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Mindful : August 2019
hoped that mindfulness training might help the Marines survive the pre-deployment period with their cognitive skills intact. The results of the pilot study, Stan- ley says, exceeded her expectations. Among Marines who practiced mind- fulness at least 12 minutes a day, “they didn’t just preserve working memory capacity,” she says. “They actually improved.” The more they practiced, the more they benefited. After the pilot study, Jha and Stan- ley wanted to expand their research. “We had a series of grants in the can,” Jha says, “but couldn’t find anyone who would take on our project, because we were asking for quite a bit of time.” They found a champion in Piatt. The general helped them launch a study at Schofield Barracks in 2010 that demonstrated that certain types of mindfulness training helped ser- vicemembers concentrate better and tune out distractions, even as they prepared for deployment. Piatt also advised Jha and her colleague Scott Rogers as they developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Attention Training (MBAT), crafted for military populations and designed to be taught by non-experts. Working with Piatt, says Jha, has given her “the support of a leader who is interested in mindfulness and has actually started practicing himself.” She also gained an ally who under- stands military culture, and how to use language to win support. Piatt talks about mindfulness as “zeroing the mind,” just as a soldier zeroes a weapon by aligning the sight with the target. “The soldiers will understand it,” Piatt says. “It translates better and then you reduce that wall of skepticism.” Jha continues to expand her research. She’s talking with militaries in other countries. She’s collaborat- ing with VMI’s Jarman on a project looking at mindfulness and leadership skills. She has worked, too, with mili- tary spouses. This year she published → “WE’RE HELPING REAL PEOPLE IN THEIR REAL LIVES FACE THE CHALLENGES THAT WE AS A NATION ARE ASKING THEM TO ENDURE.” Amishi Jha Amishi Jha knew she needed help when her toddler looked up at her during story time and asked what a Womp was. Jha had read this same book to her son dozens of times, and had been truly looking forward to spending this time with him. “ What is he talking about?” she remembers thinking, realizing she didn’t have a clue—though she’d been reading about Womps for several pages, and had over suc- cessive nights. She was in her second year as an assistant profes- sor, her husband was starting grad school, and she’d lost the feeling in her teeth from grinding them so ferociously. “I was at the point of quitting. I needed to do something that felt more manageable to me.” That something turned out to be meditation, and it became more than just a personal daily practice for her. A neuroscientist, Jha began to study the effects of mindfulness on people in high-stress cohor ts, like med- ical students and nurses. A tragic story turned her attention in another direction. The perpetrator of a school shooting near Philadelphia, where she then lived, was iden- tified in early news repor ts as a military veteran. And though it turned out the shooter had no connection to the military, for Jha, there was a moment of sharp recognition. “At that point we were already eight years into this Afghanistan conflict, and I felt we were seeding our society with psychosis but there was nothing being done to protect against that. So my openness to working with military per- sonnel came from: What can I possibly do?” As much as Jha may have met with some resis- tance from soldiers, she began this work a decade Neuroscientist Amishi Jha has been putting mindfulness to the test with people under extreme stress—with life-changing results. BY STEPHANIE DOMET WORKING WITH STRESS WARRIORS 54 mindful August 2019 neuroscience