Bringing Mindfulness to the US Air Force

Jannell MacAulay teaches pilots that mindfulness is a resource that makes you even more badass or more high-performing than you already are.

Photograph by Jeff Wojtaszek

Jannell MacAulay knows a thing or two about the hard-driving life. A combat veteran and former commander with over 3,000 flying hours, MacAulay served in the US Air Force for 20 years before retiring in June 2018. But her hard work and ambition eventually led to burnout. 14 years into her career, she began doctoral studies on human performance and encountered self-care practices like yoga and mindfulness. What began as academic research soon became a personal practice and, ultimately, a professional crusade: She brought mindfulness to her squadron and then to some 2,500 members of the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Do you remember your earliest encounter with yoga or mindfulness?

Around 1999, I took my first yoga class, and I didn’t like it. My mind didn’t stop moving—it just kept accelerating through my worries, my to-do list. I felt that slowing down with yoga would be detrimental to my performance.

You were more comfortable with hard work?

My parents—my dad, a retired police lieutenant, in particular—instilled in me a drive for hard work. My father used to tell people I was going to be a submarine warfare commander or a fighter pilot. In…