The world watched as 12 Thai boys and their coach were trapped deep in a cave in Thailand before being rescued this week. Unfortunately, a warning sign and a forecast of rain on June 23 did not prevent them from seeking adventure inside the cave.
During their 18 day ordeal, officials continually pumped millions of gallon of water out of the cave to prevent them from drowning and divers faced challenges on how to get to the boys. Although all were rescued, one experienced diver tragically died while trying to save them.
Most of the boys could not swim which contributed to the difficulties in rescuing them from the cave. Throughout the ordeal, many people were eager to offer help and support during the rescue efforts. Even billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk was involved, taking a trip to Thailand to leave a mini-submarine if it could be useful.
But rather than high end technology, such as a mini-submarine, it appears meditation is what helped them survive and stay calm during this crisis. The divers who did meet the boys stated they showed good spirits and were very calm considering the circumstances.
Chanthawong, 25, practiced as a Buddhist monk for a decade before turning to coaching. After being orphaned at 12, Ekapol lived in a monastery before leaving to take care of a sick family member, then taking a job as an assistant coach. “He could meditate up to an hour,” Ekapol’s aunt, Tham Chanthawong, reported. “It has definitely helped him and probably helps the boys to stay calm.”
The benefits of meditation include a slowing down of the heart rate, breathing and metabolism while also decreasing cortisol levels, responsible for the stress response. When people meditated, they also decrease their oxygen consumption by as much as 10 to 20 percent, leading to deep relaxation. And this deep relaxation results in less oxygen being needed for each breath.
Managing their oxygen flow was crucial as the supply dropped to 15 percent in the cave, lower than a normal rate of 21 percent, and the minimum for sustaining life. Normally, oxygen consumption increases when people are in a stressful situation so the ability to manage it with meditation helped save the lives of the coach and these boys. Chanthawong also instructed the boys to not move around the cave too much so they could conserve their energy for as long as possible.
Another benefit of meditation is optimism. People who practice meditation regularly have feelings of peace, impacting their outlook and giving them the strength to deal with obstacles and adversities when they do come. Jacob Hyde, who studies extreme environments at the University of Denver noted, “The ability to bounce back is most likely going to be better, given the general optimistic outlook of most kids and teenagers.”
During the ordeal, the boys displayed their optimism in letters written to their parents. Duangpetch “Dom” Phromthep said “I’m fine but it’s a little bit cold. Don’t worry and don’t forget my birthday,” clearing showing his belief they he would be rescued from the cave. Ekarat “Bew” Wongsukchan wrote “Mum and Dad, don’t worry that I (am) missing for two weeks. I will help you at the shop soon,” indicating that he too had faith in the rescue efforts.
Once rescued, they were taken to a nearby hospital via ambulance or helicopter. All of them had some ailments as reported by health officials, including fevers, coughs, and low heart rates. The boys of course will receive follow care as the impact on their mental health will unveil over time but their optimism will help them in the recovery process.
Most people would naturally respond with feelings of anxiety, fear, or PTSD symptoms and a sense of being overwhelmed from the media attention, so the hope is that their meditative practices while trapped has set them up for a successful recovery. Fortunately, they have a strong social support system waiting for them. Kids at the 2,800 person school already want to help the boys adjust, offering to help them with whatever they need.
Tina Arnoldi is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Charleston, SC, business consultant, and freelance writer. She is a reviewer for PsychCentral (you can find her work here) and has a public portfolio on Contently. You can learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com