Short-term meditation linked to increased blood flow in the brain, increased attention, and better self-regulation

A recently released study has shown that a form of meditation called integrative body-mind training (IBMT) can produces significant changes in the brain after only a few hours of practice.  The researchers released their findings in a February 2015 edition of Frontiers in Psychology.  These promising results show that this form of meditation may help people increase their mental focus and emotional self-regulation, even more so than relaxation training.

The subjects in this study were 40 Chinese undergraduates students at Dalian University of Technology.  They were split into two experimental groups, one which were given a relaxation training program to follow and the other of which were given an IBMT program to follow.

Both groups did the exercises for 30 minutes per day for 5 days in a row.  The relaxation training was a guided by a coach and compact disk through exercises to relax various muscle groups (e.g., head, chest, back, etc.)  The IBMT training was guided by a coach and compact disk as well and sessions involved focused attention on balancing one’s mind and body.

Tests were done both before the five day study period and afterward to measure both positive and negative mood (using self-report questionnaires) and brain images of blood flow in the regions which have been linked to mood and emotion.  Results showed that both groups had significant improvements in both self-reported mood and brain blood flow.  However, the improvements in the group that practiced IBMT were greater than the group of students who practiced the relaxation exercises.

There were some differences in the brain regions impacted between the two groups.  Because of this the authors concluded that IBMT may create these kind of mood improvements by increasing emotional self-regulation given the specific areas of the brain that were impacted by the IBMT (but not by the relaxation training).

“Consistent with our previous studies, short-term IBMT improves [cerebral blood flow] in the midfrontal lobe and insula compared to the relaxation training. This result is in line with the neural correlates of mindfulness meditation. The specific brain areas showing greater [cerebral blood flow]following IBMT training suggests that IBMT works, in part, by improving self-regulation,” the researchers wrote.

One drawback of this study noted by the researchers was that it is not clear if the brain areas they looked at necessarily cause particular changes in mood and emotional state even though they have been found to be linked.  However, their results can be added to the growing body of evidence that shows the psychological benefits of certain forms of meditation.