There is progressively more evidence that meditation can have measurable effects on behavior and the brain. The trouble is that some of the results have conflicted, mainly because of the different types of meditation and different measurement protocols. So I was very interested to see some new research in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by a team of researchers from China collaborating with renowned experts at the University of Oregon, who have developed an approach for neuroscientists to study how very brief meditation training might improve a person's attention and response to stress.
The study itself was done with undergraduate students in China. The experimental group received five days of meditation training using a technique called integrative body-mind training (IBMT), which was developed in China n the early 1990s.
IBMT is a rapid mental training method that aims at inducing a state of alert restfulness using breathing and guided imagery.
The control group received five days of relaxation training. Before and after training both groups took tests involving attention and reaction to mental stress.
The experimental group showed greater improvement a test of attention that was designed to measure peoples’ ability to resolve conflict among stimuli. Subjects were stressed by doing mental arithmetic.
At the beginning of the experiment both groups showed an elevated release of cortisol following the mathematical task, but after training the experimental group showed less cortisol release. This probably indicates an improvement in stress regulation. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than the control group.
The next stage in the research will involve direct measurements of brain function.
Although IBMT is described as a form of meditation, it may be inducing something slightly different from, say, Zen meditation. The important point is that it is possible to produce measurable physiological changes in just five days, and this will make it much easier to examine the dynamic effects of hypnosis, relaxation and this technique on brain function.
I would also be grateful for any readers who have more information abut the precise details of IBMT, and whether training in the precise techniques is available outside China.
I shall keep you posted as new data emerge.
“Peace can be reached through meditation on the knowledge which dreams can give. Peace can also be reached through concentration upon that which is dearest to the heart.”
--Patanjali (Indian Philosopher said to be the Compiler of the Yoga Sutras, Dates Unknown)
“Through meditation and by giving full attention to one thing at a time, we can learn to direct attention where we choose.”
--Eknath Easwaran (Indian-American Spiritual Teacher, Professor and Author, 1910-1999)
“Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come
back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is
seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know
what to do and what not to do to help.”
--Thich Nhat Hahn (Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, 1926-)
“A meditator keeps his mind open every second. He is constantly investigating life, investigating his own experience, viewing existence in a detached and inquisitive way. Thus, he is constantly open to truth in any form, from any source, an at any time.”
--Henepola Gunaratana (a.k.a. Bhante G., Sri Lankan Buddhist Monk, 1927-)