Mindfulness meditation may change your brain for the better

Just a few hours of a type of mindfulness meditation known as integrative body-mind training may change your brain for the better, according to new research published this week.

Mental illness researchers Yi-Yuan Tang and Michael Posner report that the 11 hours of practicing the technique (even for beginners) can have a positive physical effect on the brain, boosting connectivity and efficiency.

"The notable physical changes suggest that short-term meditation can improve self-control, mood, stress response and immunity response," said Posner, a professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.

Tang, coauthor of the study, developed integrative body-mind training (IBMT) back in the mid-1990s based on traditional Chinese medicine, Taoism, and Confucianism. Unlike other meditation techniques, which focus on thought control and require long-term training, he says his technique focuses on body-mind awareness, such as body postures and breathing. According to Tang, with the right coach, you can learn the technique in as little as five days.

The latest study on IBMT appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To reach their findings, the researchers randomly assigned 68 undergraduates at Dalian University of Technology, in China, to either integrative body-mind training meditation, which involved focused concentration, or a relaxation-training group. None of the students had any previous training in meditation. The students meditated for about half an hour a day over the course of a month.

In the group of focused meditators, researchers saw changes in the white matter associated with a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, the anterior cingulate cortex. Changes were noted even after short exposure to the practice, while the same changes didn't occur in the relaxation-oriented group.

While more research needs to be done, problems such as addiction and mental disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, involve the anterior cingulate cortex, said the researchers.

Another separate study published last year found that participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.

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