By now, most of the world has witnessed the daring rescue of the small-town Thai soccer team the Wild Boars. A flood of monsoon water on June 23rd trapped the boys and their coach inside a cave for ten excruciating days.
The rescue was nothing less than a miracle. The real marvel, however, was not the rescuers but the resilience of those young boys. What was their secret? Mindfulness meditation.
A Heroic Rescue
After being discovered by a duo of British divers on July 2nd, a diverse group of volunteer rescuers, Thai Navy SEAL members, and military teams from around the world pitched in to save the boys one by one. All of them were rescued by July 10th, to the delight of global onlookers.
Video footage of the rescue revealed something almost as shocking as the incident itself. The boys, shaken and exhausted, but remarkably calm. Through the crisis, they remained peaceful. Resilient. How?
The team banded together during the crisis through camaraderie and compassion. They survived by sharing rainwater and snacks they’d brought on their trip. But their coach, 25-year-old Ekapol Chanthawong, introduced an unlikely ally in their fight to survive: Mindfulness.
Chanthawong, his family reports, meditates regularly and attributes much of his character, confidence, and sense of peace to the practice. The coach, a devoted Buddhist and former monk, led the teammates in a series of guided meditations that included mantras, breathing, and consciousness exercises.
Over the course of the team’s ten-day confinement, the cave became not only a site of crisis, but that of an unlikely meditation retreat.
The Healing Powers of Meditation
Mindfulness meditation did the boys well. Though their predicament left them shaken, none of the boys suffered serious injuries or health problems despite days of harrowing deprivation.
Meditation slows our heart and breathing rate. This can prevent hyperventilation, heart problems, and related medical emergencies. It also staves off anxiety and lowers cortisol levels, which lowers strain on the heart and muscles. Combined, this can potentially decreasing both the immediate and long-term effects of trauma.
Less stress on the body and mind at the moment of crisis makes for a lower chance of developing PTSD. It also makes us more resilient and able to think clearer in a crisis, two things the boys needed in spades.
Meditation also helped the team on a material level in the moment. Because meditation decreases your oxygen usage and metabolic rate, it’s likely that the boys were able to withstand the sleep deprivation and lack of adequate nutrition and air without depleting their energy reserves too quickly.
Mindfulness formed a protective seal around their brains and bodies, infusing them with the improved problem-solving skills and inner strength they so desperately needed to survive.
Mindfulness and Gratitude
The boys have undertaken another mindfulness practice: gratitude. Of the 13 boys rescued, 11 began a nine-day stint in the Wat Phra That Doi Wao Temple to be ordained as novice Buddhist monks. They are doing so, their parents report, to express thankfulness for their miraculous rescue.
Though the team’s post-practice cave exploration went awry, their lives have been irrevocably changed, in part for the better. In this case, meditation turned a potential tragedy into a story of perseverance, teamwork, and empathy. On a smaller scale, mindfulness can do the same for each of us.