Virginia Military Institute Is Teaching Cadets UMass-Inspired Mindfulness

It helps bust stress and prepare students for duty.

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is arming its cadets with a new weapon, courtesy of the University of Massachusetts: meditation.

VMI professors Matt Jarman and Holly Richardson, who teach psychology and physical education, respectively, use meditation to help cadets stay mentally fit. While meditation is only one component of Jarman’s “Modern Warriorship” class, Richardson teaches a course that is very mindfulness-focused, and follows the curriculum developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding executive director of the UMass Center for Mindfulness.

On Wednesday’s edition of “10% Happier,” a podcast from ABC News, host Dan Harris interviewed Jarman and Richardson about how meditation makes cadets more “efficient warriors.”

Richardson says she was prompted to bring mindfulness to VMI after finding that stress at the school was “endemic.”

“I just realized that stress will be here in the cadet’s life, so I flipped the way I was looking at the cadet’s health and I thought about mindfulness and bringing that tool to the cadets so they could withstand their first year here, or, as a senior, have the wherewithal and sense of peace of getting everything done that they needed to graduate,” Richardson says in the podcast.

In addition to dealing with daily stressors, Richardson says mindfulness is helpful for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In terms of the signs and symptoms of PTSD, it allows that individual to become still, present, aware of a small thing, such as the breath, and can change that mindset of that individual who is challenged with post-traumatic,” she says. “So I think it’s switching the mindset, the video of being back in conflict and realizing, ‘No, I’m here, I have my breath, I’m okay.'”

Jarman adds on the podcast that the mental and physical training cadets go through allows them to be warriors, and to be “mentally and physically ready and able when the time comes to help others.” Mindfulness training, he says, fits right in.

“The mental training allows you to be better at making decisions, [better at] acting quickly, [have better] reaction times. So in my mind, it allows you to do your job better, which hopefully results in as few casualties as possible,” Jarman says in the podcast. “Meditation is not this soft, kind of fluffy thing. You’re facing your fears, you’re facing your stresses head on. You’re kind of leaning into them and [meditation is] giving you the tools to do that more effectively and to not be swept away by them.”