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But as the demands of two graduate programs combined with leftover stress from her time deployed, Stanley found herself unable to cope. "I realized my body and nervous system were constantly stuck on high," she says. She underwent therapy and started practicing yoga and mindful meditation, eventually completing both of her degree programs as well.
"On a long retreat in 2004, I realized I wanted to pull these two sides of me together and find a way to share these techniques with men and women in uniform," Stanley says. She teamed up with Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist at the University of Miami who studies attention, and together they launched a pilot study with private funding that investigated whether a mindfulness program could make Marines more resilient in stressful combat situations. The findings were so promising, according to Jha, that the Department of Defense awarded them two $1 million grants to investigate further, using an MBSR-based curriculum Stanley developed called Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training. Stanley has been involved in two additional mindfulness studies with Marines since, and Jha has been awarded $3.4 million more in federal grants to study how mindfulness training affects stress among other populations, including undergraduates facing exams and accountants slogging through tax season.
Educators are turning to mindfulness with increasing frequency--perhaps a good thing, considering how digital technology is splitting kids' attention spans too. (The average American teen sends and receives more than 3,000 text messages a month.) A Bay Area--based program called Mindful Schools offers online mindfulness training to teachers, instructing them in how to equip children to concentrate in classrooms and deal with stress. Launched in 2010, the group has reached more than 300,000 pupils, and educators in 43 countries and 48 states have taken its courses online.
"It was always my intention that mindfulness move into the mainstream," says Kabat-Zinn, whose MBSR bible, Full Catastrophe Living, first published in 1990, was just reissued. Lately, the professor has also been spreading the gospel abroad. On a November trip to Beijing, he helped lead a mindfulness retreat for about 250 Chinese students, monks and scientists. "This is something that people are now finding compelling in many countries and many cultures, and the reason is the science," he says.
LISTENING TO LIFE
The MBSR class I took consisted of 21 hours of class time, but there was homework. One week, we were assigned to eat a snack mindfully and "remember to inhale/exhale regularly (and with awareness!)," according to a handout. Since we were New Yorkers, another week's assignment was to count fellow passengers on a subway train. One student in my class said he had a mindfulness breakthrough when he stopped listening to music and playing games on his phone while riding to work. Instead, he observed the people around him, which he said helped him be more present when he arrived at his office.