Soldiers are using a combination of meditation and body awareness exercises to help them recover from stressful combat.
US Marine Corps personnel took an eight week course and then spent a day in a mock rural Middle Eastern village where an ambush was stages.
The scientist found that the heart and breathing rates of those who had received mindfulness training returned to normal faster than those who had not been trained.
Blood levels of a tell-tale neuropeptide also suggested that the mindfulness trained group had improved immune function.
Subsequent MRI scans revealed that the mindfulness trained marines had less activity in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional reaction, cognition and interoception.
High activity in these areas of the brain are associated with anxiety and mood disorders.
The research was carried out on Marine infantrymen in four platoons at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton by scientists from the University of California.
The scientist concluded that incorporating meditative practices into pre-deployment training might be a way to help the US military reduce rising rates of stress-related health conditions.
These include post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
“Mindfulness training won’t make combat easier,” said Martin Paulus, MD, professor of psychiatry and senior author. “But we think it can help Marines recover from stress and return to baseline functioning more quickly.”
“That we can re-regulate the activity in these areas (in the brain) with so little training is this study’s most significant finding,” Paulus said.
“Mindfulness helps the body optimize its response to stress by helping the body interpret stressful events as bodily sensations.
“The brain adds less emotional affect to experiences and this helps with stress recovery.”
The study is published in the online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.