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Integrative Body-Mind Training, Nature Exposure, and Mindfulness: A Review of Attention State Training Techniques

meditation-golden-energyI would like to introduce readers to several meditative techniques called Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT), nature exposure, and mindfulness, as well as discuss their use in attention state training.  My review of current research with these intriguing alternative therapies finds that they may also be quick and effective treatments for anxiety, depression, and anger.

Integrative Body-Mind Training
Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) is an Eastern meditative practice shown to improve attention and self-regulation in a relatively short period of time (Tang, Ma, Wang, Fan, Feng, Lu, Yu, Sui, Rothbart, Fan, & Posner, 2007).  This training method, developed and studied in China since the 1990s, is derived from traditional Chinese medicine, as well as other forms of meditation and mindfulness practices.  Tang et al. explain that the rapid effects of IBMT training may result from its integrated mind-body components, which include relaxation, breathing, imagery, and mindfulness training.  IBMT is practiced while listening to an audio compact disc (CD) and being physically coached by an experienced IBMT mentor. 

In Tang et al.’s study, a randomly assigned group who practiced IBMT for 5 days (20 minutes per day) showed improved attention and improved stress management compared to a control group who received general relaxation training.  On specific assessment measures, the experimental (IBMT) group evidenced lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue ratings, increased vigor, decreased cortisol (stress hormone), and increased immunoreactivity.  This seems remarkable considering the brief training period.

Nature Exposure
IBMT and nature exposure are both techniques that have been categorized as attention state training models (Tang & Posner, 2009).  Attention state training (AST) pertains to a change in conscious awareness that may result from meditative or nature exposure experiences.  Attention training (AT), comparatively, involves executive control mechanisms and may, for example, include mental effort and control on a working memory task.  Tang and Posner note that nature exposure is based on Kaplan’s attention restoration theory, which posits that mental fatigue may occur following a person’s sustained effort to maintain focused attention over time on cognitive tasks.  The premise of the attention restoration theory model is that a person can restore mental efficiency by decreasing directed, voluntary attention, and by increasing involuntary attention.  In other words, a person may become mentally fatigued as he or she sustains effortful attention on work-related tasks (computer, e-mail, documents, meetings, etc.), but can restore mental efficiency by increasing the involuntary attention that occurs via nature exposure.  Tang and Posner cited a recent study in which subjects assigned to an experimental group exposed to nature scenes demonstrated improved executive functioning compared to a control group exposed to urban scenes.  The main difference between IBMT and nature exposure, according to Tang and Posner, is that nature exposure is performed with one’s eyes open, whereas, IBMT practitioners practice with eyes closed and progressively use breathing and imagery techniques to accrue a set of experiences that enable the person to achieve deeper and deeper states from one session to the next.

Mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness is involved in both IBMT and nature exposure.  Mindfulness involves a divergence from conscious awareness being focused on the past or the future, thus enabling one to center awareness of thoughts, emotions, and/or actions in the present.  Studies show that mindfulness training can help reduce pain, decrease stress, improve cognition, and increase positive mood (Tang & Posner, 2009).  Other findings indicate mindfulness meditation has beneficial effects on brain and immune functioning (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosenkranz, Muller, Santorelli, Urbanowski, Harrington, Bonus, & Sheridan, 2003)

What’s Next?
IBMT may soon be introduced to Western culture and may be an effective method for improving attention and self-regulation that may appeal to many due to its rapid results in a brief period of time.  As such, IBMT could be a promising adjunctive technique that practitioners may wish to incorporate into multi-modal treatment plans for certain individuals.

Mark Johnson, PhD

References
Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., & Sheridan, J. F. (2003).  Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation, Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M. K., Fan, M. & Posner, M.  (2007).  Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation, PNAS, 104, 43, 17152-17156.

Tang, Y. & Posner, M.  (2009)  Attention training and attention state training, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 5, 222-227.

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One Response to Integrative Body-Mind Training, Nature Exposure, and Mindfulness: A Review of Attention State Training Techniques

  1. avatar
    CFisher June 4, 2009 at 7:37 PM #

    I want to welcome Mark Johnson to The Behavioral Medicine Report, and commend him on a great first post! Although Mark and I have similar training in neurofeedback and QEEG, I think our readers will come to know and appreciate that Mark brings a unique perspective to various psychological treatment approaches. I look forward to many more great articles Mark!

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