The Scientific Reason Meditation Helped Save So Many Lives During The Tham Luang Cave Rescue

Meditation is by no means a new health craze. As noted by, documents translated into Hindi that describe "training of the mind" date back around 3,000 years. Indian Buddhism texts frequently point to practices of meditation, but given its mention in other religious practices, the exact geographic origins are unknown. Taoists (or Daoists) in ancient China developed and documented similar traditions as well.

In the present day, health experts and many in the general public widely revere the benefits of meditation. Those routinely practicing meditation report reduced stress, anxiety, depression, and even physical pain. It can also improve sleep and help people gain awareness regarding personal thought patterns. George Harrison famously meditated throughout most of his life, and contemporary A-list public figures such as Joe Jonas have also jumped on the meditation train. Though meditation is a learned skill that committed meditators use every day, it can also help during stressful, anxiety-inducing situations. 

A youth soccer team was trapped in a cave for over a week

In 2018, heavy rainfall flooded the Tham Luang caves and trapped a youth soccer team in Thailand. The 12 boys and their coach were stuck in the cave for nine days before rescuers found them. The divers alerted the public that the boys were alive and took photos to send to their relatives to ease their concerns (per Business Insider). Hope was on the horizon. But how did 13 people survive in a cave with no supplies for so long?

According to The Australian, Coach Ekkapol Chantawong spent part of his childhood at a Buddhist monastery after losing his brother and parents. He passed on his meditation skills from his time at the monastery to the soccer team. The whole team meditated "to preserve the ­energy in their bodies." They were meditating when the divers first found them after searching for nine days. It sounds difficult to keep a group of children calm in such a situation, but meditative teaching helped.

Meditating kept the soccer team calm as they waited to be rescued

The science behind the calming effects of meditation comes down to things like progressive muscle relaxation and focused breathing. Breathing patterns and heart rate go hand in hand, and saving energy was crucial for the boys as they did not have access to food and potable water.

The team could not immediately be rescued, however. Divers had to put together a plan, given that the only way out was to swim nearly 1 mile underwater, and none of those trapped were trained in scuba diving (per Business Insider). It took around nine days for rescue divers to get all of the boys and their coach out of the cave network safely. Thai Navy SEALS put each person in a wetsuit and an oxygen face mask to pull them through the water and out of the caves. One SEAL died when he ran out of oxygen while trying to bring the scuba gear to the boys. Because of monsoon season, it would have been months before the flood waters receded, leaving an underwater rescue as the best choice (via History). They spent a week in the hospital before returning home.