactions will be also monitored. One group of about 80 will receive mindfulness-based training. Another of equal size will be given mental resilience training based on sports psychology techniques. The third one will act as a control group.

Results from that study are expected in the fall, Marine Corps officials said.

There is a ton more details at the story, which is worth a read. As you might imagine, there was some skepticism and reluctance among Marines — who then discovered the positive results from the yoga and mindfulness training. Studies also are happening with the Army. Yes, more of those studies on yoga’s effects that we keep writing about here.

Perhaps there’s one immediate question: Yoga as part of training for warriors / fighters? Is there some conflict there? What seems to be the difference is these trainings are more focused on helping the individual Marines with the after-effects of their time serving in places like Afghanistan. Not to mention we all have our roles to play in this life … one need only look at the context of the Gita for an example.

Final note: Camp Pendleton, where the story is from, is between Los Angeles and San Diego — near to Tim Miller, Diana Christinson and a whole crew of great Ashtanga teachers. I don’t know that they’d be interested, but if the Marines want to tilt toward our form of asana…

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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