RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The moments just before deployment can be highly stressful for those in the military, but a study published in the journal Emotion finds that meditation improved mood and bolstered working memory during this period. Working memory is the short-term memory system we tap into for managing information, controlling emotions, problem solving, and complex thought—sometimes in crisis situations. You can gain the same benefits when faced with stressful situations, whether planning your wedding, having your first child, preparing to undergo surgery, or getting ready to change jobs, according to lead study author Amishi P. Jha, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
THE DETAILS: Jha and fellow researchers divided 48 male Marines into two groups before they deployed to war. Thirty-one participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation course, while the other 17 Marines did not practice mindfulness and were used as a control group. The soldiers' average age was 25 years old. The concept of mindfulness involves focusing on the present, such as the physical sensations you experience while breathing, without judging them or allowing your thoughts to wander. The study used the mindfulness program developed by the Mind Fitness Training Institute. During the study period, Marines spent an average of 12 minutes a day engaged in mindfulness meditation. Researchers discovered a dose response to the meditation: Those Marines who meditated more scored better on mood and working memory evaluations.
WHAT IT MEANS: A number of mindfulness protocols call for 30 to 45 minutes a day of meditation, which is unrealistic for many busy people. But Jha says the results of her study found that much shorter meditation sessions could still improve mood and mental clarity. She compares mental training to exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at it. "And as with physical fitness, there are benefits to it," says Jha. "The trickier problem is taking the first step to start it."
But there's plenty of scientific evidence out there to persuade you to give mindfulness meditation a try. Other studies have shown that mindfulness lowers stress, decreases obsessive thinking, and even improves immunity.
Read on to learn how you can give mindfulness a try.