Chinese researchers have found that just five days of practicing a newly emerging mind-body technique has marked effects in attention and stress reduction of patients.
Now undergraduates at the University of Oregon are being taught the practice-called integrative body-mind training (IBMT)-which was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s in China, where it is practiced by thousands of people.
In a 2007 study, the researchers had reported that doing IBMT prior to a mental math test led to low levels of the stress hormone cortisol among Chinese students, along with lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than students in a relaxation control group.
"The previous paper indicated that IBMT subjects showed a reduced response to stressWhy after five days did it work so fast?" said UO professor Yi-Yuan Tang.
He says that the new findings point to how IBMT alters blood flow and electrical activity in the brain, breathing quality and even skin conductance, allowing for "a state of ah, much like in the morning opening your eyes, looking outside the grass and sunshine, you feel relaxed, calm and refresh without any stress, this is the meditation state."
Using several technologies, the researchers conducted two experiments involving 86 undergraduate students at Dalian University of Technology and analyzed the data collected.
"We were able to show that the training improved the connection between a central nervous system structure, the anterior cingulate, and the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system to help put a person into a more bodily state. The results seem to show integration-a connectivity of brain and body," said UO psychologist Michael Posner.
In each experiment, participants who had not previously practiced relaxation or meditation received either IBMT or general relaxation instruction for 20 minutes a day for five days.
After conducting single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), the researchers found that both groups experienced some benefit from the training-those in IBMT showed dramatic differences based on brain-imaging and physiological testing.
Physiological tests also revealed that IBMT subjects had lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, increased belly breathing amplitude, and decreased chest respiration rates as compared with the relaxation group.
Finally, the researchers noted that IBMT subjects had more high-frequency heart-rate variability than their relaxation counterparts, indicating "successful inhibition of sympathetic tone and activation of parasympathetic tone (in the autonomic nervous system)."
IBMT avoids struggles to control thought, and instead relies on a state of restful alertness, allowing for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a coach.
The study has been published online ahead of regular publication in PNAS.