Trainees with 2nd Batallion, 60th Infantry Regiment do yoga as part of the Mindfulness and Yoga pilot program, Dec. 8. (Josephine Carlson)
by Josie CarlsonFort Jackson Public Affairs
Almost every week on Fort Jackson hundreds of trainees graduate from Basic Combat Training and move on to Advanced Individual Training. They have all gone through the required steps of BCT and for the most part share a very similar, if not identical, experience. For the two battalions graduating this week, however, their time on Fort Jackson had a unique aspect that other cycles don’t share.
Trainees at select platoons within 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment participated in Training and Doctrine Command’s Mindfulness and Yoga Pilot.
“Growing scientific evidence indicates that Mindfulness and Yoga as an intervention, has positive effects on an individual's holistic health and fitness,” said Maj. Kimberley Jordan, Action Officer for U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training’s Holistic Health and Directorate. Studies also report greater attention, greater goal-directed energy, and less perceived stress. Yoga is demonstrated to improve cognitive, physical, and affective, outcomes. The practice of mindfulness leads to focused attention and greater awareness on the present moment.”
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in partnership with U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training and U.S. Army Training Center Fort Jackson, conducted the 10-week pilot to determine the impacts of a mindfulness and yoga training program on the mental and physical readiness of trainees during BCT.
During the pilot, CIMT-contracted Registered Yoga Teachers conducted 30 minutes of yoga replacing the preparatory and recovery drills before and after physical training. Headquarters, Department of the Army G-1 Army Resilience Directorate--contracted performance experts conducted mindfulness training for two hours each week for four weeks. Trainees also established a mindfulness practice 15 minutes per day, 6 days a week, facilitated by drill sergeants throughout the duration of BCT.
Post Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier already understands the value of mindfulness.
“We spend a lot of time exercising our muscles as a mechanism to reduce stress and mindfulness is the same concept,” Tavernier said. “Mindfulness is an exercise for the brain, and a way to help relieve stress.”
“As Soldiers, we were never taught how to focus our attention, we were always taught to multitask,” he added. “As leaders, we tend to put a lot of stress on Soldiers but we never teach them how to deal with stress. Mindfulness is not just about being a better Soldier, it is about becoming a better person. Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice but I'd encourage people not to get discouraged. Practice and really embrace mindfulness, the results will be amazing.”
Pfc. Lina Alani, a trainee in 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, who participated in the pilot, said she wasn’t on board with the idea at first. This was her first time trying yoga or mindfulness training and to her yoga and the Army didn’t go hand in hand.
“After attending the first two weeks of yoga, I started really enjoying and benefiting from the positions that we were put in during the training,” Alani said.
She also enjoyed listening to the trainers during mindfulness.
“I took some of their advice which really helped, not just during the training. (When) standing for a long time at the position of attention, or like during the rucks, it really helped me focus on the task at hand,” Alani added. “The same thing for yoga. It kind of gives you time to clear your mind, focus on what you're doing at that moment. Honestly, I would recommend it for the next cycles.”
She did have some suggestions for improving the program.
“I would recommend having the trainers come more often instead of us listening to the recorded sessions,” Alani said. “When the trainer comes…I saw the entire platoon participating, it was honestly the only time that I saw them get together and open up to each other. It was really beneficial. I got to know the platoon really well during those sessions,”
Sgt. 1st Class Desiree Strickland, a drill sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, said this is her best cycle, due to the mindfulness training.
“They communicate more efficiently and effectively,” Strickland said. “They don’t argue. They overall have more respect for themselves, each other and for the drill sergeants.”
Sgt. Andrew Boyd, a drill sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, said he has incorporated the yoga poses into shooting instruction.
“Especially barrier shooting – I told my trainees you have to put all your weight into that barrier and the only way you’re going to put all your weight into that barrier is (doing this pose), Warrior,” Boyd said.
Not everyone is convinced yoga and mindfulness need to be incorporated into BCT going forward. Several drill sergeants commented that yoga seems to be effective as a recovery drill but did not think it adequately replaced the preparatory exercises.
Trainees are also concerned about having enough time to get everything done. Staff Sgt. Angela Alvarez, a senior drill sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, noted some trainees didn’t seem interested in mindfulness practice.
“Whenever I would set up the speaker for their mindfulness (practice) the trainees looked discouraged or upset because they had to sit through 15 minutes of mindfulness (practice) when they believed that they could use those 15 minutes of their time to prepare for the following day or utilize the laundry room,” Alvarez said.
One trainee from 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment said that although she likes mindfulness practice, if given the choice between practice and personal time to get her equipment ready for the next day she would choose personal time.
“Given the increased mental and physical demands of Basic Combat Training, evidenced-based holistic health and fitness programs are needed to enhance mental toughness, discipline, emotion, regulation and performance under stress,” Jordan said. “Such programs are also needed to help manage stress, reduce injury, and lower attrition among trainees undergoing the rigors of BCT. This pilot has incorporated elements of the Army’s new Holistic Health and Fitness System. Through the collection of multiple surveys, performance metric data, as well as the honest feedback from those exposed to the interventions, TRADOC leaders will be able to analyze and address the impact of mindfulness and yoga in the BCT environment.”
One thing seems evident, the Army is open to new ways of doing things and making sure trainees have the tools they need to succeed.