Army Introduces Yoga, Meditation in Basic Training

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The Army is testing the potential benefits of meditation and yoga for recruits undergoing Basic Training.

The 10-week pilot program was designed to evaluate the possible military benefits of mindfulness and flexibility exercises as the Army seeks to address declining fitness in new recruits.

Soldiers in 20 basic training platoons at Fort Jackson, S.C., practiced yoga and meditation daily to assess their effects on factors like physical performance, mental toughness, soldier discipline, injury rates, stress management and graduation rates.

“We realized there’s growing scientific evidence that mindfulness and yoga have positive effects on individual holistic health and fitness,” Maj. Kimberley Jordan, a doctor of physical therapy and the officer overseeing the program, told Stars and Stripes. “The basic combat training environment … was rich in a variety of performance indicators that we could assess or analyze.”

Jordan said the pilot program is one of the largest studies of yoga and mindfulness on soldier preparedness the military has ever undertaken. Early results show better pain management and faster recovery times.

The practices are led by contracted trainers. Half the trainees do yoga for 15 minutes before and after normal morning physical training exercises. They also receive two hours of weekly instruction in mindfulness. The control group platoons use standard Army preparation and recovery drills, such as windmill stretches, bend-and-reach and pushups.

The yoga training aligned with the Army’s new comprehensive health and fitness program, introduced to accompany the service’s first overhaul of its fitness test in four decades. The Holistic Health and Fitness System is intended to help reduce injuries, obesity, chronic sleep deprivation and mental illness, an Army statement said.

Declining fitness among American youth, including huge jumps in the rate of first-time failures on modified fitness tests given to basic trainees from 2000 to 2010, was also cited as driving the need for a new approach.

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