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Integrative Body-Mind Training Prompts Positive Changes In Brain White Matter

Researchers Yi-Yuan Tang and Michael Posner

Researchers Yi-Yuan Tang and Michael Posner

Scientists studying the Chinese mindfulness meditation known as integrative body-mind training (IBMT) say they have confirmed and expanded their findings on changes in structural efficiency of white matter in the brain that can be related to positive behavioral changes in subjects practicing the technique regularly for a month.

In a paper appearing this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists Yi-Yuan Tang and Michael Posner report improved mood changes coincided with increased axonal density — more brain-signaling connections — and an expansion of myelin, the protective fatty tissue that surrounds the axons, in the brain’s anterior cingulate region.

Deficits in activation of the anterior cingulate cortex have been associated with attention deficit disorder, dementia, depression, schizophrenia and many other disorders.

IBMT was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s in China, where it is practiced by thousands of people. It differs from other forms of meditation because it depends heavily on the inducement of a high degree of awareness and balance of the body, mind and environment. The meditative state is facilitated through training and trainer-group dynamics, harmony and resonance.

In 2010, research led by Tang, a visiting research professor at the University of Oregon, and Michael I. Posner, professor of psychology at the UO, first reported positive structural changes in brain connectivity, based on functional magnetic resonance imaging, that correlated to behavioral regulation. The study was done in the UO’s Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging with 45 participating UO undergraduate students.

The new findings came from additional scrutiny of the 2010 study and another that involved 68 undergraduate students at China’s Dalian University of Technology. The researchers revisited data obtained from using an MRI technique known as diffusion tensor imaging. The research team found improved density of the axons involved in brain connections, but no change in myelin formation after two weeks. After a month, or about 11 hours of IBMT, both increases in axon density and myelin formation were found as measured by fractional anisotropy, axial diffusivity and radial diffusivity — the important indexes for measuring the integrity of white matter fibers.

“This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders,” the authors concluded.

“When we got the results, we all got very excited because all of the other training exercises, like working-memory training or computer-based training, only have been shown to change myelination,” Tang said. “We believe these changes may be reflective of the time of training involved in IBMT. We found a different pattern of neural plas